How Much Time Do Pastors Take for Vacations?

October 25, 2017

This topic was hotter than I expected.

I asked pastors and other church staff about the amount of time taken for vacations each year. Most of the responses came from pastors, and many of those pastors were pretty intense about it.

They spoke of their dire need for vacation time; of the constant interruptions during vacations; of learning the hard way about forfeiting vacation time; and about some church members who don’t believe pastors should take any vacation time.

After I put the survey out on social media, I received many responses. Here are the reported annual vacation times, mostly from pastors:

  • None to 1 week 21%
  • 2 weeks 28%
  • 3 weeks 14%
  • 4 weeks 25%
  • 5 or more weeks 12%

The results were fascinating, almost forming a perfect bell curve. But note that nearly half of the pastors take only 0 to 2 weeks of vacation.

We also heard several other issues related to vacations:

  • Very few pastors take all of their allocated vacation at one time.
  • Many of the pastors were very sensitive about how many Sundays they missed. Some of them were in churches that would not let vacation time be inclusive of Sundays.
  • Two factors typically contributed to more vacation time: size of the church and length of pastoral tenure.
  • One-third of the pastors volunteered that they always take fewer vacation days than the church permits.
  • Some of the pastors are challenged to take vacation time if their spouse works. Coordination of schedules is not always easy.
  • Bi-vocational pastors, as a rule, have much greater difficulty taking vacations than other pastors.

What is your vacation schedule? What are some of your thoughts about vacations?

Let me hear from you.

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137 Comments

  • I understand that “everyone” needs a vacation from their jobs, and most “people” only receive two weeks per year! I am stunned by the ministry and their constant request for vacations every month – Spiritual conferences, time to get away, alone time with wife, wife taking her own vacations, camp retreats, and family vacations! Our pastor gets to take a week + every month, and receives everything paid for — Let me remind everyone that this is the Churches Money — by the way. And he receives paid insurance, car payment, and all other benefits etc. I think it is unnecessary and an abuse of financial authority. When saints see this — why do they want to pay their tithes?

  • 21 years in full-time ministry. 10 years at my present assignment.

    2 weeks vacation. 1 Sunday a year.

    I’m often tempted to find another avenue of employment.

    My wife has spent 17 years with the company she works for. Gets 4 weeks of vacation a year. Plus sick days. I never take sick days and rarely ask for a day off unless I have work that needs to be done on my house or vehicle.

  • I have served in two small, long-established churches over my thirteen years of pastoral ministry. In both those churches I was given four weeks of vacation per year. I have always taken all of it, sometimes two weeks at a time but usually not. However, I have not always traveled from home during my vacation weeks, especially in recent years. In my first few years in my current church I was strict—perhaps a little too strict—about not interacting with church needs or people during a stay-at-home vacation, but it allowed me to be more flexible about that in later years without being taken advantage of.

  • It always struck me that Israel’s required religious festivals were, in some ways, like vacations. They provided breaks from the normal flow of life, and three were considered pilgrimage festivals – as I understand it – that required them to travel away from home in day when travel was by foot or hoof. I imagine they lived a slower paced life as well, and were definitely not “always reachable.” They also lived in a agrarian environment where busy times naturally flowed with the seasons of planting and harvesting. Then there was the 7th year when the land rested. What did they do during those times? Maybe they rested and worked on other projects around the farm or community? It’s just something I’ve often thought about, but never dug much into or seen deeply discussed and thought I’d share it here for further thought for any who reads the comments this far down.

    That this is a popular topic is telling, too many probably need a real recharge.

  • What is the accepted protocol for when the pastor is on vacation or a day off in these areas:
    1. Phone calls
    2. Texts
    3. Death in the church
    4. Some type of “emergency”.

    At this point, everyone thinks their illness or family crisis should demand that the pastor is there on the spot. Basically, rendering the pastor to a 24/7 crisis hot line life.

    What are some suggestions for when he is on vacation or on a day off?

    This comes from wife that loves being a pastors wife but also very much believes in boundaries 🙂

    • I don’t know if there is an “accepted protocol”, but I’ll give you my two cents’ worth:

      With phone calls and texts, I would just tell them point blank not to call me unless there’s an emergency. Caller-ID comes in very handy here. When you’ve been in a church for a while, you usually learn which ones tend to call about trivial issues. Personally, I don’t answer the phone when they call. If it’s important, they’ll leave a message.

      Funerals and other emergencies can be a bit tricky. If there was a death in the church and I was out of town, I used to try and drive back. Unfortunately, that’s not always realistic, especially if you’re very far away. Sometimes you just have to make a tough decision and take the heat for it when you get back.

