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’ve served several churches 1/2 time. When I negotiated my contract I told them that 1/2 time does not mean every Sunday every month. Most parishioners can use their weekends to see family etc but pastor can’t do that which make vacation time more important. I took one Sunday/month off. Some church would hold me to it. When I didn’t take a Sunday one month they would make sure I took two the next. Others wouldn’t say a word hoping I’d not ask for the time and they would get freebies as I was salaried.
I do part-time interim ministry and always ask for one Sunday a month off as part of the covenant. It helps me focus on other things that week and doesn’t hurt the church at all. An elder or visiting pastor will preach on those Sundays. It also reminds me that I’m not essential, although I am valued.
My situation has been somewhat different for the last two years and will be until next year. I pastor the First Baptist Church of Ocean Springs, MS and have been here for almost 17 years. Typically I am allowed 24 days vacation. At the end of the year if I have not taken all my days 7 days forward to the next year.
The difference in this period of time is that my son plays college football. His freshman year he was playing and we missed some games because I did not want to miss some Sundays and his games are televised. My wife and I talked about it and decided to never miss another game unless a situation demanded it.
Although I have brought in a wonderful supply preacher and my capable youth minister preaches (and does a great job – and the church at large gets to be involved in his ministry on those Sundays), I do still feel like the church does not do as well when I am gone every other week or so, the operative word being “feel.”
Being torn between supporting my son, enjoying this special time of life with him, the “mama” nature of my red-headed wife, and being a pastor — I did not want to take advantage of my people. I was told that I didn’t need to ask the personnel committee, I have 24 days — take them. And, I didn’t, have to ask — so, I was caught between wanting to be respectful and not wanting to establish a “committee-controlled” pastor and staff. I did not want to start a precedent. This is what I did:
1) I told the personnel chairman my thoughts. He said, “You don’t have to ask . . . ” I informed them that I wanted to be faithful to the church and support my son at the same time. I told my personnel committee my dilemma – a older man reached across the table placed his hand on mine and said, “Pastor, don’t ever miss a game – we love Wes, watched him grow up – and wish we could be at every game with you.”
2) I thank the Church on Sunday morning – for supporting my kids and being excited about our watching him on Saturdays. No one has ever complained – people are following his stats – loving it. I thank them often.
3) Consequently, do not take all of my vacation days — but know I can.
Wow, football more important than preaching the word! I’m sure your church, and your son, is getting the message loud and clear: Follow Christ with unwavering commitment, unless there’s a football game to be played!
I’m sorry for being snarky, but this is the worst thing I have seen a pastor post on this site. One of the biggest detriments to the church today is parents putting youth sports ahead of discipleship. Is it any wonder that a growing number of kids graduate from high school and never set foot in church again? What do you think both parents and kids are thinking when their pastor is gone yet again to a football game? They are getting the message loud and clear: playing sports is more important than following Christ!
Once again this points to the incredible life of leisure that we enjoy in our society today and the church suffers because of it. The more affluent and comfortable we become, the more the church declines. There’s a reason why the church thrives under persecution. Persecution has a way of radically realigning our priorities. Those in the church either get serious about discipleship or they leave. Persecution does not allow us the luxury of “never missing a football game.” However, when we share in Christ’s suffering we also share in His eternal glory. I’m sorry, but there are no rewards in heaven for how many touchdowns your son scores.
I’m sure you have a point. My wife and I have enjoyed worshiping in other churches. If he ever plays in your city – we will come to worship with you. I even have served as the team chaplain and preached the Gospel to the whole team one Friday night — a member of our church gave $2,000.00 to purchase Bibles with the team’s logo on front to give to the entire coaching staff, players and media people — my son, and I have been able to share Christ with many of his team mates – some have come to Christ — so I do think God is glorified. Maybe we are taking the Gospel outside the church on those weekends.
Really? Bibles with the team logo, doesn’t that kinda prove my point?
Christopher, you said it very well. ????
Christopher…I must say I was troubled by your accusing and assuming post. I serve on staff with this dear brother and he is a faithful husband, father and pastor.
