The Rev. Bruce Reyes-Chow: Why Pastors Rarely Take Vacations

Let me first say that this post should not be misconstrued as a "You all" kind of post as my ability to take vacation is pretty much non-existent. I guess I should first apologize to my family, then to the congregation I serve and then to God for not better valuing the time that is given for me to experience the breadth of life: work, play and everything in between.

My bad.

What got me thinking about this was a post from titled President Obama's Vacation Days. They draw a comparison between the number of vacation days that President Obama took over year and past Presidents. That slacker took 26 days off in his first year. Now of course, I would highly doubt that many of those days were REALLY vacation days and he probably does not have weekends to himself, so presidential vacations may not really be full times away from his work.

But still, 26 DAYS?!?!?! What are we paying this guy for? ;-)

In any case, this got me thinking because I KNOW that even before I took on a two-year denominational office term, I cannot remember the last time I took all four weeks of vacation that are part of my terms of call. Like most of us, I talk a good game when it comes to self care and sabbath taking, but like most I don't do it very well. I know that I try to take moments for myself when I can through Spiritual direction and riding my motorcycle, but the big chunks of vacation time have eluded me for pretty much my entire 15 years of ministry. *sigh*

So of course, I thought, let's ask the community so I posted a questions about pastors and vacation on Twitter, my FB Profile and my FB Page. When I first started thinking about this, the title for this post was going to be Top 10 Lame Excuses Pastors Give, but as the responses rolled in it became obvious that our inability to take significant time away has created some deep greif and is quite frankly messed up. The responses made me kind of sad actually, so the last thing I needed to do was to be all snarky about this.

So here are some of the responses which seem to fall into a few main categories.

The congregation needs me too much:

  • Who will do the bulletin?
  • Somebody's bound to die while I'm away.
  • The church can't spare me right now.
  • I'm afraid the cong. will discover they REALLY don't need me that much.
  • But who would take care of my congregation while I am gone????? They can't function without me!

It's not worth the energy and resources:

  • Can't afford one. No Money.
  • It takes me more time to recover from vacation that to take it. A vacation with my daughter is not much of a vacation.
  • Too much going on; waited too long; can't get a preacher; have to double up work to get free; have to clean gulf.
  • I have to work twice as hard before and after just to take time off.

And then there is the ones I use. ALL. THE. TIME.

  • I get at tremendous amount of gratification out of what I do! 
  • Most people don't get four weeks of vacation AND two weeks of study leave, so honestly, I feel guilty for taking it.

And in the funny category:

  • Uh...I have three kids under 6. Work IS vacation! :)
  • Rome might burn while we are away!

And the OUCH awards go to:

  • I don't want them talking about me while I'm gone!
  • Congregation doesn't think pastors need vacations.
  • Stewardship season, no pastoral care coverage, church office run by incompetents.
  • from session, "Our previous pastor never took and time off, he managed just fine." 

At some level most are perfectly understandable reasons. It is hard to take the time away, there are certainly church duties that are easier if we just do them and yeah, sometimes the whole process seems not worth the effort. And then sometimes may feel "guilty" for taking the time away when so many others do not even get vacation at all, or in the end we simply feel like we don't need it.

But still. We have got to cut ourselves some slack here.

While we are certainly not the be all and end all of the life of our the ministries we serve, there is a unique pace and posture of ministry that we have been called to. Because although, at some level we ARE always available to the folks that we pastor, that does not mean that we are 24/7 "on the clock" as it were. So with that we need to be even more careful not to justify a lifestyle and pace that is not healthy for our own bodies, our families, the churches we serve and ultimately for our relationship with God.

Over my last 15 years of ministry, I do not know how many times I have said to others and to myself, "But you cannot afford NOT to . . .

  • go to counseling . . . 
  • eat better . . . 
  • let go . . . 
  • play more . . . 
  • slow down . . . 
  • go on vacation . . .

Pot, I would like you to meet Kettle and cue [Man in the Mirror]( ;-)

There is so much to unpack in this, but ultimately we all know that we have to take time to nurture our souls and spirit so we can have the energy and strength of spirit when we need to be able to be that presence with others in times of need. It all goes back to that old idiom, if you are burned out, no matter how good you are, you will be good to no one; family, friends, community, anyone.

So here is the challenge. Just freaking take some time. Call it what you want: Sabbath, vacation, time away, time off, slacking . . . whatever. Just create and carve some genuine chunk of time where you can be renewed, refreshed and reenergize for the calling to which you have been called.

Yeah Bruce, I'm talking to you!

And let's not even go the the whole question of "Do you take your day/s off?"

Thoughts, readings, comments . . . ?

[Taken with permission from Bruce Reyes-Chow's blog. Follow Bruce on Twitter @breyeschow ]