Making Vacations Count For Youth Workers

It’s so hard to truly get away from youth ministry.  Not because there’s so much to do or because people are in such need.  That’s true – but that’s not why we find it hard to unplug.  We don’t unplug from ministry because it’s a calling – it’s like unplugging from oxygen – do it for a few seconds and it’s survivable…do it for a while and you’re suffocating… it too long and you’re dead.

Over the years, my wife and I have developed some tried and true methods for receiving our oxygen even though we’re unplugging for a while.

1) Set a time limit For years, Katie and I would say ‘no youth ministry talk on this vacation’ – but inevitably the conversation would always go back to students, church, people, pastors, planning….you get the idea.  Because ministry is a busy, productive life – we’re always leaving something great or returning to something awesome.  It’s natural that the conversation will gravitate toward those amazing moments (and, sometimes even the not so amazing ones.)  We realized that the ‘no ministry talk’ wasn’t really working for us.  So we set a time limit now.  Since we live in South Texas and it takes four days just to get out of the state – it’s a pretty liberal allotment.  After that time limit expires, then there is no ministry talk.  It works great – we get everything out of our system and we can really focus on our marriage, our kids, our life.

2) Only take one cell phone – and don’t make it yours.  Our society no longer knows how to function without cell service.  But if I take my phone (and leave it on, in case of emergency), everyone and their brother are calling me – and that magic 911 doesn’t pop up to let me know if I should answer it or not.  So a few years ago, we started taking Katie’s phone only.  Not many people have her number – so if it rings, it’s important.  (Kind of like Commissioner Gordon and the bat signal.)  It’s shocking to come home and see 347 messages on my phone….while Katie’s phone never rang once.  And everyone lived happily ever after.

3) Don’t leave the emergency contact with the person you know will call, even if it isn’t an emergency (I was going to say ‘don’t leave it with the secretary’ – but some assistants are better at guarding our time than the pastors are.)  When we leave town, I leave an itinerary with our worship pastor.  I know he’ll only call if it’s dire and I must know about it…plus I know chances are he’ll lose my itinerary before I get back – so I’m pretty safe either way.

4) Schedule debrief days.  We do it for ministry all the time – we rarely do It for family.  We need that respite – relaxation – from the intensity of vacation.  We schedule two to three extra days for each getaway – one on the front end (for packing without panic) and one to two on the back end to relax, unpack, and just enjoy being home.  We make sure the pantry is well stocked so we don’t have to go out – and we park in the garage so no one knows we’re back.

Its torture living with the paparazzi (sometimes ministry feels that way), but my family deserves a little privacy, too! And since the media hounds can find you even on your private, uninhabited island, it’s important to plan ahead for some rejuvenation and get-away time.  (Plus, I would hate to see a photo of me in my bathing suit ending up on the cover of the bulletin).  It IS OK – even encouraged – to completely, 100%, unequivocally unplug and detox from ministry.  When was the last time you did it??