When Should Pastors Interrupt Vacations? Five Considerations

Because many schools are out most of the summer, pastors, like many families, choose to take their vacations this time of year. But many pastors are keenly aware of the risk of being called home for an emergency during their vacations. It is more common than most church members realize.

So, what should pastors do if the interruption takes place? Without giving specific details, let me share with you five considerations for pastors confronted with this reality.

  1. Interrupted vacations should be the exception. One pastor shared with us his vacation had been interrupted seven of the eight past attempts to get away. I bluntly told him he was deeming too many things to be an emergency. I also told him he was sacrificing his family to please other church members. That brings me to the second point.
  2. Your family remembers these interruptions. We have heard from grown pastors’ kids who still remember the pain of interrupted vacations. They still remember the angst every time the phone rang on vacation. Their perception is often that they really didn’t matter as much as other church members.
  3. Pastors need a back-up plan in place. Even in small churches, you need someone to visit the hospitals and respond to emergencies. Funerals can typically be covered by a pastor of another church. Indeed, some pastors have reciprocal agreements much like physicians who need back-up plans for vacations.
  4. Churches should consider reimbursements and re-schedules when pastors are called home from vacation. One pastor shared that it cost him over $1,000 in travel costs to get him and his family home for a church emergency when three members died in an auto accident. But the personnel committee of the church refused to reimburse him for his travel costs, and they did not allow him to reschedule those vacation days. That’s just wrong.
  5. Some members will simply not understand. “There is no easy way to tell a grieving widow you can’t come home from vacation,” one pastor shared with me. “I understand. She just lost her husband. But it was one of 17 deaths in our church that year. I had to find a way to take my family on vacation.”

There are some emergencies that require pastors to interrupt a vacation. One pastor was on vacation when a shooting occurred in his church. That is a clear and obvious reason to return home. But too many pastors interrupt their vacations for almost any need in the church.

It is a tough decision. Unfortunately, the pastors’ family is often the one asked to make the sacrifice.

How would you respond or set guidelines for these interruptions?

Posted on July 3, 2019

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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  • What’s really frustrating as the spouse of a pastor is when a board chair or board member calls the pastor during our family vacation regarding a business matter or conflict which is not an emergency or a decision that cannot wait until the pastor’s return. And this comes while the associate pastor is readily available back home and after months of being advised when the vacation is scheduled (along with advising that this is family time and no phone calls will be taken). Another church board was upset that we didn’t cut our vacation, several states away, short to come home to be with a family while loved ones were in the hospital. I can’t think of a vacation or even a weekend away that wasn’t interrupted by a phone call, even with advanced notice and preparation for the pastor being gone.

    • I tell people that I am taking a vacation where there is no cell signal, and there is only one person (the pastor in another congregation covering for me in emergencies) who knows otherwise. Even then, I don’t answer the phone when it rings and let it go to voicemail. Even Jesus went off into the desert where no one could find him. A burnt-out pastor is a danger to the church.

  • I told my church that for 48 weeks out of the year I was on call and my family had to adjust. So, for the 4 weeks of vacation, I was unreachable because they deserved to have some uninterrupted time with me. It took the church a while to understand but I maintained clear and consistent boundaries. Eventually, they adjusted and respected that space.

    • Jason Wise says on

      4 weeks? Wow

      • Robin Owen says on

        It is common for clergy to work 6 days a week, and to work many holidays. Most people in secular employment have more than 4 weeks worth of time off, and regularly enjoy two-day and three-day weekends.

      • My parish gives: 4 weeks vacation; all federal holidays off; 2 days off a week (most of the time). Because they know to do otherwise would kill me.

        Crises and real emergencies excepted. In fact, the parish apologizes when someone dies on my day off (Friday) – I always respond “it’s not like you planned it that way.”

      • Kevin Withem says on

        4 weeks is fairly standard in the business world once an employee has worked a certain number of years for an organization. 4 weeks is nothing to “wow” about.

      • William Alan Secrest says on

        I would love to get an extra week of vacation. I have served my current church for 10 1/2 years and I started with 3 weeks of vacation and I still get 3 weeks of vacation. If they offered me a 4th week of vacation I would yell, “Hallelujah.”

  • Two words come to mind. Tragedy and catastrophic. The church should define this in advance. A church should exhaust all possibilities before requesting interruption of vacation. There should be a high level of respect.

  • William Alan Secrest says on

    First of all, I agree with all your points. However, I noticed something that nobody has pointed out yet. Pastors always have to leave town to be on vacation. I am just coming back from vacation and most of it was spent at home. It was placed in the church bulletin before I left that, if there was a need, call the deacons. Unfortunately, I cannot afford to leave town on vacation and that is a whole other conversation. The bottom line is that something catastrophic needs to happen before a pastor comes off of his or her family’s vacation. Everybody believes that their issue is an emergency and that the pastor must respond to it. We need to help people understand that pastors and their families need uninterrupted time away if you expect them to be healthy. All of us need time to recharge our spiritual battery.

