I’m on a crusade of sorts. It stems from my concern about pastors wearing out and burning out because they don’t take regular time off each week and don’t use all the vacation time allotted them. Just last week I was eating with a colleague and friend. When I asked how it was going he said that he was working at a frantic pace trying to keep fingers in the holes in the dyke.
I understood exactly what he was saying. We all do that at times. There are busy seasons and there are times when the dyke cracks and we’ve got to work extra to keep things from falling apart. That is part of the reason why we must pace ourselves by taking time off – so that those busy, hectic seasons don’t burn us out.
I suspect every case of pastoral burnout begins with plugging holes in the dyke. We tell ourselves that we will only have to keep this pace up for a short while only it isn’t usually as short as we think. One of the challenges of ministry is that when you plug one hole, another hole emerges. If we aren’t careful, we are endlessly running from one hole to another. Or to change the metaphor, we are trying to put out one fire, then another, then another…. You get the idea.
I recently read an article that shared data about vacation tendencies in the United States. It noted that people like vacation, but they just don’t take it. At least not all they are entitled to. In the article “It Would Be, It Would Be So Nice” L. V. Anderson says, “Americans leave 658 million vacation days on the table each year.” And we take an average of four less days for vacation now than we did in 2000.
Project: Time Off shares research that employees are happier, more productive, and less likely to burn out if they use their vacation time. Employees are also more creative when they return to work. This means that taking your vacation BENEFITS BOTH YOU AND THE CHURCH.
The case for taking all your vacation time is so strong that some companies are actually providing incentives to get their employees to take all their vacation time. The business Full Contact pays a bonus of $7,500 if employees take their vacation time and actually disconnect from work. If they get caught working on vacation, they have to pay the bonus back.
Pastors are notorious for not taking all of their vacation and not regularly taking at least one day off a week. Perhaps church boards should consider initiating a policy to fine pastors when they violate their day off by working and when they fail to use all their allotted vacation time by the end of the year. I’m serious! This is that important!
One of the principles I build my master calendar on is honoring my day off and taking all my vacation each year. It is even one of my annual goals that I give the board of directors to monitor. Like you, I have busy seasons. And sometimes one busy season runs into the next busy season. So I am relentless about taking time off each week and scheduling my vacation in advance so that I use it all each year. It is part of my personal stewardship strategy. I also require that my staff use all of their vacation time.
Another piece of my strategy is NOT to check email or work phone messages while on vacation. Every time you check yours, you rob yourself of at least some of the benefit gained from the time off. We need to unplug from ministry and let God refresh and re-create us. If you are so important to your ministry running well that you can’t unplug for a time, then you’ve done a lousy job equipping and developing others. And, according to Ephesians 4, that is what you are supposed to be doing. I know, I’ve started preaching.
There are two months left in 2016. Have you used all of your allotted vacation? If not, get your calendar and schedule it RIGHT NOW. And while you are doing that, go ahead and schedule your vacation for 2017. You may have to adjust some dates but planning it in advance is a great way to protect it and to space it out so that you maximize the benefit of it.
Senior pastors, you must set the example. Take all of your vacation each year and your day off each week. Require your staff to do the same. And require that they totally unplug when off. Fine them if you have to in order to keep them from violating that sound principle. Then you can use the money collected to take a cruiseJ.