Summer vacation season is almost upon us. And we all know that vacations can be stress-producing, anxiety-triggering, money-sucking, energy-draining, exercises in “it seemed like a good idea at the time.”
BUT, they can also be wonderful, life-giving, revelations. Here are some helpful vacation tips especially designed for pastors who need time away:
Establish a “no crises allowed” rule. Simply sit everyone in your congregation down before you leave and explain: “I really need this break.” (Try not to cry or sound too desperate.) “Nobody here is allowed to die, get divorced, get arrested, paint my office, or embezzle money from the church while I am on vacation. Please. And thank you.” (Of course, if you hate the color of your office, you can leave out that part about not painting it.)
Establish an “in case you don’t follow the no crisis rule” rule. Because we all know that when you are on vacation is precisely the time someone in your congregation will die, get divorced, get arrested, paint your office, and/or embezzle church funds. They are just waiting for you to leave town. So you need a backup. Another local pastor who is willing to step in and tend your flock in your absence. Someone who is caring and competent. But just a little less caring and competent than you so that people will be happy when you come back from vacation.
No sermon illustration hunting allowed. If you want to go to a zoo because you like zoos, then go to a zoo. But if you want to go to a zoo because you have a sermon coming up on Noah’s ark or Daniel in the lion’s den, stay away from the zoo! You cannot tour or eat at a bakery in order to gain insights for your upcoming sermon on the woman who puts leaven in her flour or Jesus’ statement, “I am the bread of life.” Nor can you go to a botanical garden if you will be preaching on Genesis 1-2 or any of the plant-related parables in the coming weeks. Art museums are also questionable because so many paintings are about the Bible. Or things in the Bible, like people and animals and plants. Good luck with this one.
Attend worship services at your own risk. Sure, we all love an opportunity to worship in contexts where we are not in charge of anything. It is a glorious feeling to sit comfortably before the service begins and have no concerns about the missing or ill-prepared worship volunteers, the wonky sound system, and/or the potential air conditioner malfunction. Sitting there, unconcerned, while some other poor pastor scrambles and stresses—it’s great. It’s great until the service starts with eight praise songs filled with the most vapid theology you’ve ever heard. It’s great until they have a cool call to worship and you feel compelled to take a picture of the bulletin so you can use it sometime in your church. It’s great until the sermon, which will inevitably be so bad that you feel deep despair for the state of God’s holy Church, or so good that you feel sorry for your congregants who have to listen to you preach every week.
Be prepared for the “So, what do you do?” conversation. It’s bound to happen—on the plane, during a group tour, in line for the bathroom. Someone will ask what you do. If they find out you’re a pastor, you will not be on vacation anymore because you will be a pastor. And I guarantee that the random stranger who asked the question will either have 1) a personal crisis they need to earnestly discuss with you OR 2) deep and misguided theological convictions they need to earnestly discuss with you. Possibly both. For those who would like to keep their pastoral identity under wraps during vacation, try one of these responses to the dreaded question:
- I am in charge of public relations for a high profile client.
- I do program management and crisis intervention for a local non-profit.
- I am a professional: event planner/public speaker/counselor/fund raiser/volunteer coordinator/ plumber.
- Oh, you know, just a cog in the wheel. (Or an ear on the body, as it were.)
- I own a circus and am particularly responsible for the monkeys. (Because I love the phrase “Not my circus, not my monkeys.” Except that usually it is precisely my circus and my monkeys.)
I hope you find these tips helpful for your summer travel plans. Despite the potential pitfalls, I am looking forward to my own vacation. And if you serve a church in the Savannah, Georgia area, let me know. Maybe I’ll stop in for worship–as long as you promise your service will not be so fantastic as to compel me to start making notes about what I want to do when I get back to work.
Rev. Joanna Harader serves as pastor at Peace Mennonite Church in Lawrence, KS. She is sure that, with a major church building project in the works, there will be no crises whatsoever when she takes her vacation in a few weeks. Also, she blogs at SpaciousFaith.com.
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