How Much Time Do Pastors Take for Vacations?

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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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141 Comments

  • As you were asking about church staff members in general, I’ll respond from a ministry assistant’s position. At nearly 15 years on staff at my church, I am at the cap on my vacation time, with 3 weeks allowed. However, because we have cut support staff over the years, I don’t have a back up for many of the areas for which I am responsible. This means I have to be very intentional about when/if I can take time off. I do take 5 consecutive days each year, so my husband and I can take a vacation. The remaining 10 days if taken at all, are taken as a day here and a day there, usually on a Thursday afternoon or Friday. I generally end the year with at least 5 days not taken.

  • Hot topic for me and always has been. I have enough vacation time – four weeks – but I rarely use it all. Reading the responses above is good encouragement for me to do so.

    What lay leaders rarely understand is the toll that ministry takes on a family. I’m now an empty nester, but I also have to consider my wife. During the week, I work M-Th, putting in a typical 8-hour day plus at least three nights out a week for ministry – sometimes more. I also work three or more hours on Saturday. Sunday is….well, it’s Sunday.

    I need vacation not only for myself, but especially for my family. When I am on (weekends and evening), my family is off. We don’t get weekends together like most families and our evenings together are limited. For that reason, I think it is absolutely essential that pastors get at least three weeks of vacation. I found, much to my chagrin, that when I moved to the Midwest, most pastors were given just two weeks to start. I had already been in the ministry for fifteen years. (I’ve been in the Midwest now for 20 years.) The reasoning is that two weeks is standard for professional jobs. But the schedule of the ministry bites into traditional family time. Three weeks, I believe, is justified right out of the gate. Fortunately, I was serving a good church when I came to the Midwest and the leadership found my rationale compelling.

    It does no good for a church to have unhealthy pastors and families. Give pastors and their families the time they need and hold them accountable to take it.

  • I want to start off by saying that I am not a pastor. But, I have made some observations about pastors over the years. And, my non-scientific conclusions are that vacation time for pastors is like their days off. They never take enough of them. They don’t guard the time of rest sufficiently. And, any pastor can tell you the “reasons” that they don’t.

    I have suggested that the vacationing pastor give his cell phone to someone that he can trust to sort out what needs his immediate attention and what can be handled by someone else or delayed until his return. That person can then give the task to someone not on vacation or tell the caller that he will give the message to the pastor when he returns. If something needs the immediate attention of the pastor himself, that person can use the pastor’s cell phone to call the pastor’s wife’s cell phone.

    I think the pastor would be amazed at how few times his wife would get a call from his phone if it was in the hands of the right person.

    • Wise advice.

    • Pastor's wife says on

      I would caution burdening the pastor’s wife with any of these deflecting responsibilities. She needs a break too….we do too much of that on an everyday basis. Give those responsibilities to a trusted deacon or other leader in the church. At a former church only the secretary and head deacon knew the pastor’s cell#, in this position the church pays for the cell phone so the # is published, but that’s what auto reply messages are for….in my humble opinion.

      • Yes, you raise a valid point, too. As Adrian Rogers used to say, the pastor’s wife has to put up with everything the pastor puts up with, and she has to put up with the pastor, too!

      • Pastor’s wife,

        The pastor’s wife only has one responsibility: to hand the phone to the pastor when the pastor’s number showed up in the caller ID.

        All of the responsibility was taken by the person who held the pastor’s cell phone while he was away. That person would be the one to delegate, delay, or call the pastor.

  • I remember years ago, when I reached the magic number of years to qualify for 4 weeks vacation, my wife saying, “Well how about that now you have another week to NOT take!!” The message was heard “loud and clear!” I had young children then and I made the commitment, knowing that these were times when bonding and memories are made, that I would not let one vacation day remain on the table at the end of the year.

    My advice to young pastors (which I certainly no longer am) is to take the vacation time you have, and take it if possible in at least one 2 week increment. I have found that a one week vacation just gets me ready to relax . . .

  • Thom

    I appreciate your comments. In my experience, 30+ years in pastoral or denominational service, the ministries I served have been generous regarding vacation time. Two weeks earlier in ministry, up to four weeks in my current role.

    The issue for me has always been the financial means to take advantage of the time alotted. Beginning my ministry in smaller congregations, we just couldn’t afford more than a trip to see family (free lodging and cheap activities).

    A few colleagues, mainly from larger congregations, have been bleased by congregants who allowed use of vacation homes, cabins, or RVs. But I wish more church members would see the need for their pastor and his family to have the R&R and consider assisting in this area. Helping your pastor to have some quality family time would be in itself an investment in the church’s overall well-being.

  • Hi Brother Thom,

    I am blessed with 4 weeks of vacation per year; taken 2-weeks at a time (over two Sundays) in April and in August each year. All of the sermon, powerpoint, and other duties are done before I leave (including the sermon and powerpoint for the return Sunday). I have a lay speaker here in the church who covers, plus an excellent retired pastor in our area who loves to come and share with our people when I am out.

    The last vacation in August 2017, we were blessed to go to NOLA and to perform the wedding ceremony for my oldest brother-in-law and his fiance. It really was family time and a vacation (except for the oppressive heat/humidity in NOLA in August).

    I would not think of cutting a vacation short, unless a major incident (such as the death of a church leader/deacon) or other mind-blowing event took place (like the church building burning down or something similar).

    Like many who respond, I need the time to refresh and renew my family relationships and just to “get away”.

