Pastors' Forum


Time Off

I tend to stay overly engrossed in my work as a pastor, and I’ve not been very good at taking time off. When I have taken a break or a vacation, I tend to not let go of the church or the cares of the ministry mentally. I’m wondering what other pastors do to relax? How do they do with hobbies, days off, vacations, and sabbaticals. I’d love to learn from pastors who’ve done better with these things than I have.


Rev. Tony Cooke
I want to share with you how two very honest pastors responded to this question.

One pastor said: “Because I struggle with this too, I have a friend who’s name is Tony Cooke who ‘kicks me in the pants’ to get away and does his best to convince me that I’m not irreplaceable. I really can’t answer this one because I actually do battle this one myself. I just took my first two-week vacation in over 23 years.”

Another pastor wrote about the issue of vacations, relaxing, time off: “I am horrible with all these things.”

If you are among those who struggle with relaxing and taking time off, I pray you’ll benefit from the following.

Pastor Jim Graff – Victoria, TX
It is easy to get consumed by what we are consumed with. I’m convinced that is why God commanded His people to be refreshed each week by the Sabbath, each month during new moons, and throughout the year. I’ve found it helpful to ask myself if I’m doing that well regularly. If not, it helps to plan activities and time with people that refresh and recreate you. Winston Churchill said,’ the world is run by tired men.’ But time off is the difference between being tired sometime and burnout.

Pastor Al Jennings – Fort Wayne, IN
Great question! This really hits close to home because I have challenges with this myself. My issue is that I love ministry so much, that it’s a challenge for me to pull away from it and not think about it. But I know that I need to do it. I recommend (and I’m talking to myself at the same time):

1. Put your vacation in your schedule at the first of the year before you schedule anything else.

2. Set aside one day a week that you do anything you want that is not related to ministry. If you are married and/or have children, spend some time with them. It’s important to have fun. Everybody is different, so find things that are enjoyable for you and do it.

WARNING!: When you have this set aside time, sometimes things come up that “scream emergency”; but my experience is that almost all of those things can wait until later.

Anything that comes to your mind on your day off that you are tempted to worry about, throw those cares on the Lord (1 Peter 5:7).

Pastor Thom Fields – Kennewick, WA
I’m not certain that I have the right to even attempt answering this particular question. I grapple with these issues every single month. I love what I do and I almost hate the idea of considering taking time to “not do it.” I’ve got to tell you that when I take “time off” – all I think about is what I’m going to do as soon as I “get back!” If I wake up in the middle of the night, I’m thinking about “church stuff.” I’m not complaining…I LOVE THIS STUFF!

One practice that I have implemented, however, that has proven to provide considerable health and balance to my life and ministry is The Rule of 5. The concept (taught by John Maxwell) is simple. If you had a tree standing in your back yard and you went out every day with an axe and swung that axe at the base of that tree 5 times EVERY DAY…regardless of the size of the tree, eventually the tree would drop. Again – the size of the tree doesn’t matter. Big or little; eventually the tree will fall. Size isn’t the issue. Swinging the axe every day is the issue.

These are the 5 things I do every day. 1. Grow Wiser (read and apply the Bible). 2. Grow Richer (practice insane generosity) 3. Grow Younger (45 minutes of physical exercise) 4. Grow Happier (pursue my wife and enjoy my children) 5. Grow Others (invest in mentorship)

Believe it or not, by implementing The Rule of 5 I have become much more at ease with life in general. I have found new joy in stealing away with my wife on the Harley or playing a round of golf with my boys. I think that simply “knowing” that I’m actually accomplishing something intentional allows me the luxury of enjoying life—guilt free. I’m swinging that axe. I’m not just “slacking off”—I’m chopping down a tree!

Pastor Brad Allen – San Mateo, CA
Successful pastors are ones that love the ministry, enjoy studying the Word, and helping people. Their first love is the Lord and ministry is their first priority and thoroughly enjoyable. But these men and women also balance their time with family and friends and take time to enjoy hobbies and time off.

Exercise and hobbies give a pastor a time and place NOT to think about ministry and budgets and problems to solve. It’s healthy to cultivate a pattern that gives you time away from church so that ministry remains a joy and not a chore.

