When was your last big break?
I don’t mean the time when opportunity knocked, and someone opened a door for you into your dream ministry role or the longed-for maximum score of 147 in a frame of snooker.
I’m talking about a significant period away from your usual working routine.
When was the last time you took a fortnight off?
Since joining Living Leadership in April 2019, I’ve listened to dozens of leaders describing their work and life patterns. I’ve been impressed by their sincerity and sacrifice. And I’ve been saddened at their hurts and woes. I’ve also been surprised at their unhealthy life rhythms. Or, at least, I would have been shocked had I not been a serial offender on the same point myself, who has needed the rebukes of wiser people than me.
I’ve written before in this blog about the importance of a weekly Sabbath. I’ve noted that even many leaders who take a Sabbath weekly seldom take longer breaks. Some have felt unable to take holidays during the pandemic. Some thought the weekly service production machine would grind to a halt without them. Others have told me that their congregation or denomination expects them to preach unless they’re away, so no travel meant no break. Still, others have no excuse that I can see. They’ve just never booked two weeks off at once. I’m sure that’s because of a mixture of noble motivations gone haywire (over-investment, saviour mentalities, love turned possessive) and ignoble ones (insecurity, control-freakery, lack of faith) left unchecked, but, whatever the reasons, the result is often disastrous.
So here are three reasons why you need at least a fortnight off every now and then:
IT’S GOOD FOR YOU
I can’t be the only person who finds that a week off just isn’t enough for me to fully refresh. If I’m off for a week, I spend the first half winding down, and the second half winding up again. If I’m off for a fortnight, I have a whole week in the middle when I can be properly switched off. I think this is universally true when your work entails caring for others, bearing their burdens, and thinking incessantly about complex issues. A proper break lets you come back with fresh vision and a lighter heart. I learn to live again so that I can do out of being rather than be out of doing.
IT’S GOOD FOR YOUR FAMILY
The value of a prolonged break in my work for my wife and children – and even my parents – is incalculable. The patterns of ministry life entail sacrifice for your family. A big break allows payback for that loss and it’s an investment in those who are closest to you.
IT’S GOOD FOR THOSE YOU LEAD
Trust me in this – I know it’s hard to accept – but God can do his work just fine without you. Remembering that doesn’t diminish your joy; it turbo-boosts it. And remember there is some (albeit limited) ministry wisdom in the old proverbs that say, “Absence makes the heart grow fonder,” and, “Variety is the spice of life.” A few weeks without you in the pulpit or director’s chair might be just what is needed for you, your church or organisation, and the relationship between the two.
So, if you haven’t already, book two weeks off. Two full weeks. Properly off. Not preaching on the Sunday before you go off or on the Sunday after you return (that means three Sundays off). Not off from your main work but doing something equally taxing. In fact, if you can get three weeks or even four, that’s even better! Just take a big break.
In Living Leadership, we’ll be practising what we preach this summer. This is the last blog post before a five-week break. (We’re back on 2 Sept.) We’ll continue episodes of our brand-new podcast, Nigel Lee Archive, throughout August, but they’ve been cunningly prepped and scheduled in advance. Our staff won’t be off for the whole time, but our rhythms of work will be different. A big break in the blog will help us achieve that. (It’s especially important for the wonderful Jess Coles, who manages our communications!) Our summer staff meetings will be different too. We’re not tabling any new work, (unless there’s a genuine emergency) we’re just catching up and praying (tip: bad things come from big breaks from praying!)
Maybe you can adjust your rhythm of work in the weeks around your big break too, so you don’t have the common scenario of over-work before you go off and after you return. To help our staff team make the most of our big break, I’ve written a prayer which seeks to recapture the original meaning of the words we use for breaks from work, and which echoes well-known words from Psalm 51.10-12. I invite you to make it part of your daily prayers during your summer break, however big or small.
You are the giver of every good gift and I am your finite creation and beloved child.
I receive the gift of days without work as a good gift from you.
Free me from false guilt and help me to make the most of this time.
May my “holiday” be a sequence of holy days, encountering and enjoying you.
In my “leave,” may I abandon burdens I was not made to carry, and rejoice in you and your creation.
In my “vacation,” help me to be unoccupied with work and its stresses.
In my “break,” fracture the grip of unhealthy attitudes and patterns in my life.
May my “days off” be unhurried days of delight in those closest to me.
Recreate in me a clean heart during this time.
Refashion my rhythms in tune with your heart.
Restore my joy in your salvation.
Renew a right spirit within me that honours you in rest and in work.
Refresh my love for you and others.
May I live each day without work, aware of your presence and alive by your Holy Spirit,
Through Jesus Christ, my Lord,