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June 16th, 2008

by Craig Groeschel

41 comments (+ Add)

Time Off

Many pastors and church staff members don’t take much time off from the church.

There are many reasons:

  • The pastor might not have a staff, so he believes he can’t be away from church.
  • The pastor is worried a guest speaker won’t do a good job.
  • The staff member feels guilty when they take off.
  • The student pastor might not be able to afford to get away.
  • The church staff member is afraid she’ll be viewed as a slacker if she isn’t at church.
  • Some pastors are so driven that they don’t want to take time off.

Whether the reasons are fear, guilt, misplaced passion, or some combination of these, the tired and burdened pastor will be less effective in ministry, more vulnerable to sin, and at a higher risk for burnout.

Is it hard for you to take time off? I’d love to hear from you. Please explain your struggle honestly.

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  1. Jun 16, 2008 at 5:21 am


    When I first graduated from college and began as an associate I was blessed with a Senior Pastor who insisted that I take a day off. I took Friday and for over 35 years still have that day off. I have tried to guard it with a passion. I also worked with a man who didn’t take a day off, didn’t let me take one (I took time anyway) and who thought Sunday was my day off. I do have to admit that sometimes it was hard keeping a day off. Some of it was my own insecurity. Would they think I am a slacker? Would I be showing myself as less of a pastor? Some of it was need (no other staff). So I found myself going to the hospital for surgeries, etc. Early on I didn’t but later learned that if I was going to do that then I would take some time another day. Since I ride a bicycle I would take a longer ride one afternoon, for example. So I reckon I can say that my struggles to keep my day off came as a result of my own insecurity but also a strong work ethic that didn’t “cotton” to slackers was largely responsible for the times I didn’t take some time off.

  2. 2tony
    Jun 16, 2008 at 6:49 am

    i think the ‘Body’ is very, very guilty as well. we seriously expect our leaders to be there every Sunday, Wed, Thurs, Sat - do weddings, funerals, hospital visitation, set up for this and that….
    so many times the Body believes that we pay you for this stuff and it’s your job, and your job only - not mine, not ours, not the Body’s

    why should i help - that’s what i pay you for !!!!!

    most times pastors and staff/ministers are overworked and underpaid but you are ‘called’ remember? that’s just not the way it should be. Jesus did work himself to the point of near exhaustion on occassion but He took some time off, too! That’s a pretty good example I think.

    one of the previous posts was about passion and one of mine is making sure my pastor spouse has time to rest -that’s my job!

  3. Jun 16, 2008 at 6:56 am

    It’s all about control. I take time off because I need it, I deserve it, and it makes me a better pastor. But sometimes I resist it because deep down I have to give up control. Who do you think is on the throne of my life then? Fortunately I’ve gotten over most of that issue and now I’m on a 8 week sabbatical which is really helping me sharpen my ax.

  4. Jun 16, 2008 at 7:05 am

    This might seem like an odd one, but I have another reason why it is hard to take time off . . . I am not sure what to do on my day off! I have never been able to figure out what I need in order to relax and get refreshed. So instead of just doing “nothing,” I will often open the computer and get caught up on e-mail. I have been in ministry for over 10 years and I am in my mid-30’s. I feel like I still have lots of energy but I know I need to figure out how to better spend my time away.

  5. Jun 16, 2008 at 7:50 am

    Lots of churches just don’t allow their pastors time away. I’ve been in ministry for ten years and the _most_ I’ve ever received is two-weeks vacation including two Sundays per year.

    Often it’s not a problem with the pastor as much as it is the expectation that comes from a church leadership body not understanding the toll of ministry on a pastor. No matter how many times you show up at the hospital in the middle of the night for their family, a lot of people truly believe you only work one day a week.

  6. 7joe-schmoe
    Jun 16, 2008 at 7:52 am

    I hope you don’t mind the fact that I am posting anonymously. If this doesn’t get approved, I understand.

    I work for a church that I love. i love knowing that the work I do is just a small part in changing lives and leading people to a relationship with Christ. That being said, in at least my department, it can feel like time off is rarely an option.

