Summer, in my mind, is a beautiful word. When I was growing up, summer was the season I cherished the most.
The reason was clear; school is out in the summer. It’s not that I didn’t enjoy school, it’s just that in our home, summer was the season we got to spend more time together. Since Dad was a Southern Baptist pastor, June would present the first opportunity for us to travel as a family. The Southern Baptist Convention meets in June and wherever it met, we would usually begin our summer travel season by taking vacation going to and coming back from the annual meeting.
I willingly endured the long meetings for an opportunity to walk through the exhibit area on a treasure hunt for all the interesting items to be found at the many display areas. Janice and I duplicated the experience with our girls. No doubt, their favorite part of the experience was visiting the exhibit area and gathering pens, pencils, writing tablets, and such that would keep them busy for the rest of the trip.
With the conclusion of the annual meeting, and shortly after our return home, it would be time for our annual Youth Camp at Panama City Beach, Florida. Though Youth Camp was at sea level, it was always a mountaintop experience for me. I felt closer to the Lord in those days through Bible study, prayer, the singing of choruses, and campfire down on the beach every evening.
Yes, there were always those hilarious things that happen through a youth camp experience, but the most profound thing happened also. I drew closer to the Lord and made significant commitments at camp. My love for the church, for my Christian friends, and for my family were consistently enhanced through youth camp.
Vacation Bible School was always a very important part of summer. Did you know that essentially 20 percent of Southern Baptist baptisms every year come from decisions made at VBS? My desire is to see every Georgia Baptist church having an annual VBS, leading our children to faith in Christ. Some of the experiences of growth that I experienced through Vacation Bible School are still blessing my life and ministry today. I am thinking specifically of memorizing the books of the Bible. I can name them in order and quickly today because I learned them through Vacation Bible School.
Family vacation was the capstone experience for our family every year. Whether we were spending two weeks at the beach cottage of a family friend in the church, traveling through the Smoky Mountains to stay at my grandparents’ home in Lexington, Kentucky, or in a cabin on a farm in North Carolina, the place didn’t matter so much. It was the fact that we were together, just us, without the constant interference of others, calling my Dad away to conduct another funeral or to make a visit at the hospital. Dad and Mom were ours exclusively on vacation and we loved it, every minute of it!
I’m sure Dad was better in his ministry after vacation. His sermons were more vibrant; his personality was brighter. It just helps to get away. It gives perspective. Nothing refreshes the heart of a minister more than time away with his family.
The minister’s life is tugged at from more angles than you can imagine. Being away from that pressure for some alone time with God and family refreshes the pastor and his family.
Invariably, upon returning from vacation, some unthinking church member would say to me, “Pastor, it’s good to see you back. Seems like you are gone more than you are here.” Not only is this not a true statement, it is a troubling thing to say to the pastor who is simply living by his employment agreement with the church. In just one thoughtless comment, injury can result that negates the refreshing the pastor experienced through time alone.
Let me urge all of you to encourage your pastor and other ministers to take sufficient time away this summer, time with family, and quiet time with the Lord. Let them know that you expect them to do it. You will be doing the right thing, and you will have a rejuvenated pastor and church leader as a result.
By the way, it is also a good idea for you to do the same, but before any of us leave on vacation, it’s a good idea to drop off your tithe at the church before leaving town. You’ll enjoy your vacation more if you pay your tithe to the Lord before you pay the rental on your vacation condo.