Rest at Last
This week begins our annual family vacation. To some it’s shocking to hear of a pastor taking three weeks off of preaching and general pastoral duties. Many think pastors either don’t deserve, don’t need, or that the church can’t afford for pastors to take an extended time away from serving in their normal capacities. Personally, I think truly healthy pastors will vacation, and truly healthy churches will encourage this.
The Need - Pastors Work a Ton
Not too long ago, I heard someone say those words I love so much, “As a pastor you basically just work the weekends, right?” Wrong! The truth is, Sunday morning is a tiny part of what pastors do. The average pastor works 50 to 70 hours per week. In addition to studying for and delivering sermons, they usually do a lot of administration, leadership training, policy and procedure writing, endless hours of counseling, and much more. To make things extra challenging, pastors are on call in many ways, available at all hours of the night for special circumstances. And then there are holidays. Most people don’t realize that seasons which mean time off, family recreation, and recharging for them, are the most intense times for pastors. During Christmas, Easter, Thanksgiving, and similar seasons, pastors are usually consumed with special events, on top of their normal work-load.
I’m not complaining at all. God gives the needed grace for pastors to do their jobs with joy, even in the difficult seasons. And as crazy as things get, pastors often get to experience the truth that it’s more blessed to give than receive. Ministry is supposed to be hard. In ministry you lead the charge onto the spiritual battlefield every day where the kingdoms of darkness and light meet in cosmic struggle. But the intensity of serving God through serving His people only highlights the need for pastors to appreciate the God-given priority of taking Sabbaths, or as we typically refer to them, vacations.
Let me share five reasons I feel God has called pastors to take sanctified vacations:
1. To remind ourselves of God’s Sovereignty
Pastor, God doesn’t need you. Believe it or not, the survival of the church isn’t dependent on you. Jesus is the one who has been building His church since the dawn of the church age, and that didn’t change when you entered into formal pastoral ministry. As I heard someone say recently, too many pastors preach God’s sovereignty with their mouths, but open theism with their lives. Their sermons declare that Jesus is the Head, source, and sustainer of the church, but their micromanaging, unwillingness to take time off, and insistence on being at every single church event demonstrates to those they lead, and their families, that the pastor really believes he is the head, source, and sustainer of the church. Their life preaches that God would really be in trouble if they weren’t there to keep things afloat. Ask yourself if the message of your mouth is inconsistent with the message of your life on this point. Maybe you need to take time off simply to worshipfully practice your commitment to God’s sovereignty over the church.
2. To remind the church of God’s Sovereignty
I was able to attend our Sunday gathering on my first Sunday off for this vacation, and it was awesome. I showed up with everyone else, and sat in the back for the entire service. One of our other pastors preached, and God moved. We intended to baptize one person, but as people responded to the gospel, we ended up baptizing eight people. One of the reasons I was thankful for this is that it was a clear demonstration to the church that God’s work in our midst isn’t dependent upon my presence or preaching. As much as I need to remember that God doesn’t need me, the church sometimes needs that reminder as well. They’ll never get that reminder if you don’t humbly step aside for a time.
3. To demonstrate to our family their preeminence over ministry
There is a reason that having a family that is managed well, and being a husband solely devoted to his wife are prerequisites for formally becoming a pastor in a local church. Your family is your first ministry. Too much damage has been done to families in the name of ministry. Too many pastors have sacrificed their families on the altar of church involvement. Generations of pastors gone by have operated under the sinful notion that if we take care of the church, God will take care of our family. The truth is that God takes care of your family THROUGH YOU! Taking time off from ministry (weekly and for longer vacations) demonstrates your commitment to them as your preeminent ministry over the church. It shows that you love them and consider them a greater blessing than the people who come to hear you preach. Don’t let your kids and wife doubt your love and commitment to them because you suffer from ministry idolatry.
4. To give other guys a shot
I firmly believe it’s God’s will for pastors to train and empower new pastors from within their church. That being the case, it is important for us to take time away from preaching if only to give other guys a chance to test and grow in their gift of teaching. Remember that someone gave you a shot when nobody knew how it would go, and God used that in your life. Do the same for those coming up behind you.
5. To recharge our spiritual batteries
You are just a man. I repeat, pastor, you are just a man. You may not feel like it right now, but if you go and go, refusing to take a break, you will experience a mental and emotional break of another kind. I’ve often heard Mark Driscoll say, “If you don’t take a vacation, God will make you.” That’s true, but instead of resting at home or with family, you’ll rest in the hospital. Get some time away to hang with family, study without doing so for a teaching engagement, and pray just to connect with God without agenda. Receive fresh vision from the Lord. It’ll strengthen your soul and make everything you touch more fruitful when your vacation is over.
Do you need to take a vacation? Don’t burn out. Don’t wrap your identity up in ministry so much that you can’t step away. Don’t rob new leaders of chances to train and grow. Don’t rob your family of their father and husband. God can provide to raise up a new pastor for your church, but He can’t raise up a new father and husband for your family. Don’t let your church depend on you as they should only depend on Jesus. Healthy churches have healthy pastors who take vacations.
 Acts 20:35
 1 Timothy 3:2 and 4
 2 Timothy 2:2