  • I am part of our pastors backup as one of the deacons in the church we take over Pastors responsibilities The Pastor is only available to us our members are divided among the Deacons and they are informed to contact their Deacon if there is an emergency

  • Train your church to not depend on the pastor personally. The pastor is a human. And often he/she doesn’t even have experience in medicine or any related field. What is the “emergency” or problem that a pastor actually resolves when breaking a vacation? People don’t need the pastor that much.

  • Thom,
    I want to “Amen” Jason’s point about making sure the entire church knows the church’s policy and that the church’s policy has been voted on in the appropriate committees. Additionally, church leaders of every type need to vocally support a pastor’s need to have alone time with his family and the harm done the family that time is interrupted. Your article here is a good example of vocal support by church leaders. Every denomination, from the Roman Catholics to the most localized independent congregation have regional and usually national leaders to which they respond. I understand Jason’s point as “better communication and support.” I think these are the keys and cannot be left to local pastors or local church leaders alone.

  • We had a pastor who was also a National Guard chaplain. I know that’s not a vacation, but it’s also something you don’t call them back from. It does take a bit of planning, but can be done.

  • I had 22 death in the first 18 months of the Church I pastored. Fortunately I also had an extraordinarily wonderful team of deacons with servant hearts and shepherding gifts who served the congregation with me as first responders in times of emergency. Having biblical deacons makes a huge difference.

  • I will say that, I have had to interrupt mine and likely will again. However, I do think this is one of those areas that is never talked about enough in planning meetings of the church. If the whole church was aware of a policy governing such things, saying no would be much easier. Usually though, it is left to the discretion of the pastor which puts him on the spot and makes a “no” almost impossible. The church needs to support the need for their pastors to get away and spend time with their families. Me drawing firm boundaries that are not supported by my church will simply lead to alienation and hard feelings.

  • 1. Train church.
    2. Inform people that you will not be responding to calls.
    3. Prepare alternate contact, like secretary or associate, to handle calls in absence.
    4. Leave and don’t look back unless someone dies.
    5. Upon returning, express appreciation to everyone.

    • Good counsel, Russell, but some of our pastors have 15+ deaths in their churches each year.

      • Hi Brother Thom, I love your blogs, church growth strategies and other teachings you provide through your ministry. I have been a pastor for 28 years and have been fortunate to only have one death while on vacation. I called the family while on vacation and the family told me don’t worry about it until you get home. Five days later, we had the funeral for the person. I said all this to say, regardless of how many deaths occur in the church, the pastor should be there for the family or at least attempt to be there.
        Someone dying is a life changer; it’s not a broken arm or a skinned knee or a headache – it’s a life changer. They are my sheep and I am their shepherd, I will be there, IMO.
        in Christ,
        Dr. Pastor Mike

      • Charles says on

        These comments really annoy me: “They are my sheep and I am their shepherd, I will be there”. Dr. Mike you are not their shepherd, Jesus is. They are not your sheep, you with them are the Lord’s sheep.
        You all go off in your own way.
        Quit babying them. Let them grow up and be co-equal with you in ministry. Perhaps not pastoring, you’ve got that covered, but in other areas of body ministry.

      • However we are the undershepherd to the Sheep. I think it’s a case-by-case situation that we have to decide whether or not we are going to return from a vacation. Hopefully we have trained church members in Deacon bodies have to respond in emergencies and like Thom says we have a plan in place for such an emergency

      • Ray Johnson says on

        Charles, you sound a little harsh and reactionary…. One of the things I appreciate about this forum as well as Church Answers is a encouraging and helpful atmosphere….not an attacking one. I’m sure you didn’t mean to, but the wrong spirit sure came through….

      • Mollie says on

        Some of us have close to 40!

      • With all respect, I sometimes think we pastors have made ourselves too important in and to our congregation’s lives. I’m a part of a fellowship that values the plural leadership of elder/shepherds who also extend pastoral care to the congregation. I personally think that’s healthy and biblical. One man can’t be everyone’s personal shepherd in every experience and won’t need to be if additional shepherds are developed within a church. The Church at Ephesus had multiple elders that were called to shepherd that flock (Acts 20:28). We, in my view, would be wise to follow that biblical model where possible.

      • Russell Taylor says on

        Thanks Thom. Managing expectations is probably key as the church grows. Part of training is to communicate clearly so people know what to expect, then they’re more likely to embrace the policy. It won’t be personal if it’s expected in all cases. Probably should be careful about exceptions.

  • Vacation and rest is needed by everyone, even a very busy person who is ready for a career sooner or later just runs out of steam and exhausts his energy.

    • Philip E Chandler says on

      I was transferring to two others churches after six years. I had scheduled two weeks of downtime starting with our last Sunday. It was a stay vacation staying at our home in town. Then there were three deaths with three funerals back to back to back after our last Sunday. Fortunately I had preaching covered on the Sundays for the staycation but did the family pastoral care that was needed and the funerals. I felt I had an ethical and moral obligation to care for these hurting people. I will be taking the missed vacation this fall and the week after Christmas.

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