    Days off never fully happen (something seems to always come up), friends and family are bailed on on a regular basis, vacation is spent honing our craft/learning new things because there isn’t time for it normally, last minute changes keep the team up all night (literally) fixing things, and all that is on a light week ;-D.

    I don’t mean to come here and complain in a cowardly fashion. The truth is I just don’t want to throw my employer/church under the proverbial bus. It truly is an amazing job, I just don’t feel like where I work places a high priority on “time off.”

    So, I don’t know what it’s like nationwide, but it seems to me like at least from my experience, Churches don’t place a whole lot of emphasis on “real” time off, at least not for joe-shcmoe employee’s, whether it be vacation, sabbath day, or whatever. I can’t imagine this is only Church that it feel this way to work at.

  7. Jun 16, 2008 at 7:58 am

    Funny timing. I just purposefully took some time off Saturday. There was an event at our physical church building.. specifically for women. It was just assumed that I would be there. And while I did pray for the event and all involved… it was not necessary for me to be there. Two of our three sons had been gone most of the week on a mission trip. And frankly - I could not wait to soak up the fragrance of dirty laundry and smiles and story after story of seeing/hearing God’s kindness and love through them. And even when they were “napping” - I could not help but look in on them and be incredibly grateful. While we were at the physical church building on Sunday morning… the rest of the day/night was reserved for the five of us. We just hung out together. Talk about priceless.

  8. Jun 16, 2008 at 8:03 am

    For almost my first two years at I would not take time off and I would always make excuses as to why not; however I would always make sure that my team took time off.

    I have gotten much better; now my wife and I have began to put vactions and time off on the calendar and they are non-negotiable. Getting those dates on the calendar is huge.

  9. 10Ken
    Jun 16, 2008 at 8:29 am

    When I was working with a youth ministry for about three years I was there every for most Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. I probably put in more time in the weekend than I did on a regular working week.

    -*passion* or so you called it “misplaced passion”
    -*fear* that it won’t run smoothly w/o me
    -a need to feel important? wanted? needed?
    -no resource/support

    I think a burnout could have been avoided if I would have taken the time and redirect the energy into something more powerful:

    -passion for God and not just for his people
    -fear of God

    This is one of those things where I wanted to say “I wish someone could’ve told me” but the truth is that, most of the time we have the same answer at hands… we just didn’t take the time to listen to that voice.

  10. Jun 16, 2008 at 8:32 am

    When I got married, my wife already had the discipline of taking time off. She brought that value to our marriage, which was not a value I possessed.

    Since coming to, Craig has modeled appropriate time off with his family. This has made it easy for me to take time off as well. We take at least one long trip (7+ days) and maybe 1 or 2 more shorter trips to get away and refresh ourselves.

    Even though our fearless leader models this from the top, there are others that don’t share this value. I have tried to lead out to my team and model time off with my family. I believe sometimes we think a little too much of ourselves and suppose that “everyone” talks about us and thinks badly of us when we’re gone. But what really matters is not the co-worker’s opinion of you, but that your family sees that you value them above your “job.” *for the record, my wife gets to pick where we go…if mama ain’t happy…ain’t nobody happy!

  11. Jun 16, 2008 at 8:40 am

    It used to be hard to get away, but after a period of burnout it has gotten much easier. I used to feel I needed to prove myself all the time, living for the approval of the people. I was at the point of just walking away from ministry for good. It was then that I realized that something needed to change. So I TOLD my board I was taking a month off. Since then I have made family a priority and taking time off has been much much easier to come by. I just remind myself “not everything has to get done.”

  12. Jun 16, 2008 at 9:11 am

    Days off aren’t a big deal for me; I guard them carefully.

    Going away for vacation - I spend most of my time worrying that I’ve left something undone that will blow up while I’m gone so I’ll check my E-mail relentlessly. I’ve done this on vacations, mission trips, conferences, and anything else you can think of. I’m a worrier by nature.

  13. Jun 16, 2008 at 9:15 am

    It has taken several years, but I am finally to a point where I am good about taking time off. Good about not responding to emails. I’m even considering shutting off the email on my phone altogether.