Pastor Jim Blanchard – Virginia Beach, VA
Many ministry leaders get so focused on their work that they have difficulty taking time off to refresh and relax. You mentioned relaxing mentally from the demands of ministry, which is very important to longevity in ministry. My suggestion is to find a hobby that you enjoy that takes your mind off of ministry. My wife and I enjoy the challenge of league bowling and it is also definitely a mission field.

Also some do not take regular vacations due to the expense and don’t have the time to spare from the church. As an alternative, I like to take some ‘staycations’ where we are still in the area and still preaching on Sunday; but are taking time off during the week to work out, relax and find some enjoyable activity as a family. It is a God idea to actually have Sabbath days where there are no appointments or demands upon your time.

I think the primary issue here is building a ministry leadership team, where everything in the church is not ‘funneled’ to the pastor’s desk. Over time, pastors identify those that are stable, mature, and trustworthy within the congregation to lead various ministries. They will help to take some of the weight off of your shoulders. I believe that building team leadership is a key to staying rested in your calling and still accomplishing the work of the ministry with a spirit of excellence.

Pastor Doug Foutty – Parkersburg, WV
I work a full time job at a chemical plant and pastor a church. Time off is at a premium. I love my wife and 3 kids, and the kids especially are just waiting for any spare moment that I have. I look forward so much to being with my family and giving them the right place in my priorities. I do love our church and church members, but I refuse to put them or church business ahead of my family.

A pastor’s wife, that many of you know, once said—“When you get old, it won’t be the church members gathered around taking care of you; it will be your kids. Make sure they will want to be there.” Ha, ha. It is a choice. You know how forgiveness is a decision, a choice, not a feeling? YOU make the choice to relax and be with your family. YOU make the choice to cast the cares of the church upon the Lord. YOU always have the deciding vote on what you think on, don’t you? When you go on vacation, make it known that you have arranged coverage in case of an emergency. YOU need rest. God isn’t asking you to burn yourself up and wear yourself down for the gospel. The gospel is good news and it wouldn’t be good news to hear that you crashed and burned in the ministry or lost your family because you were not able to relax. Jesus said that He left His PEACE with us. It is for OUR benefit. Receive the peace of the Lord today and take a well-deserved break.

Pastor Jesse Zepeda – Pflugerville, TX
Pastor Rose, my associate and I face the same situation, here’s what we do;

1. We were taught at Rhema, “If there’s something else you’d rather be doing, go do it.” Well, we love being pastors—absolutely love it. There’s nothing, nothing else in this world that we both would rather be doing, honestly.

2. We’re entering our 21st year of ministry and 19 as pastors. And before this, we traveled with some teacher/evangelist graduates from Rhema and we enjoyed every part of the ministry.

Some friends from church would try to warn us about “burn-out,” but our love for Jesus has always being greater than anything we have faced.

3. Every Monday, our day off, Rose and I take a break. We do what she wants to do or whatever I feel like doing, just to take a break. That’s our time off, away from the ministry; that’s our vacation time. We really enjoy ourselves every Monday.

4. About every month or so, I do breakfast and a PG-13 movie with one of my elders on a Friday, before the big weekend crowds.

5. Once every quarter, our church has a “hallelujah celebration” either after our Sunday service or our Wednesday night service, so that our whole church can have fellowship, food, and fun.

6. We try to invite guest speakers on a quarterly basis for the church to learn from other parts of the ministry.

That gets our whole church involved.

Our vacation time is usually going home to Rhema for fellowship and to get ministered to.

I hope this helps.

Pastor Duane Hanson – Saint Paul, MN
Considering all the demands that come with the ministry, I find the issue of “time off” to be an interesting concept. Years ago when I first answered the Call of God on my life, I had to resolve this basic question: As a “full time” minister, what really constitutes “time off?” It took me some time, but I finally worked it out and found the balance.

The primary reason I initially struggled with this issue was simple: It had been impressed upon me in my early years as a Christian that a minister is “on call 24/7,” and should always be available when needed. Have you ever heard the cliché “It’s a calling, not a career!”? That phrase rang in my ears when I first started getting involved with the ministry, and unfortunately, it had a negative impact on me.

What finally struck me was this: When I was working a secular job, there was never any doubts or questions about having at least one “day off” each week, and I certainly didn’t struggle with finding things to do that weren’t “work” related. Could I do the same thing when I was “full time” in the ministry? Would taking “time off” from God’s assignment be unethical? Would I somehow be disqualified from the ministry because I wasn’t totally committed and sold out to the Lord? These were questions that I wrestled with as a young & inexperienced believer as I prepared for the ministry.