Yes, during these limited 3 years he is watching his son play college football. With that being said, he only misses 4-5 Sundays during the year (home games are near by). There are weeks he drives home late (2 AM) so he can preach the Word to the people of God. He loves preaching the Word and desires to make known the riches of the gospel. He teaches discipleship classes on Sunday evenings and teaches 3 times on Wednesdays (literally breakfast, lunch & dinner). And he is personally discipling (one on one) people throughout the week. He faithfully attends local sporting events, scout ceremonies, band concerts and much more to support the families and young people of our church and community.
Through this time in his life he is modeling to his people and son that family is valuable and you can take the gospel with you where ever you go, whether at home or on the road. We have the joy of seeing our pastor love us and love others with the gospel.
Normally I would not respond to post like these, but I feel you did not give Dr. Mike a fair “public” assessment. I believe we are called to love and respect one another. If you have concerns about Dr. Mike’s well being as a pastor I know he would be more than happy to talk with you personally if you would like. He is a gentle and understanding man who is deeply loved by his church family.
I’m happy you love your pastor but I was just going off of what he wrote (“…church doesn’t do as well…gone every other Sunday…”) and my own experience. Youth sports is a plague on the church, if I may use hyperbole. Too often this is rationalized by claims of praying with the team, or leading a devotional at the ball park. Of course none of this can interfere with the game! A much more powerful testimony would be Christian parents simply refusing to participate in Sunday sports. The reality is we go to church to worship and hear God’s Word; we go to the ball park to play. To put it another way, if the university banned Bibles and evangelism would your pastor still go to the game? Of course he would because ultimately he’s not there to share the Gospel, he’s there to watch a football game.
All this goes again to my point about the life of leisure that we live and the casual approach to discipleship that it creates.
I think we are extremely blessed here in the UK when I read this. I pastor a small church in the South West of Scotland. I receive 6 weeks paid leave each year (six Sundays) as well as a paid study week (which I haven’t had the chance to take in my 3 years in post). I take all my holidays because of two reasons. 1 – my family need it too as ministry is, as you all know, all consuming. 2 – it took me a while to realise, in the words of Peter Adam, my flock already have their messiah and I am not it! I am no use to my church if I am burned out or bitter because everyone else gets to take holidays. I don’t go away for every week. Some I use for doing bits and pieces around the house and some I coincide with my sons school holidays so I can spend time with him. This post has made me realise how fortunate I am and how most of my complaints about my church aren’t warranted! Great blog Thom!
My church leadership generally encourages me to take time off, and gives me 4 weeks of vacation time, plus 2 weeks of conference and 2 weeks of revival/speaking/leading time. They are generous, and I try to be for my staff as well. However, financially it is very difficult for me to take more than 2 weeks a year. In fact, I have not had more than 1 vacation day off at a time this year, and then, only totaling 4 days. It seems that for the last year, any time I plan on getting away, someone passes away, and either my trip is cancelled or cut very short.
Our church is generous in giving the time, but we cannot afford to leave town as often as the church would allow.
With all that has been said about senior pastors taking their vacation (3-4 weeks) I just wish Rev. P. H. of NMEC would read about this and be ashamed of yourself how you abused your position and vacation time for the past years. You leave your flocks to go to U.S. twice or thrice a year to attend to your personal business (not medical). Almost half of the year, you’re out and still get paid by the church. It has been years going on like this until this October that you’re officially retired. You now can ‘rest in peace ‘ in U.S. with all favours on your side. Your deacons body are enablers, let you get what you want because they are all your godchildren under your control. And you call yourself a servant of God ? God deal with you brother.
With all that has been said about senior pastors taking their vacation (3-4 weeks) I just wish Rev. P. H. of NMEC would read about this and be ashamed of yourself how you abused your position and vacation time for the past years. You leave your flock to go to U.S. twice or thrice a year to attend to your personal business (not medical). Almost half of the year, you’re out and still get paid by the church. It has been years going on like this until this October that you’re officially retired. You now can ‘rest in peace ‘ in U.S. with all favours on your side. Your deacons body are enablers, let you get what you want because they are all your godchildren under your control. And you call yourself a servant of God ? God deal with you brother.
