Get a Life! Why Pastors Need a Day of Rest

Many of us know our job descriptions and what is expected of us at our place of employment. Few of us have that job description spelled out clearly for us in Scripture. Qualifications of a pastor-shepherd are clearly given in several texts in the Bible.

I don’t know of any pastors who got into the ministry because they thought they would “get rich quick”. I do know a few who got into ministry because they thought they could use their position in a way to control and manipulate people, or just have a career where they don’t exert much effort at all. I’m not speaking to these folks.

Generally, a pastor is someone with a heart for God and a heart for people. It is a person who is dedicated to using their gifts, part-time, bi-vocationally, or full-time, in helping people grow in the grace and knowledge of Jesus Christ. Often these people are burning candles at both ends, and have a pretty good flame going on in the center as well!

Take a break!

I got to thinking about this because of a short conversation I had with my wife. I was telling her about some struggle I was having in ministry and she just quietly said, “Looks like we’re close to vacation time”. What she meant is that she was noticing that I was just needing to take a break. Even a few days off would be a good place to start. Family time has been dwindling and Pastor Dad is not around as much as he should be. There is a lot packed into her simply true statement!

God speaks to pastors in regard to their family time

We are pretty familiar with the verses that speak to the pastor-shepherd’s family life:

He must manage his own household well, with all dignity keeping his children submissive, for if someone does not know how to manage his own household, how will he care for God’s church? (1Ti 3:4-5 ESV)

What does that mean practically? What exactly might “managing” a household mean? Does it mean taking a day off? What about a regularly scheduled vacation?

Family Life

It’s no secret that pastors and their families suffer tremendously due to the ministry. Sometimes it is the hassles of ministry that cause pastors to suffer, and sometimes they are suffering at their own hand. A quick web search of “statistics pastors and family” revealed some of these startling stats:

  • Of the one thousand fifty (1,050 or 100%) pastors we surveyed, every one of them had a close associate or seminary buddy who had left the ministry because of burnout, conflict in their church, or from a moral failure.
  • Nine hundred forty-eight (948 or 90%) of pastors stated they are frequently fatigued, and worn out on a weekly and even daily basis (did not say burned out).
  • Eight hundred eight (808 or 77%) of the pastors we surveyed felt they did not have a good marriage!
  • Eight hundred two (802 or 71%) of pastors stated they were burned out, and they battle depression beyond fatigue on a weekly and even a daily basis.
  • Three hundred ninety-nine (399 or 38%) of pastors said they were divorced or currently in a divorce process.
  • Three hundred fifteen (315 or 30%) said they had either been in an ongoing affair or a one-time sexual encounter with a parishioner.

or consider these stats: According to the New York Times (August 1, 2010)

  • 25% don’t know where to turn when they have a family or personal conflict or issue.
  • 25% of pastors’ wives see their husband’s work schedule as a source of conflict.
  • 33% say that being in ministry is an outright hazard to their family.

And the stats go on and on. How should a pastor see his ministry in relation to his marriage and family life? Pastors everywhere suffer from the realization that their marriage may not be what it should be or, his failure as a parent just becomes a back breaking load to bear. What does a pastor do to regain this proper perspective in ministry and family life?

  1. Recognize that he is a husband first, a father second, and a pastor third.
  2. Pastors, and congregations, need to understand that a good home life is foundational to a good ministry.

Family life management is key

See the above text for an indication of how important the Apostle Paul thought family life was for pastors. If you can’t manage your home, you won’t be able to manage your church either. Why is this true?

  • The principles & abilities of management are identical wherever they are applied
  • If a pastor has failed with a smaller group of people, how will he be successful in the work of a larger group of people?
  • If he cannot manage his home & family life, he will be burdened excessively, keeping him from being profitable in his ministry.
  • If he is a failure at home, how can he be an example to his congregation? How will he model the way to manage a home?
  • If he insists on putting ministry first, he has reversed the order that God has ordained, and unfit for ministry

Time away

Every pastor needs to have a regularly scheduled day away from ministry to the congregation, so that he can focus on ministry to his family. Emergencies arise on occasion and a well rested pastor will eagerly and competently be able to respond in a proper pastoral way. Not only is a day away important, but also a regular time of vacation and rest is vital. This should be a time where he is all but “unreachable” by others in the congregation. He should allow one, or a few key leaders know how to contact him if a true emergency arises, but otherwise remain on vacation at all costs. A good congregation will understand that a rested pastor is an energized and focused pastor.

Rubber to the road

Pastors, here are some questions to work through in regard to your family life and time away:

  • Are you a good husband? Why or why not? What must be corrected to come in line with Scripture?
  • Are you managing your life and schedule right now so that you are spending adequate and quality time with your wife and family? What habits do you have that have allowed this? What habits need to change?
  • Ask your wife and children if they feel as if you are serving them well. Don’t excuse, blameshift or explain away their responses. Review their responses, are they true? What do they indicate?
  • Write down your concerns. Refer to the list often. Pray over the list, asking God to give you the wisdom and ability to manage both your family life and your congregation. Revise the list as necessary. Mark off the concerns as you correct them, as your biblical goals become reality.

More resources from Practical Shepherding:

  1. Why Should Pastors Regularly Take Time Off?
  2. How Much Vacation Time Should a Pastor Take?
  3. Should a Pastor Have a Day Off Every Week?
  4. How Do You Communicate Love to Your Wife in the Midst of a Demanding Schedule?
  5. How Does a Pastor Recover from Mental and Emotional Exhaustion?
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