I have four things to say to pastors about “days off” and how, in general, a pastor spends his or her time.
First, unless you ditch the cell phone and head for parts unknown there’s no literal day “off.” Rather, they’re just days “on call.” In this case, it’s no different for pastors than it is for many other professionals and business people. Rather, it’s just the way it is.
Second, you’re in this for the long haul. The dedicated, burning-the-candle-at-both-ends kind of pastor will get lots of applause from some in the congregation and maybe will even be “honored” by being asked to take on yet more responsibilities at the community, district, or denominational level. It’s important to remember that some of these good people will applaud you right into the grave. If your ministry is going to last a lifetime, it needs to be run at a jog rather than at a sprint.
Third, life is short and there’s no rewind button. Your kids (and then grandkids) grow up quickly. Your relationship with your loved ones needs attention. Also, while a quiet lifestyle is practically unheard of these days, for a person seeking God’s heart it’s vitally important. A less intense lifestyle may produce a spiritual depth that will flow in natural ways into your ministry…accomplishing more genuine ministry to others than a frantic run on some church schedule treadmill seven days a week.
Fourth, beware of letting others set your schedule. One group thinks you need to attend every church event (years ago the ladies at the womens meeting actually asked Jackie if I was coming – after all the previous pastor had always stuck his head in the door for their meetings – she laughed and said they had better not expect me). A certain age group would be happy if you took on the role specifically given to the laypeople of the church and spent a lot of time ministering to the “widows.” Others will make you their father confessor and lock you into a brutal counseling session schedule. If you like that stuff, okay, maybe. However, the pastor needs to have a strong sense of self identity and not let others control the schedule. (By the way, I don’t think the pastor should give a detailed time report to the board for just that reason – you’ll never win because they all think they know what you’re supposed to do with your time.)
As I’ve already mentioned, I don’t think the pastor’s situation is greatly different than that of many other professionals and business owners. I guess a case could be made that since we’re dealing with people at a spiritual level and since we believe eternity is, indeed, forever, that there’s a bit more pressure, but I’m not sure that’s actually in play at a practical level.
Take some time off…not just for vacation time, or even a day or two a week “off,” but every day. Don’t be ashamed or apologetic. Go toss the ball around with your kids. You and your spouse go for a long no-church-business-discussed walk. Watch some TV or read a nothing-to-do-with-church book. Sit around thinking about the things of God, not for a sermon, but just so you’ll understand such things better. In the long run, you’ll likely do more for the Kingdom that way.