The Month that Has Been a Lifesaver! (A 16-Year Practice)


Sixteen years ago, my family and I moved to Waco, Texas, to begin working with the Crestview church. Our children were young and were fascinated by the notion of moving. I still remember their glee when we flew into the Waco airport and were greeted by some members of what would become our new church. These people did so much to help us feel welcome. They sent us notes and cards, invited us into their homes for meals, and were very kind to our two little girls.

Yet, in spite of those kind gestures, it would be a hard move. Our prior church situation had been very, very difficult. In fact, after almost three years there, I began to wonder if I wanted to remain in “full-time ministry” any longer. I was burned out — completely. In fact, it was with some hesitation that I agreed to come work with the church in Waco. I was hesitant to trust again and experience deep disappointment all over again.

However, what happened in those early discussions regarding the possibility of our move has turned out to be highly significant to my staying there for sixteen years of ministry.

From the beginning, we (the elders of this church and I) agreed that I would be away each July. Two of these weeks are vacation. They really are vacation. I don’t do e-mail, Twitter, Facebook, etc. The remaining two weeks in July would be for study. These two weeks would be a time to prepare for messages for the following year. It would be a time to read and think without the pressure of everyday ministry responsibilities.

So for sixteen years, I have been away each July. When I return, I usually feel rejuvenated and refreshed, with new energy and perspective. I really believe the primary reason for my being at this church for that many years has been the opportunity to check out each July.

What do I do during those two weeks? I have done a variety of things. For several years, I have gone to Regent College in Vancouver, B.C. There, I am in a different culture, hearing different concerns, and have the opportunity to listen to good lectures. One year I spent the week in Memphis while another year, I spent part of a week in Birmingham. Some years, I have read heavily, covering a variety of issues. Other years I have focused on one topic or issue. Some years, I have spent much time in libraries. Other years, I did not ever enter a library.

One year I simply focused on what I was hearing from people around me. I spent lots of time in Starbucks and various other coffee shops. I made notes of most every conversation that I participated in or that I overheard. I browsed through magazines, newspapers, etc. looking for common themes and threads. During that time, I was also in the middle of preparation for a new message series on Sunday mornings. So what I heard from others connected with the preparation of these messages.

In a few days, I will return to work after another July. I remain thankful to this church that provides this opportunity for me each year. I only wish that more and more of my friends who are in a similar role had such an arrangement with their churches. I think these churches would quickly see that they are making a wise, long-term investment in their minister that benefits the congregation greatly.

(I wrote this after reading a fine post by my friend, Tim Spivey, regarding a similar rhythm that he has in his life. Please read his post here.)


Have you ever experienced anything close to burnout? What practices or habits have you built into your life that have helped to energize and provide renewal?


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15 thoughts on “The Month that Has Been a Lifesaver! (A 16-Year Practice)

  1. Jim,

    I'm glad that you found a congregation that are so happy with and turned out to be all you needed it to be. I'm sorry too that it wasn't Gladstone. Gladstone did have a lot of serious problems. So much in fact that three years after you left I couldn't do it anymore either. I had to move on too. That's about all you can do when you are burned out & stressed out. I always enjoyed your sermons and missed them when you left. Please send me a link to your congregations website so I can listen to your sermons. I assume they are posted on there weekly.

    Thanks for all you did while you were at Gladstone. You were great. The problem wasn't you at all.


  2. Linda,

    It is good to hear from you. Your affirming and encouraging words are very encouraging to me even sixteen years after leaving a tough situation. What was particularly difficult about it all was knowing that most of the people there were just good, sweet people trying to deal with life and trust God.

    Again, I appreciate your words. Thank you.

  3. I love the morning. Once Tiersa and the kids are off to school, I'm at the office, and for the first hour or so it's just me, a cup of coffee, and God.

    Prayer. Scripture. Study. A chapter or two from whatever book I’m reading. A daily devotional excerpt from Tozer on the Almighty God.

    No sermons. No lessons. No graduate work.

    Just me and the Trinity.

    I am able to focus. To get my head right. To recall yet again what the Christian life is all about. To remember why I began this journey to begin with. To commune with God.

    By the time I punch the button on my second cup of coffee, I’m ready for whatever comes my way….

    Strength and Honor! Glory to God!


    • Jason,
      What you describe is so very important! Like you, I am a morning person and I relate to this rhythm very well. Others may choose to do this at night. Nevertheless, this time is important and can be so nourishing.

  4. I ran aground a few years ago, after 15 years in Argentina. The solution for me was to move to the States. God blessed us with a loving congregation that made our transition a wonderful one.

    Grace and peace,
    Tim Archer

  5. Jim,
    My dad was a minister for some of my childhood. When I told him about what you do in July, he said he wished that had been offered to him – he might have stayed in the ministry. Mom has talked often about how burned out he was. I am so thankful for the insight of the elders because we are blessed to still have you here!

    • Carrie,
      Thank you for this thougthful note. I appreciate getting the opportunity to hear about your dad. I think that more and more of us in this role have learned to do whatever it takes to refresh and nourish ourselves for the church. It has made a difference!

  6. I think most of us need that kind of break, but most do not have employers that are open to that suggestion. Perhaps that's why so many of us look forward to retirement!
    In the meantime, the things I do to provide renewal may sound rather mundane, but they make a real difference for me.
    1) Consistent reading of books that make me think in a different way or at a higher level than I would have been able to do by myself.
    2) Staying in contact with a few key people in my life to whom I can turn when I am discouraged. Some of these I see rarely, but stay in touch by phone or e-mail.
    3) Taking an occasional long weekend to go to a place of retreat, usually by myself, sometimes a guided retreat, sometimes self-directed.

  7. Jim,
    I used your quote this morning about the happy life from last week.
    I'm blessed with a church that gives me about 30 hours per week to pray and meditate and write and six weeks a year to be away. It's made a great relationship for 26 years here in Denver. Each Sunday to teach and preach is another exciting opportunity. Working through Daniel this summer. For me it is the mornings. 6am to 10am. for straight prayer and mediation. By 10 I'm ready to do what I can to help someone if its an area where I can help. In spite of these blessings I still have spiritual setbacks that make me wonder where I would be without the grace and mercy of Jesus.

    • Larry– So glad to hear that you have this kind of relationship with this church. No wonder you have been there 26 years. It sounds as if they have supported you in a nurturing, encouraging way.

  8. In my personal acquaintances and family members there are at least a dozen people who have experienced burn-out in the ministry. All of them went back to school to become teachers or pick up a different career. I just love to hear that your congregation encouraged and supported you to have the whole month of July for vacation and studies! I think it is vital to make time to refresh and renew one's spirit by being alone with God on a daily basis and even apart from those we love for a short spell. Most of my vacation had always been with helping the kids and grand-kids. While I love being with them, I also needed to find my time to be alone – just me, myself, and I with God. Three years ago, after a huge promotion, I nearly burned-out because of the excessive demands that were placed on that position which were not in the original job-description. I re-evaluated and decided to take early retirement. After a month's retirement I was offered a newly created, half-time position, in a different department, and so far I love it. Sometimes in small organizations, as in some churches, it's the same people who provide the leadership who get the additional responsibilities as the organization grows but there is no budget to hire on the needed staff. God is good!