How to Not be Productive on Vacation

Recently I heard an older pastor say that the most important thing to do on vacation and sabbath is to not be productive. As a leader, this is not only hard, but also one of the most important things to keep in mind.

It isn’t decisions, meetings, counseling or preaching that tires me out (although that can do it sometimes), but it is the production of things. The pressure (real or imagined) that I feel to produce something, to prepare something.

To be productive.

How do you stop producing and rest? How can you take a weekend off? How do you turn your mind off from it? From the pressure, the deadlines?

I’ll be honest. On a weekly basis (when I’m trying to take my sabbath day), this is my biggest struggle. I can survive without social media and email, but it is stopping myself from thinking about work. Being willing to not read a book for a sermon or for leadership and just stop producing.

I feel guilty about it.

But it is necessary and important to your health as a leader, to your family and to your church.

Here are 5¬†things I’ve learned that might be helpful for you this weekend and on your next vacation:

1. Decide ahead of time what unproductive will mean and entail. This might sound counterintuitive, but the first step to being unproductive is to be productive. Set yourself up to succeed.

If you are married, sit down with your spouse and ask them, “If I was unproductive for a weekend, a week, two weeks, a month, what would that mean? What would we do?” One reason leaders struggle to rest is the constant movement of ministry and leadership. It is addicting. As much as my heart, mind and body need a break from preaching, when I do take a break I get antsy and have a hard time functioning. That is not only a sign that I need it, but it’s also a sign that I have some heart work to do around that.

For me, here are some things that being unproductive means: no blogging or writing, no leadership or theology books (I read spy novels or historical books on vacation), sleeping in (or letting Katie sleep in), taking naps, extended game time with my kids, extended time with friends.

Answer this simple question: What would refresh me and recharge me? Are there certain people who will do that? Spend time with them.

Too many pastors work on vacation and prepare for upcoming things (you need to plan that for a different time). Your weekend or vacation is for refreshment, recharging and reconnecting with your family in a different way.

2. Set yourself up for success. If you don’t decide ahead of time, you’ll end up coming back for the fall exhausted.

One of the things we’ve done in years past is for me to take a one or two night retreat at a monastery before we go away. Leaders have a way of crashing at the start of vacation. I’d rather do this alone than crash on my family. It starts your time off on the right foot.

If you are tired of church or have a hard time going to church without thinking about your church (which happens more than you think), take a Sunday off and sleep in. Watch a podcast (but not for ministry purposes).

The bottom line is, if you know and have decided how to be unproductive, it makes it easier to reach it. It increases the likelihood of resting and recharging.

One of the best ways to set yourself up for success is to take social media and email off your phone. In fact, on vacation Katie changes my passwords so I can’t even get on them in a moment of weakness (which never happens).

At the end of your week, finish things up. Set up some kind of ritual at the end of the day or week that says, “I’m done. I’ve done all that I can, the rest is in God’s hands”, so that you can be done mentally and emotionally.

3. Give yourself grace. Because you are a leader and are trained to be productive and critical, you will struggle to not be productive and critical. When you think about work, a person, a situation, give yourself grace and then move on.

On your weekend, when you start to think about work, write it down and let it go. Give yourself a moment to reconnect to being off and be okay with that. Your weekend or vacation isn’t ruined in that moment. It can be if you let it, but it isn’t yet.

4. Get out of town. This isn’t always possible, but get out of town. There are so many retreat centers and housing for pastors and their families that you can do this inexpensively. In fact, we have stayed at the same place in San Diego four different years, and each time it was free. Just plan ahead (and Google pastor’s retreat) and start making calls. Our kids look forward every year to vacation because we’ve planned it. This also means we don’t do things during the year for this time to happen, but we got out of town when I was making less than $500 a week (and working four jobs) planting our church. So you can do it!

On your weekend, find fun things to do if that will recharge you. Go swimming, take a hike, go to a fair or a market. Get moving. You may stay in your town, but get out of your house. Changing the scenery is crucial to resting and recharging.

5. Your church will be fine. Many pastors fear leaving their church as if they are the glue that holds their church together. Now if you are a church planter, you are the glue for much of your church but not all of it. You can get away for a long weekend or a week and everything will be fine.

Too many pastors live with the pressure that if they take a week off, someone will be mad. They might, but you’ll live. They get vacation time, too.

Often pastors will ask me, “What do I do if I don’t have someone to preach?” Simple, show a video sermon of someone. Go download a Tim Keller, Matt Chandler or Craig Groeschel sermon and show that. Better yet, download four and take four Sundays off from preaching.

This Matters (A Lot)

Let me tell you why this matters. I’ve led my church since 2008, and being unproductive for a little bit of time is not only good for me and my family, but also for my church. A refreshed pastor leads a refreshed church.

A tired pastor leads a tired church.