Why Pastor’s Should Take a Summer Preaching Break

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I am coming off of my summer preaching break at Revolution. When we started the church 5 years ago, I preached almost 100 times in the first 2 years. While it seemed necessary at the time, it was not unwise and certainly not sustainable.

It is always interesting to me when pastors hear about the break I take each summer. They often tell me how they could never do that or what they would do if they did that. I’ve talked to church members who don’t know what to do with a pastor taking a break. I get quizzical looks and then they say, “It would be nice for me to take 4 weeks off.” Which totally misses the point, but it would be nice to take 4 weeks off.

Here’s what I do on my break & why you as a pastor should take one:

  1. Rest. During my break I go on vacation, spend longer time with Katie and the kids than I normally do. I take more retreat days to be alone with Jesus and work on my heart. In the flow of a ministry year, it is easy to get busy and drown out the voice of the Holy Spirit. While I take my day off each week and try to take a retreat day each month, it is easy to skip these. A break gives me no excuse. During a break, I’m able to read my bible longer and journal more, pray more and work on me as a man, a father, a husband and a pastor. If this were the only thing a pastor gained from his break, his church would be better off, but there’s more.
  2. Let the church hear from other communicators. I would love to think I’m the greatest communicator my church has ever heard, but that isn’t true. In fact, they get tired of me, how I say things and what I say. I start to run out of interesting things to say, my stories get dry and don’t connect and I get tired of the series we are in. This happens every series we do, 10 weeks into it I’m ready for the next one. A break lets other people preach, which develops other communicators who God is calling into ministry or preaching. It allows my church to hear a different way of preaching, a different lens of reading the Bible and new insights and stories. Depending on how well they do, it might also give your church a greater appreciation for you. Some notes on guest speakers: they must line up with you theologically, don’t preach heresy on your week off. They must be good. I knew one pastor who booked speakers who weren’t as good as he was so when he came back people were excited he was back. I want Revolution to be great 52 weeks a year, regardless of who is preaching.
  3. Get your love and passion for preaching back. Preaching is hard work. It is tiring and draining. I love to preach and prep a sermon. It is one of the favorite parts of my job, but it is physically, emotionally, spiritually and mentally tiring. Pulling back for a few weeks is incredibly important. Two weeks into your break, you will want to preach again and have the itch. This is good, then enjoy the last 2 weeks. For me, I’ve learned that I need to take a week off from preaching every 10 weeks. Every pastor is different, but that seems to be my limit.
  4. Evaluate the church. Andy Stanley calls this “working on the church, not in the church.” When I’m not working on a sermon, it gives me a chance to pull back and look at everything. This summer we and my leaders spent a great deal of time evaluating Missional Communities, talking about our first Revolution Church plant and what that will look like, and how we will get from 250 to 500 in attendance and what needs to change for that to happen and what will change because of that. In the normal flow of a ministry year, it is hard to have these meetings because they take time, but the summer is the perfect time to pull back and evaluate.
  5. Look ahead. Right along with evaluating your church, you can look ahead. You can read for upcoming sermons and series. You can work ahead on things. This summer, I started to work on the series we will begin in January. This is a huge help to our church because it allows us to have resources, daily bible study questions, mc guides, and study guides to educate our people in Scripture. None of these things happen at the last minute.
  6. Grow your leadership through books and conversations. Taking a break gives you extra time to read outside of sermon prep. I love to read and it seems I am always reading 5 books, but a summer break helps me read more and from a wider variety of books and topics. It also helps me have time to talk to other leaders, ask them questions, learn from them to benefit our church. This summer, I’ve spent time talking to pastors of church that are in that 350-500 range to see what is next. I’ve talked with pastors who have planted a church and what they learned in the process.
  7. Gives you energy for the fall. In most churches, the fall is the second biggest growth time of the year. The spring is the biggest for Revolution. Taking a break in the summer, pulling back gives you the energy for the season that is coming. If you go into the ministry season at 85%, you will burnout and not make it. If you go in at 100% you will push through and be of greater use to your church and Jesus.

If you are an elder or a church member who has the power to encourage your pastor to do this, do it. The benefit to your pastor, his family and your church is enormous. If you are a pastor, stop making excuses about this. Educate your elders, vision cast and lead up. I had to at the beginning as my elders didn’t understand why I’d do this. To them it felt like I was taking a month off. That’s okay, but don’t let that stop you.

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Dads & Family Vacations (How to Maximize Your Summer)

We just got back yesterday from a family vacation. We spent the last week in San Diego, escaping the heat of Tucson and enjoying the cloudy, cool weather of California. One thing I’ve noticed in my own life, and so I assume it is the same for other dad’s, is how we misuse our vacation time and ultimately, lose great opportunities with our families.

