Pastor, for the Good of Your Church, Take a Vacation

I sit on the couch, flipping through my digital calendar, trying to do the math. When can we actually fit in some vacation time? There are so many factors to consider: the launch of the combined summer service, Vacation Bible School, various camps, vacations for other staff members. I also worry about the summer slump, which is already upon us. Can the church really afford not to have their lead pastors present, if only for morale?

My husband and I, co-lead pastors of our church, have the vacation time. All the books and all the ministry blogs and all the professors say pastors must tend to their families, guard their souls, and rest. I know in my heart we need to take more than one week—that in fact we need two in a row—to truly decompress and separate from the beautiful but weighty vocation that is parish ministry.

But so much can happen in two weeks. My mind begins to race. A conflict might emerge, a pressing administrative issue could arise, someone might end up in the hospital with only a good word from my lips able to sustain them. As my thoughts careen out of control, images of a church in tatters, a mass exodus, and possible explosions flood my mind’s eye.

Get a grip, I tell myself.

The irrational fear and anxiety of taking a mere 14 consecutive days away from my parish has unveiled a wound within me that needs attention.

Why the Anxiety?

Vacation anxiety is not unique to ministry, but the pressure does have a unique faith-flavored flair to it. The stakes feel elevated for those in the field of soul care.

Practical concerns

There are, of course, practical concerns. Who will do what in our absence? How will the everyday, unseen tasks be completed? Who will honor the pulpit and preach faithfully when we’re gone? For those of us who feel a sense of scarcity in terms of local leadership, these practical concerns can paralyze us.

Perceptions

But vacation anxiety runs much deeper than the whowhat, and how questions that arise when the pastor is out of town. There is also the anxiety of perception. Some pastors are more prone to this anxiety than others, but it merits mention.

As I plan time away, I find myself explaining, almost defending, our vacation. We haven’t taken any time off in 6 months. Or, We’ve been saving up for a long time to take a trip, and we’re doing it on the cheap, so we’re not being extravagant or anything! I secretly wonder, does my congregation begrudge me the time off? Will they perceive me as disengaged, selfish, and uncommitted to the church and the church’s needs? The fact that my paycheck comes from their tithes and offerings adds a new layer of angst, since I often feel the need to prove I’m worth the investment and that I’m not living large at their expense.

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SOURCE: Christianity Today, Stephanie Dyrness Lobdell