Summer vacation can be hard on a pastor because it highlights problems in their ministry. During the summer lull in programming, some pastors feel an acute sense of exhaustion. A two-week vacation hardly seems enough to recover from a year of running full tilt.
That can lead to questioning one’s ministry assignment—or calling. But there is a way to make this vacation the turnaround in your sense of well-being as a pastor.
As a pastor, I had a few crash-and-burn vacations. After a particularly demanding season of ministry, the first week of vacation was usually devoted to rest and recovery.
Week two was spend daydreaming—about being a lumberjack, or a mystery writer, or a schoolteacher or anything but the guy who is always on call for personal crises, and always expected to provide witty, brilliant, and deeply spiritual insights on Sunday morning.
Reentry after those weeks was tough. Nothing had changed, but I was now more aware than ever of the stress in my life.
One year I finally had enough and determined to do something about it. I had tracked my hours worked and was averaging over 60 per week. As a husband and the father of two small children, that was insane both for my health and for my family’s well-being.
I immediately cut 12 hours from my schedule. Though I was still working the equivalent of six days per week, it seemed like a walk in the park compared to my previous schedule. Nobody noticed except for my wife and kids, and I felt relieved and energized.
If your “vacations” make your feel worse and not better, start seeing them for what they are: symptoms of burnout.
Here are eight steps having the best vacation ever—and bringing balance to your pastoral work.
1. Get Truly Away
To get the head space for evaluating the shape of your ministry, you need to get truly away. That means you’ll need to unplug, shut down your email, and possibly turn off your phone (or give it to your spouse). Take a minimum of three full days to decompress.
2. Admit That This Isn’t Working
If your vacations usually ends with you saying, “Do I really have to go back?” and not, “What a refreshing break,” you’ve got a problem. Don’t ignore it any longer. Resolve to take action.
3. Reconnect with Your Calling
Before making any change, remind yourself why you do this in the first place. Spend time in prayer. Recover your sense of identity as a pastor. Write down your vision for ministry, stating why it matters so much to you.
4. Identify the Stressors
For me, it was working too many hours. For you it could be conflict, having too many responsibilities, unclear vision, or financial stress. You can’t solve this problem until you know what it is. Name the source of your discontent. What’s keeping you from thriving in your ministry context?
5. Take Responsibility for Your Own Well-Being
At first I blamed others for my overwork, thinking they demanded it of me. In fact, nobody did. I was the only one watching the clock, somehow trying to prove my worth by the volume of my effort. Everything changed when I took responsibility for my situation. Determine to do the same. If your life isn’t working, it’s up to you to fix it.
6. Envision a New Normal
For me, that was cutting my time worked by at least 20 percent. For you, it might mean empowering laypeople to take on some ministries, negotiating for more pay, or setting boundaries on your accessibility. Write out the change you hope to make in your ministry or personal life. Picture yourself thriving in ministry. What does that look like?
7. Agree on the Change
I say agree because you will likely need cooperation from others on the changes you hope to make, including your spouse and key leaders. When you present the problem and how it is affecting your life and ministry, they’re likely to see the wisdom in making change.
8. Stick with the Plan
Creating a livable ministry context is like a 12-step program in this regard: it works if you work it. Don’t slip back into the habit of overworking, over-committing, or people pleasing. Those are likely what got you here in the first place.
The best possible result from your summer vacation is that you come back feeling relaxed, refreshed, and ready to re-engage. If that’s not happening with you, find out why. Then do something about it.
You deserve to thrive in your calling—and you can!