Pastor, Your Church Needs You to Take a Vacation

September 2, 2020

There are two types of sleep: BC and AD. Before Children and After Death.

God does not take naps, but you might need one. Far too many pastors do not get a proper cycle of rest. In the fourth commandment, God set up a pattern of work and rest. This pattern goes back to the creation account in which God rested on the seventh day. 

Notice the connection between rest and salvation in Psalm 62: “I am at rest in God alone; my salvation comes from him.” True rest is found only in God’s salvation. In the Old Testament, we have the promise of rest from God. In the New Testament, we learn how to enter this rest—only through Jesus. You cannot properly point people to eternal rest in Christ if you are not rested spiritually and physically. 

Generally, Americans are restless. In the 1940s, the average American got right at eight hours of sleep per night. Today, the average is under seven hours. We are burnt out, worn out, tired, sleepy, and cooked. Our first two movements in the morning are to stop the alarm clock and look at the cell phone. 

Everyone needs rest. Taking a sabbath is important. Taking a vacation is important. 

Pastors should model proper behavior. Part of leadership is showing the way. It is hypocritical to teach about spiritual health if you’re not accounting for your own physical health. A fat slob of a preacher will never effectively communicate spiritual disciplines. A workaholic pastor cannot possibly communicate moderation honestly. 

Pastors are not the heroes of their churches. You need this reminder. Your church needs this reminder. If you lead well, then you will equip enough people to serve while you take a quick breather. Entire ministries are built around the charisma of a talented leader. Clearly, this model is wrong and completely unsustainable. However, it’s just as wrong to believe your church cannot possibly operate for a Sunday or two in your absence. Both models—the charismatic hero and the worker bee hero—are misguided. 

Your family needs more of your time. Rare is the pastor who is dedicating too much time to family. Most pastors have created idols of their churches at the expense of their families. Idol worship is always destructive and never beneficial. Take a vacation and kill your idols. 

Creativity needs to be recharged. Like a battery, creative energy often needs a recharge. You can operate on low power for quite some time. You can lead through weariness, but creativity almost always suffers. Take a vacation and come back a more energized and creative leader. 

God created fun. Neglecting fun is neglecting a part of God. Go and have fun with your family. We don’t need any more curmudgeon pastors. 

Physical rest is good for the soul. There are those who believe the answer to their unrest is simply working harder, doing more, and justifying themselves. The harder you work to find rest apart from God, the more restless you become. True rest comes when you trust in Christ’s work, not your own. That’s the point of the atonement—Christ’s work on our behalf. If you’re not resting regularly, then you’re relying on your own efforts, not those of Jesus.

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10 Comments

  • Great article and reminder! We just went last week to celebrate our 35th anniversary, and How great it was and much needed! With both of us being in pastoral roles time away was critical. My husband said we are going away again before this year ends.

  • Thank you! I needed this.

  • David Zetterberg says on

    Thank you Sam for this great reminder. As an introvert, I desperately needed my Sabbath day (which was Friday’s for me) and my vacation time. I served in a church that gave me 4 weeks when I started as pastor and 2 additional weeks in my 10th year. What a blessing! I struggled to take all 6 weeks, in fact I think I only did once or twice, but it was reassuring to know that it was there if I needed it. As others have mentioned, your personal experience with vacation and Sabbath rest, probably impacts the way you view those things. I had a dad who was a general contractor, which meant he only could earn money by completing and selling a house. Yet every year he took of two weeks in the summer–twice he took a whole month off to take us on vacation. Those are some of the best memories of my childhood. He also took Sundays off; we went to church and then had family time the rest of the day. So he modeled rest for me and so I made family vaction time a high priority as well.
    The first point made in the article is: Pastors should model proper behavior. Just as we are to model the spiritual disciplines and be examples of Christian character, we also need to model a healthy lifestyle and be a role model as a spouse and a parent. Though I don’t think the phrase “fat slob of a preacher” should have been used in the article–it doesn’t seem to show much grace to those who struggle in that particular area of their life–I do believe that as a pastor, how we live our lives may speak more than what we say. If we want our parisionars to take care of their health–including their mental health–and to take care of their spouse and children, then we need to give them a good role model to follow. We may not be the ultimate role model, that, of course, is Jesus Christ Himself, we should be an earthly exmple of what a Christ follower should look like.

  • Thanks for the post. It’s very timely and needed. Now we just have to apply the truths to our lives.
    Getting ready to go next week.

  • This post is especially relevant in today’s Covid environment given that there are congregations who have developed the belief that the pastor’s workload has decreased rather than increased.

  • I have observed that the value of a good vacation is often formed in the family of origin. Some pastors may come from a family that rarely took vacations for a number of reasons. I was fortunate in that my family did prioritize vacations. Most of my positive memories of family time (and there are many) come from our vacations together.
    I have also observed that some churches are stingy with vacation allowance. It is my conviction that those who minister on Sundays, whether pastoral, associate, or support staff, should be granted at least three weeks of vacation in the first full year of employment. Other families can take periodic short weekend vacations. Sunday staff families can’t and for that reason, I believe three weeks are justified for the sake of the family.
    Good post. Thanks!

  • Brandon Johns says on

    And Cape San Blas is the best place to do it.