The Ten Commandments of a Pastor’s Vacation

I realize vacations are a luxury. Plenty of bi-vocational pastors do not get vacations. Some full-time pastors get so much grief from their churches over vacation, they simply skip them. Time away is essential. Every pastor needs it, and every church should give it. If your church is gracious enough to provide vacation time, you should use the time to recharge.

For fun, I’ve put together a list of “shalts” and “shalt nots” for the pastor’s vacation.

1. Thou shalt take a vacation every year. It’s good for the soul to rest. Most of us need at least one week each year to unwind.

2. Thou shalt get off the field. While I understand the concept of a “staycation,” getting off the field makes it easier to take a break from the stresses of ministry.

3. Thou shalt leave clear instructions before you go. Your church or staff will call you if you don’t give them a heads up about who is leading in your absence. Don’t ruin your vacation by being sloppy the week prior.

4. Thou shalt relax. Make sure whatever you do on vacation does not invite more stress.

5. Thou shalt enjoy your family. I’ve heard of pastors taking time off without their families. If you do that regularly, it’s selfish. Ministry can pull you away from your family, so a vacation should be when they receive focused attention from you.

6. Thou shalt read something fun. Put down the systematic theology volume and pick up a good work of fiction.

7. Thou shalt not skip church. If you miss a Sunday in your home church, then visit another church. It’s good to experience other churches. And Jesus’ resurrection is kind of a big deal—worth celebrating every Sunday!

8. Thou shalt not skip devotional time. You need a short reprieve from ministering to others. You don’t need a break from God.

9. Thou shalt not feel guilty. Taking a vacation does not mean you love your church any less, but it does show your church how you love your family more!

10. Thou shalt not return unless in an extreme emergency. It’s tempting to rush back because a key member is having hip replacement surgery. If you must, then take ten minutes for a phone call. Only return for the most extreme emergencies.

If you do not have vacation days, it’s time to ask for them. The downtime is critical to longevity in ministry. You are better for your church when you have time to rest, relax, and get away for a vacation.


Posted on March 16, 2022

As President of Church Answers, Sam Rainer wears many hats. From podcast co-host to full-time Pastor at West Bradenton Baptist Church, Sam’s heart for ministry and revitalization are evident in all he does.
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  • Prechrchet says on

    Question: how do you define “extreme emergency” for # 10?

    • In my opinion, extreme emergencies are institutional not personal. Something catastrophic to the structure or livelihood of the church – fire, flood, tornado, schism, policy disruption.
      Extreme emergencies are not: sickness, death, or things of a personal nature. If the pastor has done their job, there is a person or group that will be able to provide interim pastoral support in the case of surgery or death.

      That was the test I applied while in the military and on leave.

  • Such a great article – sending it to my pastor now

  • Adneiger says on

    There’s so much content, funtastic and proper. I truly appreciate these teachings, pray and pray an Thank God for your support.
    Proper systems and structures do r church development, doing Ministry well to avoid unnecessary stress, waste of time and one ending up feeling like ministry is a burden, because that’s how I viewed Ministry for the most part. Even though I am not as yet running a church, or Ordained as a pastor, but grew up in church and have gone to Bible College due to the love I have for God, church, people and my own personal desire to grow in God and understand Him better.

    Your platform is perfect for everyone in leadership.
    When that time comes of course one will have to be ready spiritually, mentally, physically and do it right. I love and appreciate Order. I believe ministering should be enjoyable as it has a lot to do with purpose for some of us.

  • I would say adjust your minimum recommendation of one week to at least three. One week of vacation is not enough for pastors.

  • RevMikeyMac says on

    If a church isn’t offering a pastor more than one week of vacation each year – it’s time to either man up and negotiate more, or find another church! I currently get 5 weeks/year, plus I’m also supposed to take two weeks (with two Sundays) for continuing education. Your church needs to hear from someone else other than you. They’ll appreciate the different flavor, and most of the time, they’ll appreciate you when you return (if they don’t – you’re in trouble!).

    None of us is irreplaceable as a pastor, but as a father and husband – you’re the only one who can fulfill that role in your family! Get over your savior complex and go on vacation! If money is tight, stay with relatives, or see if someone in your church has a place you could stay for a few days. Again, negotiate for yourself, your family and ultimately, your long-term ministry (been at it over 30 years…).

  • Randy Peterson says on

    I may sound harsh here but I think it needs to be said. When you go, you need to go, and let go (do not answer church emails, texts, phone calls, and don’t come back- make that clear before you leave). If someone dies they will still be dead whether you are out for a week or two weeks. I’ve returned from vacation twice for funerals and will never do that again. You can’t make up that time with your family no matter what.

    I think many pastors from the past have set up many of these expectations for those that come after them. I know the pastor I grew up under would always come back to do a funeral. Only one out of four of his children have anything to do with the Lord today. I’ve seen this more often than not. Pastors need to protect their families and their time with them. God will hold us accountable!

    • Amen. I make it a hard rule to not check work email or clear voice mail while on vacation. If you are on vacation you are on vacation.

      The way I work the emergency is to have a local pastor who is either in my denomination or a colleague in our small community be the contact in case of true emergency. While I’m on vacation I have an appropriate stand-in to field emergencies and then stay on vacation.

  • One of the most important things that I found is that I needed to take two Sundays vacation. If you just take one Sunday you’re already planning on what you preach next week while you’re on vacation.

  • Excellent Advice for Vacay!
    I would push back on #7 “Thou Shall Not Skip Church” for the simple reason that as a pastor of 30+ years I have learned that attending another church while on vacay can trigger too many “ideas” related to “what we could do at our church” and kick the “work button” back on for me personally. My suggestion would be to take the Sabbath Rest and celebrate/connect with God intentionally in a different way that Sunday then attending a structured service.

    • I cannot emphasize enough how important it is to attend a “different” church, and make it a family adventure while vacationing.
      If you’re low church, attend high church (and visa versa). Use liturgy, go Pentecostal. English speaking, try Hispanic. Try Korean. White? go to a Black church. Mega church, try small. Small church, try mega. Protestant, try Roman Catholic. Try a denomination of church flavor very different from your own. My kids, now adults, still talk about attending a Greek Orthodox church when we were away. And then there was starting our day at Mt. Rushmore with “A Christian Ministry in the National Parks” volunteer worship team ( with Mt Rushmore itself as the backdrop. I also would not trade our morning with the military base chapel at Kilauea in Hawaii before we toured the active volcano. Over lunch talk with your kids (or just with your spouse if you’re empty nesters) about what was different, difficult, enjoyable, impressionable and etc.
      As Pastors we don’t get a chance to worship in different settings unless we’re on vacation or sabbatical. Remind yourself of what it feels like to be a visitor, and your kids not to be known PKs for a Sunday. We need to be reminded. Ask yourself if you connected with God in the different setting, and if God promises to be present when His people gather, whether a lack of connection was the church’s fault or your own expectations.
      One tip… it will take some time on Friday or Saturday prior to the Sunday Service to locate a church where you will be traveling. Do fit it into your Sunday Vacation. Find a church that meets early enough or late enough to meet your vacation needs, or choose a church that is meeting on Saturdays or Thursdays.

  • I think you should have added an 11th – “Thou shalt not preach at another church (or your own) while on vacation.” I’ve listened to a podcast by some crazy guy named Sam that does that 🙂

  • Thou shalt tell, if you don’t have associate ministers, one or two other ministers in town or close by that you are going on vacation and ask if they could cover for you in emergencies and for an unplanned funeral offering to do the same for them.