Every Senior Pastor should get away from his church for more than ten consecutive days every summer.
It might not be practical, but it’s a wise decision for the long haul.
Why Pastors Should Get Away this Summer
1. To Get Recharged
I’m part of a few networks of large-church pastors. Most of my friends have been leading their churches for over ten years. Almost all of them take four to six weeks away every summer.
When I first learned this, I asked, “Why do you take so much time away?”
They all said, “If I didn’t, I don’t think I’d be in ministry today.”
The one exception was a friend who had dropped out of church-ministry at age 56. He said, “For 16 years I ignored taking extended time away. I think if I’d taken regular time away, I’d still be in ministry.”
I’ve been at New Song over 20 years now, and I’m pretty sure I would have gone somewhere else or done something else if I hadn’t begun taking an annual summer break.
Right now you pastors of small and medium churches are thinking, “Yeah, but these guys all are from large churches. I can’t afford to take extended time away!”
Yes, these guys all have competent back-up. But if you’re carrying the spiritual weight of your church plus preaching over 40 times a year, you need a break as well. And I don’t mean a vacation. You need that too. I’m talking about a break.
Senior pastors carry a spiritual burden and work load that is different from other professions. According to Fuller, Barna, and PastoralCare Inc, 50% of pastors are so discouraged they would leave ministry if they had another way of making a living. That’s staggering.
Every preaching pastor needs time away to recharge. No one can preach well from an empty bucket. But the real reason to get away isn’t to skip a few weeks of message preparation. The real reason is because of the weight of ministry – the spiritual weight of the cares of all the people you shepherd.
2. To get perspective
Every time I fly somewhere, whether it’s for a conference, speaking engagement, or vacation, I come home with a fresh perspective on my city and church. I can be gone for as little as three days and come home seeing differently. Stepping back enables me to see old situations in a new light. My church benefits from this.
3. To learn from others
For a pastor, part of the “stepping back” should include seeing other ministries. I believe that the Lord wants us to assemble with believers every Sunday. So during my break, I assemble with other churches. My friend Brian Wilkerson told me he tries to attend three to four churches per weekend on his breaks. Dan Grider tries to hit five services between Saturday night and Sunday night. That’s a little more than I can manage, but you get the point.
A few summers ago I visited two churches that both had engaging worship and quality teaching. As I sat in the congregation I wondered, “What is it about this church that’s distinctive, and how would a visitor know it?” That thought motivated me to develop what we called our “DNA Statement.” It’s a statement of New Song distinctives – core commitments that differentiate us from other churches in our area. These statements are helping refine us. I wouldn’t have thought to write them out without visiting those other churches.
Reasons Not to Take a Break
There are a lot of obstacles to taking extended time away. Let me help you with a few of them.
1. The church can’t handle the pastor being gone that long.
Response: If your pastor gets called to a greener pasture, you’ll figure out how to do without a senior pastor for much longer than a few weeks. Plus, the quality of your pastor’s post-break ministry will be higher, so it’s worth any dip in quality during his absence.
2. The church can’t financially afford for the pastor to be gone that long.
Response: Two issues here. One is paying the pastor while he’s not working. The other is the inevitable giving-dip that happens when less people show up.
First, the not-working issue: My summer break is a working break. I take four weeks away from New Song, but during that time I work 10-12 hours a day. My break is a writing break. During my recent breaks I’ve written The Bible Questions, the I Love Sundays campaign, and a training curriculum for Dynamic Church Planting International.
My break is a change of routine and what I produce benefits New Song as well as the wider Kingdom.
Second, the financial issue: having your pastor out of the pulpit may mean fewer donors in the pews. Many churches are beginning to deal with their summer giving-slump by developing online and automated giving programs to enable members to give even when they’re not present.
3. Who will fill the pulpit?
Response: Many churches are using video teaching these days. One of my friends who pastors a 5,000 member church showed a three week video series by Andy Stanley. Large churches demand quality teaching every weekend. Andy delivered. If your church doesn’t have a staff member who can step up, there are many denominational leaders, as well as college and seminary professors looking for places to preach.
4. 4 to 6 weeks is too long for our size church.
Response: Then shorten it to 14 to 19 days. In my opinion, the minimum is two consecutive Sundays away so that the pastor doesn’t spend all his “away” time preparing for the next week’s sermon.
Pastors (like me) who need to keep producing during their break time should work on things they love doing and would have to do at some other time anyway. For most pastors, that’s sermon preparation. Writing a few sermons ahead of time, disengaging from the weight of the flock, and getting fresh perspective visiting other churches will help them be better leaders throughout the rest of the year.
We have a tool that will help you make a plan to take a summer break. You can find it in the Pastor’s Personal Toolbox. It’s a library of our best tools and resources — all in one place. Tap below to learn all about it, and get the planning sheet that will help you think through the issues you’ll need to overcome to get away in the summer.
Blessings on you as you pursue the best for your own ministry and your church!
Hal Seed is the founding and Lead Pastor of New Song Community Church in Oceanside, CA. He mentors pastors who want to lead healthy, growing churches with resources at www.pastormentor.com.
Start Here to learn more about the resources available for you at PastorMentor.
Rufina Walker says
I think encouraging us to sign up for the daily blog is a great step towards launching our Bible reading Revolution! Covering you and the entire Seed family in prayer! Also praying for many to sign up and not just read about putting Jesus first but that we will be obedient and make the time to open our Bibles and truely put Jesus first.
Jan Nelson says
I have really enjoyed my time serving at New Song. I have been given so much insight as to what is required in making up a successful ministry. I feel that New Song is a wonderful, growing church. I am amazed at how many 1st time visitors we have each weekend. There has to be a reason why so many people are drawn to New Song. I will miss New Song when I move out of the area in September but am happy that I can stay in touch and follow the life of this church.
MyWorldIsOpen Blog says
Hiya! Does the frequency of updates of your website depend on some thing or you write blog articles when you have a specific mood or free time? Can’t wait to hear from you.
Hal Seed says
I think back in 2012 I was writing when the mood struck me. Now I feel a sense of responsibility to equip and feed pastors with practical nuts and bolts, and that means posting regularly. So we’ve worked hard for over a year now to post enriching content every week. I hope it’s been of help!
Dan Harman says
Wise words pastor Hal! I’m off on holiday to Cyprus in 9 days! B-)
When planning next years calendar I need to be better at carving out holiday time as this year I left it too late really.
Hal Seed says
Have a great holiday Dan!
Martha Kyamula says
Thank you Pastor Seed for this truth. I am here to look for a chance to fill in for those who go for Summer breaks. I hear from God and I have a lot to share with God’s people. I am a Pastor but I am also a Health professional.
Hal Seed says
I hope those opportunities come your way Martha! In my experience, pastors are looking for someone to fill their pulpit, they tend to look for people they know, or are familiar with. So three ideas might help you in get some invitations: 1 = get to know some pastors outside of your own church, by visiting them, or attending pastors conferences and networking there; 2 = whenever you do speak, make sure it gets filmed, and post that sermon somewhere so that pastors can check it out as they consider inviting you to speak; and 3, offer to teach a small class or seminar for a few members of their church, so the church can become familiar with you.