Good board members can be an irritation.

“When was the last time you took a week of vacation?” asked Joe Phelps, pastor of Highland Baptist Church in Louisville, Ky., at the May board meeting of the Baptist Center for Ethics.


Let’s not go there, I thought.


An effort to evade the question and redirect the discussion resulted in the observation of appreciation for my “skilled” attempt to avoid the question, as expressed by Wendell Griffen, pastor of New Millennium Church in Little Rock, Ark.


OK, I had to admit that it had been a long time and that I needed a vacation. I promised that I would take some time off. I knew that Joe, Wendell and other board members were right to press the issue.


Vacation and vocation do have an inevitable tension.


From my vantage point, I am blessed beyond measure with the opportunity to do what I want to do, what I have a moral sense that I ought to be about – a gift that many people sadly never experience.


Yes, work can be fatiguing and frustrating. Making bricks without straw – doing justice with limited funds – can wear one out. After 20 years, doing some tasks fosters a loathing spirit.


But at the end of the day when the accounts are balanced, I must make a joyful noise that God is good – all the time – to me.


Vacation messes with vocation – vocation is sharpened no doubt by vacation.


Jesus never took a vacation as we define vacation today. But he validated breaking the cycle of work with his recognition of the Sabbath and his advocacy of the year of Jubilee. He was faithful to the Hebrew moral vision of resting on the seventh day. He did retreat from the demands of the crowd and the pressures of performance.


The life of Jesus discloses a tension between vocation and vacation.


Some years ago, I recall Joel Snider, pastor of First Baptist Church of Rome, Ga., saying that ministry was the easiest place in the world to work yourself to death or escape work all together.


Lord knows, I’ve seen both. I’ve seen highly productive pastors, agency personnel and professors who were productive beyond measure. They worked tirelessly at doing good.


I’ve also seen the opposite. I’ve witnessed denominational bureaucrats who spent more time scheduling coffee breaks and lunches than should ever have been tolerated. They took all their vacation days and thought they were justified taking time off for everything else.


I’ve seen the yellow lecture notes, written decades ago and recited with significant dullness by professors who were of little earthy good. And some church staff members do so little that their sloth puts a smudge on those who do too much.


Church members recognize the tension between vacation and vocation. Regrettably, church leaders too often fail to hold accountable the slothful staff members and reward the productive ones.


Church members themselves struggle with work and leave.


A recent CNN news story about the United States as the “no-vacation nation” should help force some moral reflection about vacation and vocation.


“Besides a handful of national holidays, the typical American worker bee gets two or three precious weeks off out of a whole year to relax and see the world – much less than what people in many other countries receive,” said the story.


CNN reported on a Reuters/Ipsos poll that found that “only 57 percent of U.S. workers use up all of the days they’re entitled to.”


Other nations have a much different approach to vacation.


An American interviewee married to a German said that in Germany her husband got six weeks of paid leave, as well as national holidays. Australia and Slovenia require companies to provide four or more weeks of paid vacation, compared to Brazil and France that require six weeks.


“A big reason for the difference [between the U.S. and other countries] is that paid time off is mandated by law in many parts of the world,” said CNN. “But employers in the United States are not obligated under federal law to offer any paid vacation, so about a quarter of all American workers don’t have access to it.”


Cultural, economic and psychological reasons also play a role. Many Americans find “happiness” in working. Some are workaholics. Others face job insecurity, working defensively to avoid layoffs.


Once upon a time, summer represented the start of the vacation season. Nowadays, about the only vacation for people of faith involves Vacation Bible School.


Perhaps our society would be healthier and more productive if people of faith had a moral discussion about vacation and vocation, one that included what happens when workers are alienated from the workplace and too afraid to take time off. Toss in what drives our addiction to work. Look at why sloth is encouraged among religious organizations.


More could be said, but I’ve got to plan a vacation.


Robert Parham is executive editor of and executive director of its parent organization, the Baptist Center for Ethics.

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