    Thanks,

    Pastor Dean

  • Our family generally takes two vacations per year. One vacation is for my wife and I alone to reconnect. The other is for our whole family so that we can bond and make memories together. Generally we vacation Monday through saturday. I just personally hate missing Sunday and our preferences of where we go works for us. We are in a new church (less than two years) so we did this from the very beginning and no one has given us any push back at all. It’s probably one of the better situations than most pastors have.

  • Rev Hector E Torres says on

    If we led church members to think we are superherores, then they will expect us to be superheroes.
    We are humans that responded to a higher calling, but still, humans.
    I have two kids, ages 6 and 3, and I have a very clear statement in my head: “this church can have 1,000 pastors next week, my kids have only one father”.
    i have 30 days of vacation each year. when I didnt have kids, I took a week or two.
    now I take all my benefit, I take trips with my wife and kids, we sleep late on sundays, we do things that give family life meaning, stories to tell, memories that will last. I recharge my batteries and come back stronger, focused.
    we have to teach people we are fragile, if not, we are in the perfect path to a burnout, a double life due to stress.
    thanks for your interesting articles and discussions.
    Blessings desde PUERTO RICO!!!!

  • In my previous church I was told that there are no set vacation days, if I need time off take it, just don’t abuse it. As you can imagine, that being left to interpretation caused trouble from time to time. There were members who could not understand why I took a Sunday off (only the 2nd Sunday I had not been there in 8 months), just because I wanted to go to my home church and worship with my wife. Though no one had the guts to say anything to me face to face, it came to me in a round about way that if I was going to be in town I needed to be in the pulpit at our church. The most extreme case came when I was at the beach on vacation and I received a phone call that a member had passed away and I needed to come home to do the funeral. This person was a member on paper only. I had never met her, never heard anyone speak of her and she wasn’t on our shut in list. I found out that she had joined the church as a child, and then moved on and had no ties with our church for close to 65 years, but the paper said she was a member and they expected me to come back. I was young in the ministry and this was my first pastorate, so I came home leaving my family. It was an 8 hour drive back home, so I stayed all day with my family, literally drove all night. Took a small nap, preached a funeral for a lady I knew nothing about and drove 8 hours back, in a Tropical Storm! to be with my family. My dad is a deacon at his church and he was very upset, I told him to take this lesson and protect his preacher in a similar circumstance. The next year my kids suggested we take a cruise, because “they can’t get in touch with you on the boat!” I learned my lesson and would not make the decision to leave my family in a similar circumstance today. I’ve also learned the beauty of establishing vacation time and what constitutes me leaving my family on the front side at my current church so there is no chaotic reaction if this ever happens again.

  • Matthew Collier says on

    I have only served in my current position for about 5 months, so I haven’t had the vacation issue pop up here yet. But in a previous pastorate, I served in a church of about 45 active members. I was bi-vocational (I’m also a public school teacher).

    The church gave me two weeks for vacation and two weeks for conferences or to preach revivals. Their one stipulation was that I couldn’t miss consecutive Sundays without pre-approval in a church business meeting (I’m SBC).

    Though they called it 2 weeks, it was more like 2 Sundays. I still worked at the school (unless I managed to get away in the summer), and I still prepared messages for the week that I returned. It wasn’t really the church’s fault, but it’s the nature of the beast when you’re bivocational.

    The bottom line is that churches need to recognize that being a pastor is a 24/7 responsibility, and they need to protect their pastor from exhaustion and burnout by sending him away once or twice a year for recovery and rest.

  • In our denomination (Nazarene), vacation is based on years of full-time service, and it’s weeks, which includes one Sunday per week. Like many have noted, it’s challenging to “be on vacation” even if you’re out of town. I do a lot of tech & admin support for our church, so I field calls from our staff while on vacation.

    I live in a small town, so if I don’t go out of town on vacation, I will see people around town constantly. It’s not that I want to avoid them, but the point of a vacation is rest.

    What is more challenging than vacation is sabbatical.

  • Doesn't Matter says on

    I’m a Worship Pastor serving full time in my first full time ministry position. I served in bi-vo ministry for 20 years. I receive 2 weeks of vacation and am allowed to use “comp time” when things need to be done outside of normal office and church hours. I will earn a 3rd vacation week after 5 years of service. In summary, my church does a GREAT job giving the staff vacation time and time off.

    That said, our senior pastor hasn’t been able to really enjoy a vacation in many years. EVERY TIME he tries ot go camping for 3 days or more, someone dies. Seriously. Every Time. I’ve seen it myself happen many times of a 4 year span. We all know that families would understand if he can’t be back to preach the funeral, but he puts pressure on himself to be there for them in every time of need.

    • Thom S Rainer says on

      DM –

      Sadly, I hear that story a lot. I would love to hear how other pastors deal with this issue.

      • Jim Kilson says on

        Early in my ministry I would willingly cut my vacations short to officiate funerals, but I slowly came to the realization that doing so was not only unfair to my family, it was also detrimental to my ministry in the long run, owing to the fact that it was difficult if not impossible to recoup the lost time.

        So as it now stands, it’s my practice that if I’m already out of town I don’t come back to officiate funerals. In such situations another minister on staff handles the funeral. If the death occurs before I leave I will reschedule the start of my vacation to accommodate the family if it’s possible to do so.

      • For a pastor who cannot afford to travel even during his vacation, how does he handle the fact that one of his members died and he has to enjoy his vacation anyway?