What’s A Day Off?
It was my first youth ministry job interview.
During the month of March, in my last semester of seminary, I drove to Cincinnati to meet with the church’s administrative board. We talked about the usual kinds of issues, like how to counsel teens, my vision and strategy, and how to handle the tension that existed over their current use of the church bus, a battle between the youth choir and the boy scouts. The interview teamed asked me many great questions and also allowed me to “interview” them.
I asked a bunch of questions, including one inquiry which produced both laughter and incredulous looks. “What about taking a day off?” Some members gasped. Others looked nervously as if the question had never been asked. The senior pastor spoke up, “I do not take days off. On occasion I will get a few hours here and there, and try to take some vacation time, but this is not a 9-5 job.”
I was stunned. I began to explain, “I’m sure ministry is hard, and I am certain that with regular weekly events, retreats, mission trips and administrative duties, that my time will be busy. But I need some safety valves, a place and space to get renewed, to reduce the pressures of ministry.’’
I continued. “I promise you, I will work my tail off, but with all due respect, I will not be able to survive and thrive if I don’t have a weekly day off to “retreat” from the ministry. I will eventually burn out, and I don’t think you will enjoy having a weary, worn out youth worker.”
The congregation surprisingly hired me, and I am happy to announce that my senior pastor who bragged about not taking a day off in twenty two years of ministry started taking a weekly one in my second year of service.
Here are a couple of tips I like to give when thinking about taking a day to rest in ministry, or any other job really.
Figure it out.
Carving out a 12-24 hour block of time away from ministry has been relatively easy. The most difficult challenge for me is how to spend my day off. Tolkien writes, “All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.’’
My long time friend and professor of counseling, Dr. Larry Wagner has a phrase, “soul fatigue,” which refers to our soul not receiving replenishment and buffers from the weariness of life. Soul fatigue is easy to talk and read about, but quite the obstacle to overcome. How do we utilize the day off as a way to deal with this tiredness of the soul?
Soul pace and space.
If God tells us to work hard for six days and take the seventh day off (Exodus 20:8), then we need to ask perhaps the most important question of all, “What work am I doing on those six days that should stop doing on the seventh?” The first thing to go for me is my primary task, which is teaching, mentoring, speaking and ministering to youth and young adults. My day off is a departure from that regularity. In a sense, I move from being “David the extravert” (people time) to “David the introvert (solitude time).”
So do something that is not a part of your six day rhythm. Working in a garden, hunting, reading a novel. Oh and don’t forget naps!
On the Sabbath, Jesus made some mud and opened a man’s eyes. Talk about a creative day off? And how much fun was it for the blind man, who experienced restoration? Your day off might not be that radical, it could be a visit to an elderly neighbor, gardening, working on an old car, or photographing birds.
How about staying away from church work, emails and phone calls? Why not climb on a boat and go fishing, sailing, or a day trip to the beach or mountains?
Jackson Browne released his famous song in 1977, “Running on Empty.” The soul cannot keep going and going without eventually breaking down. The soul needs a day off. How about you?