My personal physician is a Godly man and a leader in his community. He is very involved in his church and community affairs and makes no bones about the fact that he’s a follower of Christ. His father was a preacher for many years. On a visit – nearly a year ago – he shared a little more of his story with me and told me his father left the ministry and became a truck driver. His father didn’t have some moral or ethical failure and there was no pressure to leave the church. He left because he could no longer handle the stress and it was affecting his personal health. During the visit my doctor told me that as the lead pastor of a church – I needed to take at least a week off to totally disconnect at least once every three months. I was surprised by his counsel and then asked if he could write that as a prescription I could take back to church with me. We both laughed. But failure to take breaks is no laughing matter.
I’m writing this blog – not for my sake – because my church is phenomenal about allowing me to take breaks. I’m writing in the hope that some of you will pass it along to your friends who are involved in other churches and they will think carefully about requiring their Pastor to take time off.
To me – being a Pastor is the greatest calling in the world. I love it. I’ve also come to realize that there are no “Super Pastors” who can do it all and that we have physical and emotional limits. If we don’t guard our physical and emotional health – a spiritual decline will follow. There is tremendous pressure on any pastor. For most – at their heart of hearts – they want to serve God and see people’s lives changed. They want to see people make commitments of their lives to Jesus Christ so that also makes them a prime target for our enemy – Satan. There’s a big bullseye on the back of most pastors. There’s the pressure of having a fresh word from God each Sunday and in larger churches the pressure of trying to build a team with so many different personalities and people of varying spiritual maturity. My situation is different because I have a lot of freedom, but in many churches Pastors cannot operate effectively because they have to pass everything they do through a committee or some church vote – (By the way – if you don’t like that statement think about the Old and New Testatment – when people voted and followed the majority most of the time they got it wrong – in the OT – the people of God wandered in the wilderness for 40 years because they listened to the majority instead of Godly leaders). There’s also the frustration of trying to help people who sometimes don’t want any help or who turn on those pastors for trying to help them. There’s the heartache of seeing marriages fail – teenagers get pregnant – lives ruined by drugs and alcohol – tragic deaths – terminal illnesses – leaders who quit leading – people who get mad and leave without ever addressing the reasons they got mad – etc etc etc. In other words – there’s a lot of pressure in the midst of the incredible joy. In light of this – and so much more – pastors need to take a break or they (and you) will feel the ache.
One of the greatest things that has happened to me at Grace Fellowship is having the trust of leadership enough to allow me to take regular breaks. Not only does it allow me to be fresh; it allows other younger speakers the chance to hone their communication skills and share their God-given passions with our church family. I didn’t take many breaks the first couple of years we were building Grace Fellowship, but now we have a leadership structure that not only allows it – they promote it. It also allows me to give the other pastors on our staff additional breaks when they need them.
You may want to consider doing something different – but here’s what’s working well for me at this time. I’m taking a two week break between most sermon series; this doesn’t mean I’m gone on vacation – it means I don’t have the pressure of preparing a message during that time. The first week of the break is just to recoup and the 2nd week is for me to begin getting ready for the 1st message of the next series. For the past 2 summers I’ve taken off the month of July; our staff fills in or we bring in special guests speakers. The first two weeks of July are vacation; 1 week for family and 1 week for me and Janet to spend time alone together. The third week is usually a creative week where I go away and think, plan and pray about the upcoming year. The fourth week is where I finalize messages for the new series that will begin in August. This year during my creative week, I was able to finalize all the basic outlines for the 5 part series we are doing in August. This is significant because it helps our technical and creative team have more time to get ready for the series. In fact, taking a 2 week break does the same thing for other series – it allows me to stay a minimum of 10 days ahead on sermon prep.
I rambled on now with nearly 1000 words, but it’s because this is so important. I hope you’ll pass it along to your friends and they’ll at least suggest something like this to their church leadership on behalf of their Pastor. It’s important for you too. I know you can’t always control your schedule, but try to take some breaks once in a while.
Take a break or feel the ache!