I always hear people say after a vacation, “I need a vacation from my vacation.” Here are a few tips I’ve learned over the last few years of family vacations and summers with our kids so that when you go on vacation, you actually rest and recharge:

  1. Take all your vacation days. If your company gives you 3 weeks, take all 3. Don’t leave any left over at the end of the year. Your work hard, your family runs really fast throughout the year from activity to activity. One of the biggest wastes is vacation time left over. One study found that 3 out of 10 Americans leave vacation days on the table each year. These are free days off, take them.
  2. Dad’s set the tone. The reality of vacation, summer and really year round in a home is that Dad sets the tone. When I am frustrated, tense, anxious, the whole family ends up feeling this way. How you react to your wife, your kids. It bleeds into everyone. You set the tone.
  3. Prepare mentally and emotionally for time off. Being off from work is hard. It is a different rhythm, a different routine. You don’t wake up and make phone calls, check your email or sit in meetings. If you have young kids, they don’t usually entertain themselves. As a dad, you aren’t used to this. So, mentally and emotionally prepare for it. You probably work too many hours like most of us, which means emotionally you are fried by the time you get to vacation. Spend the week leading up to vacation mentally and emotionally unpacking and preparing for vacation.
  4. Turn off your email, phone, facebook, etc. Vacation means you are not working. I know this is hard to believe but your company will run without you. When we go on vacation, I turn off my phone, email, facebook, etc. I got home to 300+ emails, tons of facebook notifications that I get to pull my way out of. Trust me on this, if you want a sure fire way to build into your family, win enormous points with your wife, turn off your phone, email and social media. Some will tell me they can’t. I will challenge you to look at the idol of your heart that is driving that perceived need.
  5. Plan Ahead. Wherever you are going, even if you are doing a staycation, do some research. Find some ideas on groupon or living social, look for coupons. The internet makes planning a cheap vacation, inexpensive fun things to do, incredibly easy.
  6. Vacation is about you serving. Vacation is a time for you to serve your wife and your kids, not the other way around. Clean up after meals, ask your wife ahead of time what she would like to have happen so she can recharge and rest. While went to the beach, I would spend time with the kids so Katie could just sit on the beach.
  7. Make memories. This goes with planning ahead. While we in San Diego, we ate out a lot. We rarely eat out at home and thought it would be fun. We made sure that we ate near a lot of boats because our kids loved looking at them. Think through, what things can we do to make memories.

Question: What would you add? How can a father maximize vacation?


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Summer Preaching Break

A few people have asked why I haven’t preached in the last few weeks at Revolution. One of the blessings the elders have given me each summer is a summer preaching break. Typically in the summer, I take 3-4 weeks where I don’t preach and in that time I usually go on a family vacation. We didn’t do this the first year of Revolution because I didn’t have anyone else to preach. That year I preached 50 weekends. But I’ve learned from older pastors that one of the ways they make it to the end in ministry and finish well is taking a summer preaching break. The misconception is that a pastor who has a summer preaching break is just sitting at home playing xbox, doing nothing. Other pastors may do that, but for me, my preaching break for me consists of me working, just not preaching. Steven Furtick explains well why he takes a summer preaching break.

There are a couple of benefits to this. It helps me stay fresh as preaching is tiring, mentally, physically, spiritually and emotionally. It gives me time to spend extended time with God, filling my tank so that I have things to say. It gives me a chance to look ahead and plan future sermon series. During this time I typically write study guides for upcoming series. On this study break I wrote the study guides for our series on Titus and Jude that we are doing this fall.

It also helps me with my family time. Giving me an opportunity to have some flexibility to go to church with my family, a rare treat. Be more focused on them as when I am preaching I am very focused on my sermons, prepping my voice, mind, heart and body for it.

It helps our church not just hear from me. I appreciate that Revolution loves hearing me preach and I love preaching, but it is healthy for them to hear other communicators. It gives a chance for new communicators in our church to get developed. One of our goals from the beginning is to fight as hard as we can against the tendency for Revolution to be built around one person. It is hard but having 8-10 weeks a year that I don’t preach is a big part of helping that to happen.

This summer, my break got moved up. It was supposed to be at the beginning of August, but I ended up getting laryngitis from my allergies at the beginning of July so we had to switch things around. It has been a challenge for everyone, but our team has been great about being flexible and making it happen.

One of the last things it does is makes me love preaching. As I said in other posts, preaching is spiritual warfare. It is hard and draining. I love every minute that I get to preach, but it is hard. I remember a preaching professor telling me that after preaching one sermon you should feel like you just worked an 8 hour day, if you don’t, you left some on the field so to speak. Now, I preach twice a week. Taking a break reinvigorates that love of preaching, keeping me focused on the prize of preaching, which is life change. Right now, I can’t wait for July 30, which is when I am back to preaching again.

