Ask a YCW: Vacation Edition

Post Author: Askie

open suitcase on a beach with beach gear inside


Dear Askie,

I’m a solo pastor, and as summer approaches, people have been asking me what I’m doing for vacation this year. I know everyone says vacation is important for pastors, and I have vacation time included in my terms of call, but it seems like any week I’d want to be away, I would miss something important at the church. Plus, preparing for vacation is just so much work! With arranging pulpit supply, and getting bulletins ready in advance, and finding someone to cover pastoral care, it just sometimes seems easier to stay here. If it’s so much work to go on vacation, is it really worth it?

Too Tired to Take Time


Oh my. There is so much hard truth in your letter, my dear. For any pastor, and particularly for a solo pastor, there can be a great deal of work involved in preparing for any time away. For a pastor who loves her congregation, there can be many worries involved. Will the dear matriarch pass away while you’re gone? Will you miss the birth of the congregation’s newest baby? Will some fresh conflict explode while you’re not there to mediate? Sometimes it feels like you’re a new mom, worried to leave the baby with a sitter. So many things could happen without you!

It might help, though, to remember that (unless you were the founding pastor of a new church), this congregation got along without you for a good many years before you were called there. They will be able to manage without you for a couple of weeks. Sometimes as clergy, we are tempted to think that it is our hard work that holds everything together. Our work is important and meaningful and often profound, but it is important that we don’t begin to confuse our role with God’s. God’s got the whole world in God’s hands—you don’t have it in yours. Too often, especially when she is overwhelmed and overworked, a pastor may be tempted to think that she is the head of the church. You aren’t. Christ is.

Sometimes we need a vacation to remind us of the simple fact that the world (and the church) holds together pretty well even without our striving.

A pastor’s vacation can also be good for the congregation she serves. It can allow them to hear a new voice in the pulpit, to receive communion from a different set of hands, and to see God at work through different people. It can allow the people an opportunity to be challenged to use their own gifts in the roles of leading worship or caring for the sick. It’s a reminder both to the pastor and the people that the life of faith is not a solo endeavor or a spectator sport, but that all are called to participate and use their gifts.

Taking your vacation (all of it, every year) is also one of the best ways to care for your own human self. “Vacation” (in terms of paid time off from work) may be a relatively new concept, but Jesus clearly modeled the necessity of getting time away to rest and renew. He was sometimes criticized for this, when the disciples or the crowds came looking for him, wanting him to re-engage in the work of ministry. Yet he knew the importance of seeking restoration for his own body and soul in order to care for others. If the Son of God needed time away from the busy ministry life, trust me when I tell you that you do, too. You cannot give the living water to others if your own pitcher has run dry.

When you take time away, you can renew your body by letting some stress off your shoulders (if only for a week or two). You can slow down and enjoy the warmth of sun on your skin and a breeze in your hair. You can really and truly rest. You can renew your mind as you take in an art or history museum in a city you’re visiting, or read that book you never find time for in a regular ministry week. You can renew your spirit, perhaps by attending worship in a different place where you are not in charge and where someone else leads everything. You can renew your relationships, whether you travel with a spouse and/or kids, take a trip with friends, or visit loved ones who live at a distance from you.

There are so many reasons to take your vacation time. It will make you a better pastor, with energy and joy and health to sustain you through what will hopefully be a long and vibrant life in ministry. It’s good for your congregation to see that they can function in your absence. But perhaps the most important reason is that before you are a pastor, you are a person. Your body, mind, soul, and relationships all need care and attention. Whether it’s a fancy tropical cruise or a simple camping trip, take the time to get away and to remember who God called you to be before you go back to doing what God’s called you to do.

Blessings, dear one. Don’t forget to send Askie a postcard from that vacation!

Image by: Neda Andel
Used with permission
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