      I’m sorry if this isn’t very helpful, but it’s the best I’ve got. 🙁

  • I have been blessed at my church in that I have a church covenant that states if I take a week off I have two Sundays off. This means I am not preparing for a message while I am away and I can completely relax and enjoy time with my family. I also have within my covenant that I should not be interrupted except in the case of dire need and if something does happen the church will meet to reimbursement for time lost, expenses etc. I would greatly urge all churches to prayerfully consider adopting the same policy.

  • Fortunately, in our denomination (Presbyterian) full-time pastors are expected to have 4 weeks (including 4 Sundays) of vacation and 2 weeks (including 2 Sundays) of study leave. My husband and I have always taken our vacation, even if it meant occasionally staying home and doing something other than the work of ministry. It keeps us healthy and keeps the focus of the congregation on who is really head of the church. We took most of our study leave time as well, being spiritually fed and challenged.

    If we were out of town, we usually did not return even for funerals. Church members knew not to call us for ordinary church business – that was handled by our Clerk of Session. No one begrudged our time off because it modeled a healthy work/rest balance, helped keep our family solid, and gave the church pastors who were more energized for ministry.

    If the church cannot thrive without you for a few weeks a year, please look at how you encourage the work of ministry among your members and leaders.

  • For the sake of discussion: I was at a round-table discussing senior leader preaching schedules at large churches and the numbers “35 – 42” were held up as a standard.

    The message held that lead pastors need to preach at least 35x/year for their influence on the DNA of the church to be felt, but that they should preach no more than 42x/year.

    Limiting their pulpit engagement has at least three key benefits: 1) it encourages the development of others, 2) it helps to limit an unhealthy attachment to any one person, and 3) it prevents burnout.

    The obvious should also be noted – this does not mean all those weeks are vacation. It just means “not preaching”. Educating people on the difference is part of the challenge.

    I realize what works in a large church context does not often work in the smaller church, but let’s not assume that is the case here just yet.

    Aside: It irks me a bit that, considering the nature of this business, we tend to dole out vacation time like a corporation might – earning more vaca with years of service. Are we saying that ministry is not taxing on you until you’ve been doing it for 25 years? This work is very hard on the complete system – head, heart, body, and soul. We all need regular breaks from the full-scale onslaught to our very being and the continuous influence it has on our families.

    For the same reasons given to these large church leaders, I believe regular pulpit sharing is a really good idea. Making this a reality in your context can help immensely with the vacation discussion.

    I’m mixing some thoughts here, I realize, but IMHO it comes down to this:
    – this job is harder on our total being than most anyone can imagine… it. never. ends.
    – our job (per Ephesians 4) is to equip the saints, not for us to do all the heavy lifting
    – the culture is broken when the church expects one person to fill the pulpit 50x/year
    – we need to figure out a way to heal the thought culture of the masses, including their unhealthy dependence on the senior leader

    So many thoughts running through my head related to this conversation – most of them based in the silly reality that everyone in the church feels they should have influence on the HR practices of this extremely unique organizational environment called the church (see Chris Hutchins, Grace Lee, and Christopher above…). I don’t have the solution, but I do think the conversation is very important. Thanks for providing the platform, Thom!

  • Let’s chat about the difference smart phones have made in taking an actual vacation from work. Constant accessibility is expected.

  • I have pastored for almost 6 years now: with 2 different churches. To be honest, at my first church, my salary was not enough for my family and me to take a nice vacation of at least a week. I enjoy being a pastor. It’s an honor and a privilege. A great thing. But many church people, who make good to excellent salaries, are able to go wherever. In my first church, they went to Hawaii, Europe, Florida, and other places. We struggled to go anywhere because the salary, I was paid, was minimal. My wife’s uncle owned a mountain house so he let us stay there for a week in the summer. If not for him and being able to do that, we would have gone nowhere. I would love to do some traveling around the United States, but being able to do that is a function of being paid fairly well. Many small church pastors aren’t (Not complaining, just being “real”) paid well or even adequately. Regardless of the size, all churches should encourage their pastor to take a vacation, each year, for at least a week to 10 days. But you have to have the financial resources to do it and many pastors don’t. It’s a bit frustrating because after a while, you’ll burn out if you don’t recharge occasionally. A recharged pastor, yearly, is a better pastor. If you serve a small church, though, over a long period of time, you probably will not be able to take and enjoy nice vacations like some: due to finances. That’s one thing you have to accept.

  • One of the big surprises I had when moving from a corporate environment to full-time ministry. As a software engineer I had 4 weeks as a pastor I was given 1 week AFTER the first year (no vacation until the 1 year anniversary) then 2 weeks after the second year.
    Not enough especially with a family.

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