I recently took a two week vacation.
It was amazing.
We didn’t go anywhere fancy or tropical. In fact we went to Missouri, back to our home towns. My family and I spent a week with my family and then we spent a week with my wife’s family. And it was so much fun! All the cousins running around playing, too many people around dining room tables, not enough bathrooms, and late nights talking and eating way too much made for an unforgettable trip.
Oh and I forget to mention that not one time did I think about my church during that time. I turned it off. No talking, planning, thinking…nothing. I did pray for it and for the people leading while I was gone. But outside of that my mind was focused on being in the moment.
It made me realize how little of that I actually do. I find it very difficult to turn my brain off when I leave the office. Fortunately I serve in a church that allows for self-care and time off. I was recently told by one of my elders that I have to make more time to visit family.
It wasn’t always that way. I’ve served in places where I was expected to put my family second and myself a distant third. I was actually told by one elder that they wanted me (and the other staff) to work so much that they would have to tell us to go home. He looked me in the eyes and said “Passion starts at 40 hours a week.”
I left that meeting and told my wife we were done.
It’s so critical for those in ministry to take time off, not only for the health of your ministry but for the health of your family. The writer of Hebrews puts it like this:
“So there is a special rest still waiting for the people of God. For all who have entered into God’s rest have rested from their labors, just as God did after creating the world. So let us do our best to enter that rest” (Hebrews 4:9-11).
God created a rhythm in humanity. And in that rhythm He included rest, a holy rest. Not a lazy do-nothing slothfulness but a rejuvenating healing, an act of worship.
I am no clinical expert but if I may, I would like to share with you some things I learned during my recent time off.
I was able to focus on the big picture.
I’m a doer. I have a list of things I like to get to done on certain days of the week. If I don’t accomplish those things, I feel off, like I didn’t get anything done that day. I get so focused on that list that often times I forget to look at the larger picture of my ministry.
During my time off I didn’t think about what was happening at the church, or the day-to-day operations, or about staff. What I thought about was the “why.” I thought and prayed about the mission: people.
People are why Jesus did what He did. He came to seek and to save the lost, He came for the sick, and He came for the one lost sheep.
If I don’t intentionally take time off I will lose sight of that.
I was able to focus on my family.
So often in ministry (particularly youth ministry) we are asked to sacrifice time with our families. Whether it’s fun nights or retreats or mission trips, we’re gone for weeks at a time. I know one student pastor who schedules everything back-to-back for six weeks during the summer so he can be home the rest of the year.
But I have to wonder, is that what Jesus really wants from us? I’m not questioning the impact those things have, because I’ve experienced them first-hand. But how much is too much?
Taking that extended time off allowed my wife and me to reconnect. We spent time talking about life, not church business. I wasn’t bouncing ideas off of her. I wasn’t getting her to do this or that. We just talked. We held hands. It was like we were dating all over again.
I played with my kids. I took my son to the local football field and played catch for hours. I joked around with my teenage daughter and we laughed over stupid Snapchat filters. We went hiking and explored caves. We played outside and watched movies.
My focus was totally and completely on them. I’m trying my best to keep that going.
I was able to focus on my walk.
Don’t misread me here. I can focus on my relationship with Jesus anywhere. But like I said…I’m a doer. I like to get things done, and done in a timely manner. I’m particular about how I like things and I want them done that way.
Because I’m a doer I really identify with Martha. I very much feel her pain when she asks Jesus to tell her lazy sister to get of her rear end and start helping with the meal! And yet Jesus’ response cuts to my issue. He says to her, “My dear Martha, you are worried and upset over all these details! There is only one thing worth being concerned about. Mary has discovered it, and it will not be taken away from her” (Luke 10:41-42).
There is only one thing worth being concerned about.
So often I run around trying to make sure that everything is perfect for Sunday or small groups or whatever. Those things are important, and should be done well, but not at the expense of my relationship with Jesus.
So I sat. And I sat some more. I just listened instead of talking so much. I didn’t worry about what was taking place at church so much. I focused on being the church.
I’ve found that taking regularly scheduled time off, whether it’s an extended time away or just a day, makes me a better husband, father, and follower of Jesus.
I encourage you to do the same.