    It helps being a very black and white person. After doing a lot of study on Sabbath, I realized the only sacrifice required of me under grace is to offer myself as holy and pleasing to God. The only way that happens is by the Cross, first, and secondly through my obedience.

    I am already all God wants me to be through Christ. I need to rest in that, and rely on His spirit to accomplish His purpose in me. By not taking time off (AKA relying on my own power)…I’m just getting in the way of Him.

    I hope and pray I continue to grow in this area. Even as it is a value that has become so interwoven into my being, I know how fickle I can be.

  14. Jun 16, 2008 at 9:26 am

    No. I realize I can always get another job. But I have only one wife and my children have one dad. So I make sure I take my days of.

  15. Jun 16, 2008 at 9:29 am

    I used to be guilty of feeling guilty for taking time off… now I realize my self-worth is not in what I do.

    I also used to fear what people would think of me, so I overworked so everyone would think highly of me… now I’ve realized that it doesn’t really matter what people think if you’re not even happy with your life…

    Thanks for being a good example, Craig!

  16. 17Ken
    Jun 16, 2008 at 9:46 am

    A little bit off track.

    I have a pastor at my church who works for 6 years and take the 7th off for sabbatical. Follows exactly with the Bible. A little bit on the extreme side to me. Thank God he’s not the senior pastor… else we’d be lost for a full year until he comes back.

    Any thoughts?

  17. 18Jan
    Jun 16, 2008 at 9:59 am

    The first 4 or 5 years I was vocationally in ministry I actually lost vacation days because I didn’t use them. I loved my job and felt very validated by it so I went to great lengths not to miss days. (key point) As someone else said, once immersed in ministry I found that I didn’t know what to do with my time off - I had replaced almost all hobbies in my life with ministry. I had forgotten how to relax. I also was very fearful about someone else leading worship. To be honest, I was afraid they would like someone else better and I would be replaced. Isn’t that sick?! We began a Sat. night service and my hand was kind of forced and I had to begin to develop other worship leaders. Over time I saw the extreme value in having others that can do the job just as well as I can. I now take every single vacation day and sometimes travel with my husband and work remotely as well. I leave with a lighter heart because I have learned an important lesson that I did not want to learn:

    Church will and must go on without me. I am not as critical to the process as I would like to think I am. It is okay if someone else is better. God still loves me and uses me. I do not have to be - and will not be - the best.

    The above realizations did not come easily. We went through a horrible set of tragedies in our church. I worked myself literally until I was ill and depressed and burnt out. I am now on a 12 week sabbatical, which I fervently recommend to anyone in ministry - I think it’s a practice we should put in our staff policies and not wait til an emergency hits. If anyone would like to get more info I would love to talk to you - it’s been a life changing process. I did tons of research to prepare. And I am at a smaller church with no paid staff to take my place - just all volunteers.

    So now I am firmly committed to:
    1)Taking every day off I’m given and then some. My family needs me and I need to get away and just be Jan.

    2)Sabbatical leave for all ministers as well as healthier working practices for those in ministry. It will eat you up if you let it.

    3) Developing leaders in my area of ministry and giving it away. I hope and pray I raise up leaders that are more dynamic and gifted than I am. I hope I leave a legacy of leaders in my wake.

    Take a break, rediscover yourself and your relationships as a child of God. Don’t define yourself just as a minister.

  18. Jun 16, 2008 at 9:59 am

    To answer the question, no. I use to feel guilty about time away and it stemmed from a work and self esteem addiction. I cemented too much of my identity in what I did versus who I am.

    Being a part of Gateway Community Church has been a prescription for the addiction as well because John Burke has given us a monthly solitude day to recharge and strengthen the connection between ourselves, God, and the mission.

  19. 20Ken Tran
    Jun 16, 2008 at 10:08 am

    I’m on the computer a lot so you might see more than one posting. Sorry everyone… I have no life. =)… I should probably take a break from replying to blogs.

