How Much Time Do Pastors Take for Vacations?

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.

Posted on October 25, 2017

With nearly 40 years of ministry experience, Thom Rainer has spent a lifetime committed to the growth and health of local churches across North America.
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  • I’m fortunate to have a couple of our church members who are comfortable sharing Sermons (Messages). One preaches in a declining church at a different hour than our own service time. So she generally takes my Vacation Sundays. (I actually get 7 Sundays off, 4 were vacation weeks and the other 3 were in place of salary increases. We are also members of the United Church of Christ who has guidelines for churches to consider when contracting (making a covenant) with Pastors.)
    To deal with the “calls during vacation time” we publish the phone numbers of those to call when I’m on vacation: “CONTACTS WHEN PASTOR IS AWAY: 1. Member Care – (Worship Person gets those calls when I’m on vacation; 2. Church-wide Issues: (Names and Numbers of Moderator and the Church and Vice Moderator are listed.)
    I also put a message on my home and work phone that says when I’m out of the office and when I’ll be back in the office. When I get e-mail issues, I forward them to either the Worship Leader or Moderator depending on the issue. I reply to let the person I’m on vacation till xxx and that I’m forwarding their request/issue to the appropriate person.
    This is a real blessing to me personally because my wife and I tend to be “stay-cation” types. It would be easy for people to assume I’m therefore available! Once in a while there may be an emergency that I feel it would be appropriate for me to respond to, but over the last 7 years I think that only happened once or twice. These times are a way for me to spend focused time with my wife and our families and relax and refresh knowing others are available for whatever comes up.
    I also view vacation as times for the church to take on the role of being the Pastors to one another. They are great at caring for one another and respecting clergy boundaries. (Vacation being one of those boundaries.) (Our Conference expects clergy take boundary training every 4 years. One of the advantages of boundary training is to bring those insights to the attention of the Board and Congregation.)
    I’ve always felt blessed at this church, but after reading a couple of the replies, very grateful to be a part of this congregation !!!

  • Robert DeWitt says on

    I am allotted 5 weeks of vacation, I take most of it realizing the importance of time away with my family from the stress and prep time for sermons. I usually take a week or two at a time and stretch them out over the year. I still prep for the Sunday I come back.

  • My Church is good about giving and expecting me to take two weeks each year. While on vacation I still have to prepare sermons for my return, and at times I’ve had to come back from vacation early because of a death in the Church. But I don’t mind. I love my people.

  • Mark Smith says on

    Many of your members never get a vacation… I am not saying you shouldn’t, but keep in mind that lots of people cannot afford to drive out of the county they live in.

    • Mark Smith says on

      What I mean by that is to be sensitive about discussing your travels and vacations.

    • Many pastors can’t afford to travel, either. In those situations, the church should make every effort to respect his privacy when he’s on vacation. A “stay-cation” works pretty well in my current ministry situation, but it would never have worked in my last church. I lived in a parsonage, and the phone number at the parsonage was the same as the church’s phone number (I didn’t have caller ID, either). If I had stayed at home under such circumstances, I’d have never gotten any rest.

  • Thom,

    My church gives me 4 weeks of vacation time and I try to take all of it that I can. They also give me 2 weeks per year for professional development. I realize that I am blessed to be a part of a multi-staff church (5 full-time pastoral staff) where there are other pastors who can share the ministry load when one of us is away. I am also blessed to have capable laypeople to help cover my responsibilities while I’m away. My personal feeling, after wrestling for many years in the early days of full-time ministry with the guilt of being away, is that if the church gives me 4 weeks of vacation they expect me to use it including Sundays. Also, it is not at all “spiritual” if I forfeit the vacation time that I am given. Additionally, I have realized that those vacation times are beneficial for me to get away and recharge with my wife/family. I have also found that it is very difficult, nearly impossible, to vacation with church members. They rarely understand my need to “unplug” and want to discuss ministry stuff while I am away. I have attempted to establish the habit of unplugging from technology while on vacation, turning off my cell phone and giving it to my wife as well as abstaining from checking church e-mails. If there is something urgent that my wife feels I need to be made aware of she will tell me. Otherwise, she protects my time of R & R. If I am tethered to technology while away it is not a vacation nor a break from ministry. I hope these thoughts and habits will be helpful to you and to those who wrestle with this topic.

  • I am a pastor of a small church where I do many things to keep church and programs going. I have a hard time of keeping track of my vacation. I know that I took one week. During that one week, there was a crisis so with the wonder of the internet I managed the crisis from my vacation site. I don’t overwork during the week but the pressure of always being present seems to wear on my spirit. I might have a master of divinity but there is only one person in the world who doesn’t need sleep. Somehow I need to let God be in charge and take more rest. I seem to remember something in Scripture about a Sabbath.