Before responding to the call of God on my life, I was on a successful career path in retail management & marketing. When the Lord directed us to pioneer our church, I was working a full time job that demanded a minimum of 45 to 50 hours a week. Because we started the church from scratch, it was necessary to be bi-vocational for a period of time. After a few months of “working” 75 to 80 hours a week between my secular job and the church, I realized I was running on empty. I took some vacation time from my secular job and spent time seeking the Lord’s direction about the “balance” of family & ministry & the job! The Lord was gracious and pointed out the necessity to have a “Sabbath” mentality that wasn’t only a “spiritual retreat,” but also included some “time off” for “natural” things.

In those early years, when our children were young, and we had the “zeal” and excitement of pioneering a new church, it really wasn’t feasible to take much time off, or as I thought of it – some “personal time off” from the demands of work & ministry. We didn’t take many family vacations back in the 70’s & 80’s, because you usually had to piggy-back your precious vacation time with some week-long conference in Tulsa. I forced myself to set aside one day a week (for us it was usually a Friday), and plan to do something with my family that was fun, entertaining, and life giving! There were times that our “day off” was interrupted because of the ministry, but I would then try and make up that lost time somewhere else during the week. I hadn’t yet learned many of the things I now know about the principles of both “personal priorities” and “time management!” Eventually the church grew to the point where I could go “full time” into the ministry.

Honestly, that’s when I went through the most difficult time of adjustment! Within the first couple of months after leaving my secular job responsibilities, it seemed like I had so much extra time on my hands, I actually felt guilty that I wasn’t working enough hours! Thank God for a wife who was able to challenge my thinking and suggested that I start keeping track of my time each day. After a month of keeping a daily “time log” like I did when working in the secular business world, I added up my hours and found I had been putting in between 60 and 70 hours a week that were ministry related. I quickly realized that all those hours would have been considered “on the clock” for the Lord, assuming I would have been punching the clock and earning extra for the overtime! After seeing those time logs, the “guilt trip” of not working enough was dealt with, and I was able to back off and started scheduling “time off” from the ministry. The hardest thing for me was to actually separate the “spiritual sabbath” from a “natural sabbath,” or time off from anything ministry related!

Since we’ve learned the necessity of the “sabbath rest” in our life, we purpose to get away for some “R&R” on a regular basis. Two or three times a year we will block out a few days and take off to the North Shore of Minnesota, just to get out of town and away from the demands of the church. We will spend most of that time as a ministry related “Sabbath,” focusing on seeking the Lord, reading, praying & meditating on the Word. We also purpose to schedule some personal “sabbath” time during the year for road trips, hiking & biking, and pursuing our hobbies. But still, we rarely ever take all the “vacation time” I’m allowed in my compensation package. However, I do make sure that I take all my days off each month and enjoy having the time to spend with my wife & family. Purpose to plan ahead and schedule the time off, otherwise, you’ll lose it.

Pastor Phil Edwards – Ennice, NC
When I take time off, I go out of town. I find if I stay close to the church, that I get involved with something. I also take Wednesday nights off from June to September. I assign those nights to ministers within my congregation. I also find when I plan time off or vacations, I’m more likely to take the time if I schedule it during my yearly planning meeting in October.

Pastor Marvin Yoder – Mattoon, IL
I like what I do as a minister, so it is very easy for me to be overly committed in my work. So I have to think of certain things that will help me to keep my work in proper perspective.

First, I must realize that working all the time is like trying to cut wood with an axe that you never take time to keep sharp. Cutting wood with a dull axe is never any fun!

Secondly, I must keep in mind that it isn’t how much work that I get done today, but rather, am I pacing myself for the long-haul so that I can accomplish what I need to over a long period of time and avoid burnout.

Thirdly, I must keep in mind that if I work overtime and get those things done, then who actually did the work; did I do the work in my own strength or did I rely upon God’s strength to do the work? Do I get the glory for working hard, or does God get the glory because I endeavored to work in His strength?

Fourth, I must keep in mind that God neither sleeps nor slumbers, and that the ministry is actually His; therefore, I must leave the care of it with Him. This means I must mentally and emotionally unhook from it and let Him have it so that He can take care of the ministry.