    Anyhow, one last comment for the day. When we put in too much of ourselves we become disillusioned and even fail to be effective in ministry. Here are the disillusions that I experienced:

    1. People are not as dedicated
    2. People don’t have the heart/passion for God
    3. When is God going to send help (when rest is all we really need)
    4. I’m not doing enough, good enough, prepared enough, efficient enough, intelligent enough, etc…
    5. God, where are you?

    I have learn this order: God, Self, Family… and now, I’m learning how to apply it.

    Thank you everyone for your honesty.

  20. Jun 16, 2008 at 10:15 am

    It’s not hard for me to take the day off, but the demands of ministry make it hard for me to rest my mind when I am off. More and more I am thinking one day off a week is not enough to rest my mind and disengage from ministry. I am currently thinking about how I move to a second day off each week and still remain as productive. For me it will come down to time management - which I struggle with. I need to be more focused to allow me to take that extra day.

  21. Jun 16, 2008 at 10:24 am

    This is perfect timing…I’m back in the office today after a week off last week at the beach with my family.

    My struggle with time off early in ministry was a combination of the things already mentioned. I was under the impression that if I wasn’t there it would fall a part, and sometimes it did which only added to the pressure. I also couldn’t figure out what to do with the free time, and I had become addicted to the rush of busyness.

    My leadership style now is about replacing myself, building the team instead of just around me, and instilling that in my staff and volunteers. There shouldn’t be a huge hole when I’m gone because we’ve been modeling that weekly.

    I heard Andy Stanley make the statement recently that I had heard before, but it punched me in the face this time…”your church has had other pastors, and will have other pastors when you’re gone. Your kids only get 1 dad. Your wife only gets 1 husband. Why would you neglect your only unique job?”

    My current church is great about allowing us to adjust office schedules slightly if there are night or weekend events that require us to be away from home on a regular basis as well. This has been very freeing for me, and allowed me some great time with my wife and kids that I would have missed otherwise.

  22. Jun 16, 2008 at 10:51 am

    OUr church has a policy that after 5 years each pastor gets an 8 week sabbatical as long as that sabbatical has a “plan.” So I have 3 goals on my sabbatical: 1) personal/physical/spiritual renewal; 2) learn how others churches are “equipping” for ministry; and 3) research how other churches are being innovative in worship and evangelism. To record my experiences (as I visit different churches each weekend and just live life) I am blogging. This is very new for our community and I’ve been able to build relationships even with non-Christians through this medium.

  23. Jun 16, 2008 at 11:06 am

    Our big thing as a family, is not being able to afford to get away. If I take a vacation and stay in town; it’s nearly impossible to stop the phone from ringing. Not to say that we don’t invent reasons to get away, but it is still very hard on a limited budget.

  24. 25Daniel Mosley
    Jun 16, 2008 at 11:31 am

    Thankfully, I am on staff with a senior pastor who allows for guilt-free time away. We are committed to working very hard, and then resting. We have a full day office hours Mon-Thurs and then 4 weekend services, 1 Sat and 3 Sunday.

    In my application, here’s the breakdown of time off at our church:

    *** Off every Friday.
    *** Optional 8th weekend off. (See details below).
    *** A 2 day Mini-vacation (2 working days off can be combined with regular off day + 8th weekend if scheduled correctly, which is very nice.)
    *** 2 Separate Weeks of vacation. (3 after 3rd year on staff)

    Let me explain the “8th Weekend Rule” because I think this is SO beneficial. When we launched our fourth weekend service our lead pastor instated this new “rule”. Basically, it grants each staff member the option to be gone every 8th weekend, meaning he/she is not even required to attend a service. This also means that he/she cannot miss any services between those 8 weeks. For example, if I want to go on weekend get-away, do outside ministry, attend a friend’s wedding, or just sit home, that’s completely up to me. I simply cannot miss more than 1 weekend within any 8 week period. This short time off is proving to be a great refresher. If this is not clearly explain, let me know.

    Again, I am so grateful for a lead pastor who encourages his staff to schedule time away. Here’s how I make use of this GUILT-FREE time off.

    My day off: I have a “scheduled” day off. Meaning that day is NOT available for appointments, counseling, answering email, phone calls, etc. Why? Because it is already “scheduled”. For the most part, I’m unavailable on Fridays. I will only take my lead pastor’s calls, which he calls only in case of emergency and is very rare.