  • I learned the hard way that you NEED to take your vacation. I get 3 weeks paid vacation here and since 2013 when I almost threw in the towel, I always take two week back to back. You should never schedule vacation so that you return on a Sunday, this is so your not preparing a sermon while on vacation, you need to rest. Two weeks together allows for one week of unwinding and one week for true vacationing. I am not in a large church but one thing I learned as well is always negotiate vacation up front so you will have sufficient time later.

  • In the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA), what I have seen over the years is that the normal vacation time granted in a ministerial call is 4 weeks, which includes 4 Sundays off as well. Some calls use the term “one month,” but then let the debate begin – is that 28 days or 31 days? Some assistant pastor calls allow only 2 weeks vacation to begin with and then that time is increased as the elders (session) determine that the assistant pastor’s service has been effective, thus making more vacation time appropriate. Not all pastors use the full 4 weeks, although they should. The assumption for 4 weeks vacation is that the pastor is “on call” 24/7 and deserves a break that only extensive time off can provide.

  • We are a very small congregation in a very rural farming community. In lieu of salary increases each year and due to financial constraints, we’ve given our pastor an extra week vacation. Currently it is at 7 weeks.

  • I get 2 weeks of vacation (only two of those days can be Sunday) I asked the church for an additional week because I have been there 6 years. They said it was in the constitution that the pastor only gets two weeks. I suggested changing the constitution and they said “we just did that” I checked and it was “just” in 1988. So they decided to give me 5 “personal days” but no additional Sunday. I thanked them but I wish they understood that without getting Sunday off I still have to prepare whether I am on vacation or not.

    • Aw, come on! How much time does it take to prepare one or two sermons? 🙂

      Yes, I’m kidding. I’ve been a pastor for 22 years, and sermon preparation takes quite a bit of time if you want to do it right. Unfortunately, a lot of church members don’t seem to understand that.

      • Wesley Ingle says on

        We just get our sermons off the internet now-a-days anyway….right??? (Sarcasm hopefully noted)

    • Thom S Rainer says on

      That’s true.

    • I would preach something I preached 5 years ago then. An “oldie but goodie”. Change the title if you have to. There is nothing wrong with doing that; no doubt many people you serve today were not even a part of the congregation to hear it 5 years ago.

    • Glenn Faris says on

      There are some at my church think you should prepare your sermons when you are away from the office. Recently, a deacon’ s wife reminded me that pastors know they are hired to work 7 days a week. If you know this family, she probably wasn’t replying to “on call.”

  • Donald Payne says on

    I literally just had an annual review with our senior pastor and deacons (I’m obviously not the Sr Pastor on staff). My Sr Pastor noted before the deacons that I have a strong work ethic evidenced by my lack of vacation time taken (in 4 years of full time ministry, never took full allotted amount). He also noted this could be due to a lack of financial resources to afford a vacation.

    I had a couple of takeaways from this. One, I do hope that I have a strong work ethic, but I hope that’s evident in more than just how much I work. Two, I think a lot of Pastor’s probably fall into that area of not being able to afford to take vacation”trips”, so they opt to keep working (this is me).

    I spent 15 years in the business world before answering a call into ministry and the difference when it comes to this area is huge. The secular work place almost always demanded you take your leave. Many churches members exert (intentional or not) almost a guilt trip if you take it. The greater question I believe to be asked is, “how does a pastor educate a church in the importance of caring for a pastor in areas like this, instead of looking at him like he is Superman?”

    Disclaimer(s): I have taken very little time this year. I do serve a church that takes good care of their pastor’s.

    • Thom S Rainer says on

      Essentially the pastor’s comments reward you for not taking vacation time.

    • Take all your time off. You don’t have to go anywhere or do anything – just NOT work.

    • Les Ferguson says on

      As Jennifer said, vacation isn’t about going somewhere as much as it is time to re-create yourself. As part of my vacation this year I simply spent time doing things I needed to do and visited a nearby church that allowed me to go and sit in the pews and participate. That’s a vacation.

  • The church I serve honors pastors by calculating vacation time based on years of full time ministry, therefore service from previous churches are bridged as if all ministry years had been at our church. We are given up to a maximum of 4 weeks per year.

    Church leaders should monitor their pastors vacation time and insist on it being utilized. I dare say the reason many pastor’s do not take all of their vacation is the lack of respect members have for their pastor and the importance of taking time away.

    We all have had the telephone call that starts with, ” Pastor, I know you are on vacation but…” or the comment ” you sure get a lot of vacation time…..” .

    I write this having taken only 20% of my allotted vacation time this year.

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