I have developed a pattern of working and taking off appropriate time as follows:

Getting enough sleep: I try to get enough sleep so that I am able to do a good day’s work, which typically is around 6.5 or 7 hours a night. Occasionally I need eight hours of sleep.

Watch my emotional rhythms: When I sense my emotions not responding quite as well, I know it’s time to take another day off beyond what I normally do. Or, if I can’t take the whole day off, I will get away for several hours and have private time or spend time with my wife doing something that we like.

Taking time off with no schedules: My wife and I also take vacations at least once a year where we have no set schedule in that time. We pack our things and take off on 2 lane roads (no interstate driving) with no schedule, and when we want to stop and get a motel room, we do so. If we see something interesting that we want to stop and see or do, we take time to do it. No schedules and no pressures!

Miscellaneous things: Some other things that I do include doing important work during my peak times of energy and creativity in the day, enjoying my hobbies, keeping a fairly healthy diet, and getting physical exercise fairly regularly.

However, the bottom line is, even though I do all these things in these natural and emotional things, I must still keep the biblical principle in mind that I am to cast my care upon Him and God does care about me, my family, and my ministry more than I could ever imagine. Therefore I remind myself that I CAN LET GO of the work of the ministry and relax, having full confidence in God to do what I cannot do! I must practice what I preach!

Pastor Billy Joe Watts – Tulsa, OK
My wife and I have established a rule in our relationship that we will take a quarterly get away from business and church. So every three months or so, we take a mini get away to a hotel, another city, or just an overnighter. We have found that time away, vacations, and date nights, help us to stay fresh and keeps our relationship alive and vibrant. We have made a commitment to hold each other accountable for that time, and it seems to work. I have found we are able to give our best when we’ve been refreshed by getting away and having some sabbatical time enjoying one another.

We have also developed a routine of regularly attending ministry functions at other ministries for a time of personal ministry for us.

As for hobbies, we’re still trying to master that one.

Pastor Larry Phalen – Dickinson, ND
I golf 2-3 times a week, I visit another pastor that is located close by (usually weekly), and I do internet time doing games. That is what I do naturally, but spiritually, I use Charles Capps’ booklet, “God’s Creative Power,” confessions and I speak those confessions over me on a regular basis. I have done this for the past 28 years or so.

I also use Philippians 4:8 “Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of a good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things.” I then force myself to think on good things. I have done and used these for so long, that today I usually can overcome destructive thought patterns in a short time.

Controlling your thoughts so you can enjoy down time is a battle for long term, not short term. That is why I don’t let fear control me and steal my down time. It shall pass!

Pastor Ray Almaguer – Covina, CA
God Himself worked six days and rested on the seventh day, and not because He was tired and stressed out. He did it as an example for us to follow. If God Himself rested one day in seven, who do we think we are trying to work seven days a week?

The Sabbath principle that Jesus Himself recognized is one full day off every seven days. Jesus said the Sabbath was meant to serve us, not the other way around. Under the law, Israel was commanded to keep the Sabbath. Why have we forgotten this truth under grace? My wife and I have been vigilant in observing this principle. We take one full day off every week and we take two family vacations every year. Our four sons are now grown and they are all involved in church. They have no resentment toward church or ministry because Esther and I worked very hard to keep our priorities in order. After thirty years of pastoring, Esther and I are not burnt out, but still passionate about ministry.

When I first began in ministry, I heard an experienced, wise pastor say that the first thing he did in planning the new year was to mark off his vacation on his calendar. He said that if he failed to do so, he never would get a vacation. So I followed his example, and it has served me well over the years. If you don’t take control of your schedule, someone or something else will. It’s the nature of what we do. Someone said ministry is kind of like housework in that it’s never really done.

I think pastors need to learn to take time off without feeling guilty. As a pastor, you benefit the entire church when you are refreshed spirit, soul and body, so take enough time off to be refreshed. It usually takes me anywhere from a few days to a week to unwind, so I really start enjoying my vacation during the second week. I don’t call the church, I don’t worry about attendance or the offering, and they don’t call me unless there is an extreme emergency. Anything else they can handle fine without me.

I’ve never taken an extended sabbatical, but some of my pastor friends have, and it has done wonders for them. I’m certainly open to the idea of taking a sabbatical one day.