    8th Weekends, Mini-Vacation, & Vacations: Even though we are young in the ministry, my wife and I have learned some valuable lessons about protecting our time away. Here’s what we’ve learned so far.

    1) TIME AWAY IS A MUST–gotta have it.

    2) STAYING LOCAL IS NOT AN OPTION: We must get away–leave town, disappear. If not, amazingly people still find us… OR we end up doing the norm, which includes work, and it doesn’t feel like a time of refreshing.

    3) DISCONNECT FROM PHONE & EMAIL. We do NOT open our email or answer work related calls. Caller ID is from God =). Our cellphones have a “We’re away and will be available again on…” greetings on them. In fact, I keep my iPhone off as much as possible just because it can be so intrusive.

    4) SCHEDULE IN ADVANCE. At the beginning of each year, usually in January, we sit down with our calendar and map out our time off. Why? Because we’ve found that if we don’t we’ll get so busy with life and ministry that we just never get around to it. And because its just that important.

  25. Jun 16, 2008 at 11:41 am

    I have SUCH a hard time taking time off because I get so caught up in the creative process (in this case, working for God)and I just haven’t taken much time off at all. I’ve been married for a little over a year now and we try so hard to balance our time together and value every moment we spend together, but getting away has really been a challenge. I have a guy that does a great job filling in for me when I’m gone, but that’s not the issue. Time just passes, but I DO feel like I’ve become more vulnerable as of late to attacks.

  26. 27Travis
    Jun 16, 2008 at 12:20 pm

    I try to take 2-3 days off quarterly, with one two week vacation per year. It usually takes me 2-3 days to detox and clear my mind of all church business. This can only happen if I leave email and cell phone alone (only for emergencies).
    By the way, One Prayer has helped me this summer take some time off and prepare for July.

  27. 28Carrie
    Jun 16, 2008 at 12:37 pm

    I’ve got a question. How do tell someone who you care about that they need to take real time off? Not time off to go do something else but real time off? I work at a church and I see people all the time not taking time off because they are so wrapped up in what they’re doing. It’s like they think that the whole church is going to blow-up if they’re not there. How do you tell them they’re on the verge of burn out?

  28. Jun 16, 2008 at 12:57 pm

    I serve in a Biblical Counseling Minsitry and Monday’s are our day off. Often times though I find it a challenge to keep from picking it up again Monday morning. I have to consciously remind myself that the Christian life is a life of balance and that if I am out of balance in anyway, something or someone always suffers. Also for me it helps to remember the many verses in scripture about human effort and how it really accomplishes nothing. (John 6:63)

    God is very intentional about rest. I therefore try to be also.

    Thanks for prompting a discussion on a very subtle way PRIDE can sneak into our lives as busyness.

    Romans 1:12,

  29. Jun 16, 2008 at 1:37 pm

    Took time off this last week. I was super worried about the guest speaker. I actually was at the service and God was teaching me a great lesson. At first I was worried and I Prayed he would do a good job. Then he did a phenomenal job and then I got insecure. Then I realized that I am a control freak. I need to remember God is in control.

  30. Jun 16, 2008 at 3:59 pm

    I’m in it for the long haul so I have to take time off. I joke with our staff and say that they are required to take their vacation days each year. If they don’t, the vacation days roll over - to me.
    I did at full post to Pastors asking them to work less:

  31. 32kaybee
    Jun 16, 2008 at 4:05 pm

    I’m not a pastor, in the true sense of the word, but I’ve been in ministry all my life (over 40 years) and I’d like to tell all you younger pastors, that when you get to my age, you will regret not taking time off. Over-work, constant work, burn-out - it all takes its toll, not only on the emotions, but on the physical body. In fact, it may even take years off your potential length of life — how is THAT glorifying the Lord? Especially when He Himself instituted the Sabbath (which wasn’t for ministering on, but for rest). It is SO important to take a Sabbath rest.