But this week, I’m pumped to sit at Revolution, worship with my church family and hear Brent Thomas challenge us from the book of Ruth. Pastor, if you don’t take a break in the summer, let me encourage you to do so. You need it. Your family needs it. Your church needs it.

Links of the Week

  1. Tim Challies on What we can learn from the Rob Bell controversy. Helpful things on criticism here.
  2. Steven Furtick on Why pastor’s should take several weeks off in the summer. This is why I take several weekends off in a row each summer. So important for me, my family and our church.
  3. Charles Stone on Why a pastor should do sermon prep outside of the office. Couldn’t agree more.
  4. Craig Groeschel on Why it’s important for your family to unplug occasionally.
  5. Perry Noble on 7 things to do to raise a Godly daughter.
  6. But, “I’m too busy to be missional.”
  7. Will Mancini on Questions to ask on your summer break. I’m excited to work through these in a few weeks when I have my summer preaching break.
  8. Dealing with the preacher’s adrenaline meltdown. Preaching can be killer on your body because of the adrenaline. Here are some helpful things to work through. If you don’t preach, read this to see what those who preach go through each week.
  9. Homosexuality and the Gospel.

Top Posts of June 2010

In case you missed them, here are the top posts for the last month on the blog:

  1. Thoughts on Burnout, Sleep, Adrenalin, Stress, Sex and Eating
  2. Being a Pastor’s Wife Part 1
  3. What a Pastor Does on a Break
  4. Being a Pastor’s Wife Part 4
  5. Soccernomics
  6. Being a Pastor’s Wife Part 3
  7. What He Must Be…If He Wants to Marry my Daughter
  8. Being a Pastor’s Wife Part 5
  9. Saturday Night Mind Dump… (6/5/10)
  10. Being a Pastor’s Wife Part 2

Links of the Week

  1. Scott Williams on 5 characteristics of a next level leader. Wow.
  2. Perry Noble on Some people will walk away and it’s not your fault. Pastors, if you have a vision, get used to this. And it is okay when it happens.
  3. Steven Furtick on Just because they left doesn’t mean you lost. This goes right along with Perry’s post from above.
  4. Craig Groeschel on What it takes to finish in ministry. Great post to read as I am getting ready to be on vacation.
  5. Mark Driscoll interviews Wayne & Margaret Grudem. Great interview on marriage and ministry.

Be Proactive

Many people will have a break of some kind in the next 2 weeks. Whether you have a week off or just a few days, most of us have a break coming. We all go into a break like this hoping to get some things done. Whether that is relaxing, being with family, reading that book, exercising, or getting some sleep.

The problem is that most of us will go back to work after the holidays and wonder where our break went. Very few people actually accomplish what they want to accomplish over any break.

Here are some ideas to accomplish what you want. You need to be proactive about it, and that takes planning.

For me, here is what I am hoping to accomplish after Christmas Eve and the end of the year (it’s my Christmas break):

  • Go out on a date night with Katie.
  • Take Gavin on a daddy date (Ava had hers this past week, we go for 1 a month).
  • Read 1 book that has nothing to do with leadership, church or what I am preaching on, probably a novel.
  • Give Katie a night where she can go out and do what she wants and I put the kids to bed.
  • Run at least 4 days a week.
  • Go to Winterhaven with Katie and the kids.
  • Watch my Steelers beat the Ravens.
  • Have fun with some friends on New Year’s Eve.

One of the most important elements of this is telling someone. I just made my list and told you. Now, make your list and tell someone.

Be proactive so that when you head back to work, you didn’t feel like you wasted your days off. It will start 2010 off a lot better.

Saturday Night Mind Dump…

  • Love the first night of a new series
  • My sermon started off a little slow tonight since I was off from preaching for the last 4 weeks
  • The band picked up the slack for me in the 2nd set
  • Wow
  • Hope nailed the song “Revelation Song”
  • Challenged everyone tonight to do 10 + 10 and we had a lot of people take up the challenge, excited to see how God uses that
  • If you missed tonight, you can listen to it here
  • Katie’s mom flew in to see us today, it’s always fun getting to preach to family
  • If you want to learn more about the life of Elijah, check out Chuck Swindoll’s book Elijah: A Man of Heroism and Humility
  • Had someone tell me tonight, “Every week I just expect for God to do something awesome”
  • Yep, that’s how I feel every week
  • Ava turned 4 yesterday, crazy that she is already 4
  • She got a bike, but we have to exchange it tomorrow as the handlebars didn’t go on correctly
  • The joy of stuff made in China
  • Started a new way of doing set up this week, which will enable a lot more people to be involved
  • Love seeing people step up and take the next steps with God and our church
  • That does not get old
  • Had an area pastor their tonight, love being able to serve other pastors in that way
  • Tonight I got to share where we are financially as a church
  • I am blown away every week by the generosity and faithfulness of our church
  • There is a family in our church that who is having major surgery, be sure to remember them in your prayers on Thursday
  • One of our leaders is stepping up and take on more administrative responsibilities, which will be a huge help
  • Finally finished all of the partnership class stuff this week, it is going to be a huge help for our church as we move forward
  • Going to the leadership summit this week with some of our team, really pumped about this event, I always get a truckload of thoughts out of it
  • In case you missed them, here are the top posts from the last month
  • Here are the videos from the last series of me as a TV evangelist
  • After not preaching for a month, tonight reminded me why I love my job and our church
  • I simply love what I do

