Why should a pastor use all his vacation time each year?

You may begin reading this post with the idea that I will suggest how many weeks of vacation you should be given by your church, or how much you should advocate to give your pastor.  Instead, I intend to answer this question a bit differently.  My concern is not about how much vacation time a pastor is given, but how he uses (or doesn’t use) what he is given.  In light of this being a common time where vacation time is used, I thought this post would be well-timed for many of you.

This is an appropriate time to pause for a confession.  I thought you should know, I often fail at my own advice.  I come to the conclusions I often write about on this blog because I have or are currently failing at them.  Just thought I would acknowledge that in case you think I write this way because I have figured it all out.  Far from it.   The stewardship of my vacation time was once a glaring failure in my life.

A few years ago, I was lovingly confronted by a dear friend and fellow pastor that I was not using all my vacation time.  In his rebuke, he explained to me the reasons I should be taking every day of vacation the church gives me, which I had never done.  Here was the basis for his thoughtful, insightful, and wise argument:

1) It’s for you

The pastor never gets a break in the regular routine.  We are constantly on call.  Vacation time is that time where you get time to breathe away from the madness, be refreshed, and rest.  All of us who are pastors know we are no good for our people when we are exhausted, distracted, and mentally and emotionally spent.   Use the time and use it wisely to achieve that end.

2) It’s for your family

Your family always has to share you.  Maybe just as important as the first one, this time is given so that your family has a block of time where they don’t have to share you with the church.  When you don’t use all your time that has already been approved by the church for this purpose, you rob your family from having your sole focus to care, fellowship, and enjoy them.

3) It’s for your church

How is it that many of our churches have somehow existed and functioned for the last 50 – 100 years without us, yet all of a sudden we come and develop this complex that our church can now no longer live without us for a week or two.  Using all your vacation time given to you forces others to step up in your absence, shows them they can make it without you for a time, and reminds the pastor most of all that God is not utterly dependent on him for this church to function.

We are expendable and we need regular jolts of humility to remind us of that.

As a result, for the last four years I have used my full year of vacation given to me by the church since I was called as pastor.  The reasons above that my friend confronted me with all showed to be true and fruitful in those ways as I did so.  What have I learned from taking all my vacation time these last few years…well, I plan on taking it all next year.  I am on vacation the next two weeks trying to practice what I preach (…write).

If you are a pastor, do what you can to use it all this year.  There is still half the summer left.  If you are not a pastor, do all you can to encourage your pastor to take it.  You, your church, and your pastor will experience multiple layers of benefit because of it.

Posted in The Pastor's Soul

How does a pastor encourage military veterans in his congregation during July 4th weekend?

For those living in America, you know July 4 is coming, which is the day we celebrate our Independence as a nation.  For my international readers, this is a day that is often used to honor those who have served our country in the military.  This typically means the Sunday connected with this holiday becomes the place where these celebrations take place.  You will find a variety of approaches, from churches doing full blown patriotic musicals in place of the corporate gathering, to nothing different than a normal Sunday service.

Some go way over the top, while others do nothing trying to make a statement about how church is not a place to celebrate your country, but worship God.  Regardless where you find yourself on this spectrum, most American churches have men and women who either serve, or have served in the military who are present on Sunday.  How does a pastor encourage these members in his church?

I must confess, in the early years I was more concern with upholding Sunday as a day to worship God, not honor our country.  This caused me to make some unhelpful and insensitive rookie comments in discussions with a few folks wanting more done on Sundays.

I still feel that Sunday is the Lord’s Day and should be focused on the Lord, but here are a few ways I have learned we can still encourage those who have served in the military over this holiday weekend without compromising our convictions about Sunday worship:

1)  Recognize vets in your congregation publically.

We do announcements at the beginning of the service as well as any other logistical issues before our call to worship.  This is a great time to do things like this as it is placed before worship begins in our view.  This can be a great encouragement and help church members learn something about each other they didn’t know before.  The last time we recognized all those who serve or have served in the military, we observed four different generations standing, which was a wonderful way to see the presents of a multi-generational church in our midst.

2)  Pray for the leaders of your country in a pastoral prayer.

American holidays as this give us a great opportunity to teach our congregation how to process them in light of the gospel and God’s glory, not a man-centered focus.  A well prepared pastoral prayer can accomplish this in a powerful way.  We should be regularly praying for our President and those leading our nation in our public gatherings any way throughout the year.  It is also nice to have a mature Christian man respected for his military service pray in the service in some way.