    Also, I wonder, if so many of you are so busy, do you get to spend quality devotional time with the Lord? Spending time in his presence (and I don’t mean coming to Him because you HAVE to, but because you WANT to) brings the greatest refreshing imaginable!

    One more thing: a good question, to be answered completely honestly before the Lord — do you love your work more than you love Him?

    Thanks for the opportunity to have my say!

  32. Jun 16, 2008 at 6:00 pm

    I worry that the weekend I take off is the weekend everything will go wrong. I’ve had to manage system failure over the phone and it’s a nightmare.

  33. Jun 16, 2008 at 8:03 pm

    I majorly have struggled with this but feel I’m starting to get better at time off. I feel so incredibly honored to be called to lead children to Christ and minister to their families and in my passion it translated poorly to working myself to death. I will admit that I have those big-headed thoughts of no one can do it like me and thoughts of proving myself to the women in ministry doubters. But now I try to focus on how Jesus sees me and seek ONLY His approval and not man’s. I have to constantly work on this and guard my time with family. I have also learned to say no occasionally. It’s never been the church I serve…they have always encouraged time off!

  34. 35Jim
    Jun 16, 2008 at 9:45 pm

    I struggled and to be honest I still do. Two things help keep me in line. 1) I realized that I was short changing God and his people by not trusting them to do the job without me. 2) I have a wife that forces me to schedule days off and vacation time. She knows that I will not do it and so she forces me in a loving way.

  35. Jun 16, 2008 at 10:06 pm

    [...] tired.  A couple of the bulleted points on this blog describe me. Possibly related posts: (automatically generated)Student Life CampStudent Life Camp [...]

  36. 37Dan
    Jun 16, 2008 at 10:43 pm

    i found it incredibly difficult to take time off! so much on my mind…and since my hours/work happen at unusual times i feel like if someone sees me taking a monday off, they *might* think “wow, that pastor never does any work during the week”…silly really

  37. Jun 17, 2008 at 2:06 am

    I used to have issues with taking time off, so even on vacations I would be checking emails at least daily, and then stressing out and not getting to enjoy the time I was spending with my Wife on vacation. Then I read Andy Stanley’s “Choosing to Cheat” and it really impacted me, so much so that I gave a copy to all of my volunteers as a Christmas gift.

    During an interview for a position at a new church this weekend, I was asked the three main things I was looking for from the church, one of my answers was balance, being able to spend time away from work building into my relationships with my wife and 7 month old daughter. Those thoughts came out verbally before I had a chance to censor myself, but both the pastor and personnel committee chair agreed and said that was a value practiced with their staff.

  38. Jun 17, 2008 at 11:25 am

    Time off… I wish. First of all my brain never stops (so I truly never rest, i’m working on this or God is working on me on this). I’m going to be honest, time off means being at home with 3 kids and constant yelling. I don’t ever feel like I get a break. I love my kids but I don’t get rest at my house. Third, we can’t afford to get a babysitter nor take a vacation. It’s funny this post came up b/c I’ve been struggling with this. I want a break. I want my mind to stop telling me that there is so much to do, even when I am sitting still. I want to spend time with my wife, away from my kids. I want to rest.

  39. 40Luke Gervais
    Jun 18, 2008 at 11:45 am

    I lead a necessary support ministry in our church that requires me (or one of my volunteers)to be there at every event. The problem is I can’t seem to find the volunteers or the ones I can find need so much training it’s almost easier for me to just “do it myself”. I really value time with my wife and daughter but I struggle to set things up so I can leave I want to be able to trust the people but I honestly feel like I can’t trust most of them even if I can find them and get them to commit. And I feel bad tapping the same few that I can trust over and over again. I know the value in time away it’s just hard to actually do it. God help me.

  40. Jul 5, 2008 at 11:16 am

    Many don’t take time off because of the Senior Pastor won’t take time off.
    In my case, and since I’m not full time yet, I made the rule (well my wife made me do it) to take saturdays even from my secular job and church to be with her and the kids.
    If no time is taken off our children might become sceptic abour church.
    Misled passion is the greattest I think.
    Acctually, I’m commenting on my day off, so that;s it…I’m out.

    Greetings from El Salvador