What a Pastor Does When He Doesn’t Preach

For the month of July I have been blessed to have the month off from preaching. What many people think when they hear that the first time is “I’m off for a month.” That is not the case.

Ironically, pastors do more than just preach.

Really, they do (or, at least they should).

One of the things that makes being a pastor different from other jobs is what it takes to do that job. While every job is mentally, relationally, and physically draining and some jobs add the component of being emotionally draining, there is an added component to being a pastor:  the spiritual side. This can be the toughest to balance and recover from when this drains. For a pastor, one of our main jobs is to help people with their spiritual journey, provide guidance, preach, counsel, give push back that it is easy to dry up because of the effort this takes. A pastor needs time to pull back, spend extended time with God, praying, journaling, reading scripture, listening to refresh. This is something every older pastor has told me as the number 1 reason they made it to the end of being a pastor.

A pastor also needs a break from preaching, this is good for the pastor, as well as the church. It gives him time to refresh and it gives the church to hear from other voices (from inside and outside of the church).

This month for me was filled with extended time with Katie and the kids, reading, connecting with other pastors and people in our church, researching for future series, as well as writing our partnership class, projects that take an extended amount of time.

One of the things that can be different for a pastor compared to other jobs is that it doesn’t end. You never stop being a pastor. You get phone calls in the middle of the night, you are always “on,” you can end up counseling or helping someone at any moment. It consumes all of you. If you aren’t careful, you are only friends with people who attend your church.

One of the ways to pull back from that is to take a break from preaching, to get away and rest. While this is difficult, almost to a person, every older pastor I have talked to has told me that to make it to the end, you need extended time away, regularly.

I am grateful for our team and elders who enabled me to take this break and not worry about our church. We are blessed to have some unbelievable leaders.

What taking a break also does, it makes you incredibly excited to come back to preaching. Don’t miss this Saturday as we are kicking off a brand new series Elijah!

Vacation & Rest

I think for many people, the idea of a vacation tends to be a mirage. Especially type A, driven leaders who are pastors. The idea of a vacation sounds wimpy. Just when you start to talk about taking a vacation, especially as a pastor, you start to ask questions like, “What will people think if I take a vacation? Who will preach for me? Will my church survive if I am away?” While these are stupid questions, there is that little voice in your head that asks them.

As we got Revolution off the ground, it was non-stop and has been non-stop for the last 18 months. In that 18 month time span, I have had 5 weeks off from preaching until this month. That is not enough for the sustainability of me or the church.

Recently, Katie and I read through Leading on Empty together which led to many really good, challenging conversations about our schedules, pace and what was sustainable. While there are seasons in life that are busier than others, one of the main questions you need to ask is, “Is this sustainable?” We began to see that life was moving too quickly and it was affecting sleep, our relationship, how we related to our kids and ultimately how I worked.

The main reason that pastors step out of ministry is burnout. Most people don’t know this, but when you start out as a pastor, you have about a 5 – 10% of retiring as a pastor. In fact, 85% of pastors quit being pastors after the first 5 years. The reason? Burnout.

As I’ve talked with other pastors, they constantly say pace, balance and having regular rest and vacation are reasons they are still in ministry.

I think for many of us, we are so good at continuing to keep moving, staying busy because if we stop, we aren’t sure what we would do.

Katie and I started to ask questions like:  what refreshes us? Why am I having trouble sleeping? Am I stopping enough? What re-energizes me? If we have the same schedule and pace in 6 months, will that be a good or a bad thing?

There was a great article that I came across by C.J. Mahaney about how to maximize vacation. One of the problems with vacation is many people come back from it and say, “Now, I need a vacation” because they didn’t maximize their time away. One of the things he points out is that careful planning leads to a great vacation, along with the fact that the Dad drives the attitude and the feeling of the vacation.

Along with C.J.’s article, I came across a lot of other blogs and articles about the topics of rest and leadership:  Killing ourselves in Jesus’ name by Scott Thomas and The sabbath was made for man by Catalyst.

Take the time, do some research, figure out what makes you rest, how you relax and then do it.