I am coming off of my summer preaching break at Revolution. When we started the church five years ago, I preached almost 100 times in the first two years. While it seemed necessary at the time, it was not wise and certainly not sustainable.
It's 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 also talked to church members who don’t know what to do with a pastor taking a break. I get quizzical looks and they say, “It would be nice for me to take four weeks off”—which totally misses the point.
Here’s what I do on my break and why you as a pastor should take one:
Rest. During my break I go on vacation and spend more 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 the voice of the Holy Spirit gets drowned out. While I take my day off each week and try to take a retreat day each month, it is easy to skip these.
A summer break gives me no excuse. During a break, I’m able to read my Bible longer and journal more, pray more and work on myself 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.
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 how I say things and what I say. I start to run out of interesting things to say, and my stories get dry and don’t connect. I get tired of the series we are in—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: Make sure they line up with you theologically; don’t preach heresy on your week off. And 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.
Get your love and passion for preaching back. Preaching is hard work. It is tiring and draining. Don't get me wrong, 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 get the itch to preach again. This is good, but just enjoy the last two 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.
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, my leaders and I 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, 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.
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, missional community guides and other study guides to educate our people in Scripture. None of these things happen at the last minute.
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 five books at a time, 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 and learn from them for the benefit of our church. This summer, I spent time talking to pastors of churches that are in that 350–500 range to see what is next for us. I talked with pastors who have planted a church and about what they learned in the process.
- Gain 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 to pull back gives you the energy for the coming season. If you go into the ministry season at 85 percent, you will burn out and not make it. If you go in at 100 percent, you will push through and be of greater use to your church and to 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. At first, my elders didn’t understand why I’d do this. That’s OK, but don’t let that stop you.