3)  Thank military service men and women privately.

There is an elderly saint in our church who fought in a war defending our country over 50 years ago.  For several years, we argued about why we don’t do a musical and sing patriotic songs in place of Sunday worship.  I have learned throughout the years how kindly to explain why we don’t do this.  Yesterday, I decided to go to him first before we had a chance to meet and discuss the service planned for that day.  I went to him, looked him in the eyes, and thanked him for all his service.  I acknowledged I don’t say it enough, but I am aware of the freedoms I enjoy came at the sacrifice of men like him.  This 80 year old man looked up at me with tears and just hugged me.  There was no argument about the service.

This is a lesson I wish I had learned years ago.  These faithful folks don’t want a musical, they just want to feel appreciated by what they have done and the sacrifices they had made for us.  They want to know their young pastor cares about this important part of their life and history and does not take our freedoms for granted.

Pastors, we don’t have to change our convictions, but we need to be sensitive to all our people and seize the opportunities to encourage certain folks.  The 4th of July in America is one of those days.  Make a plan in the next couple of weeks to call all the vets in your church and thank them for their service.  You may be surprised how much it means to them and will open future opportunities for ministry with them.

Posted in Discipleship, Oversight of Souls

SBTS releases new guide book on Church Revitalization

guide book sbts

Some of you may have already heard of the new role at SBTS I have assumed.  In addition to my responsibilities at my local church and with Practical Shepherding, I have decided to accept a third hat to wear.  I am the Senior Fellow of the Mathena Center for Church Revitalization at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.

As many of you know, this is an important and needed work dear to my heart, so when SBTS approached me about this role, I felt compelled to consider this strategic opportunity.  This new guidebook on Church Revitalization being released at The Southern Baptist Convention this week is the first of what we hope will be many fruits of this new center.  I wrote 3 chapters in it and oversaw most of the project as it was being compiled.  Dr. Mohler acted as the book’s editor.

Here is a small portion of the article that describes this guidebook and reason we wrote it:

“This new guide book seeks to help this historic need in the SBC by relying, not upon the latest trends and church growth gimmicks, but upon the power of God working in his Word,” said Brian Croft, senior fellow at the Mathena Center. “It is a helpful beginning to what we hope will launch a great movement of God’s Spirit and equipped men called to this unique work to breathe new life into dying churches.”

Read the rest of the article here

Pick up a copy of this guide book here


Posted in Oversight of Souls, The Pastor's Soul, Training for Ministry

How do you care for a widow in a nursing home?

A nursing home can be viewed as this middle category between hospital and home and can serve a widow in a couple of different scenarios. It can be that place where they go to die. Alternatively, though weakness or sickness are present, death might not be imminent and they need a place for more extended care. Another use of a nursing home, which is the more common one, is to have a place where widows can go when they no longer can care for themselves in their home. Oftentimes, one spouse takes care of the other as old age approaches. Once that caregiver is gone, it leaves the other spouse trying to do what they so desperately want to do, but can no longer do—care for themselves alone.

A nursing home provides that twenty-four hour care for someone, yet tries to empower a person still to live as independently within that facility as is safe and responsible.

This “home away from home” set up that nursing homes provide creates particular challenges for the visitor to find that balance that makes a widow feel cared for. If someone is in a nursing home because they are close to death, then the hospital principle cited earlier would apply to your visit. However, if a nursing home is creating a more controlled living space for a relatively healthy but frail widow, then it should be treated more like a cautious home visit. Since you want to be more sensitive to the struggles of loneliness than the discomfort of physical pain and suffering, visitors should feel a freedom to stay a bit longer—twenty to thirty minutes. Since the nursing home is commonly viewed as the transition point between hospital and home, it is good to be considerate of both taking an interest in their living space as well as any health concerns that may be present.

Regardless the location, the spiritual, emotional and physical condition of the widow is most important.

The condition of the widow should dictate how long to stay and how long not to stay. It should determine what will make this widow feel loved and cared for, or what might exasperate her. As God gives you wisdom in these case by case moments, know that God can use you, even for a moment, to remove the eerie silence and minister grace to these precious ladies.

Additional Resources:


Posted in Caring for Widows, Oversight of Souls

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