PCUSA standard terms of call include 4 weeks vacation. I’m aware of churches that strongly encourage their pastor to include at least one vacation period of two weeks or more, recognizing the reality that it takes almost a week to truly “get away.” I’ve tried to follow that practice and am pretty intentional about taking my vacation time. Get it scheduled as early as possible and get it on the calendar. Also, some churches have sabbatical policies, encouraging a three month sabbatical every seven years (minimal). Sabbatical is a Biblical principle and should be encouraged in churches as well as gracious vacation policies and practices.
I’ve only been at my current church for 14 months, but they allow me three weeks vacation because of 25 years of previous pastoral experience. I use two of those weeks for family vacation time, and one week for taking one or two of my kids and going off the grid somewhere where I have no cell reception or Internet. Many times Christian campgrounds will have places available for a mini-sabbatical for free or low costs. I follow the same counsel as others and never come back on a Sunday. My church also gives me one week for planning my sermon calendar for the year. I do this after a calendar meeting with staff and then schedule all vacation times in coordination with my sermon plan.
My pastor had better take vacation time. I think our church encourages him to get away with his family but we are a fairly young church. I’m not positive about this, but a friend who pastors a revitalizing church has a different expectation. They have only been able to get away for 1 week in a year and to one retreat. If our pastor is gone, we miss him and his family, but they are much happier when they return. Our associate pastor can handle the church in his absence. We encourage vacations in the summer and major holidays.
I have been a Pastor for 22 years and a Youth Worker before that for 15. My counsel to my fellow pastors is that you take time off! I get significant time off because of my years in our church body, but I always take 3-4 straight weeks off in the Summer with my family. I have only once been given grief about it and my reply was “I have never once spent Christmas Eve with my family, not once. My four weeks off is the payback to my lovely wife and four beautiful kids.” I never again got grief. The church won’t fall down. The members won’t slide into disrepair. The offering won’t stop. But my fellow pastors, you and your family might fall down, slide into disrepair…and you might just stop. Please get away from the church together…even if it’s a staycation. Blessings, love and prayers your way!
Our Presbytery has a policy of strongly recommending to every church that they give 4 weeks of vacation to their pastor. I don’t know of a church that has failed to do so. Taking that vacation is another matter, given the typical life of a church. I am guilty of not taking all my vacation in a year, but I try to be close. One rule I have – my vacation always starts on Monday and goes through the following Sunday. If your vacation ends on Saturday and you have to preach that Sunday, you have not had a vacation. You have spent the week thinking about the sermon and preparing. That is no rest at all in my book.
The other good practice that helps vacation – plan in advance. Think months ahead when you will want a vacation, communicate that to your leaders, and keep that schedule.
Good counsel, Fred.
I am a full-time staff member and I appreciate that my wife always insists that Inget away on vacation with her. She always says she can tell when I get out of town and truly “relax.” Many pastors suffer from the “Messiah complex” (of which I am the chief of sinners and have worked on this but still have work to do in this area) in which we feel like our church and ministries can’t go on without us. It certainly is a lot of work to go on vacation in my staff position but it is always worth it – for me and my family.
My brother is a bivocational pastor and I saw him get burned out by this issue. Bivocational Pastors often get little to no vacation and it is often difficult to find someone to preach and to pay a supply. So after watching my brother come to the point of stepping down (thank God he is now pastoring again), I led our previous church to offer to any church in the Association a free supply pastor (we had 5 pastors in our congregation and e were going to pay them so the respective church didn’t have to deal with that issue). The my surprise, not one church took us up on the offer.
I am still burdened for our bivocational pastors who work full time and yet still make time to Minister and pastor their congregations. And many of these churches offer little in the way of vacation time (and finances can be a vent more of an issue in these cases).
Love your heart, Randy.