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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  • 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.

  • Wayne A. Rhodes, Ph. D. says on

    Thom, you are correct about a pastor’s family remembering the vacation interruptions for a church emergency. I had a pastor to cover for me, but the family called my parents and my parents mistakenly gave them the phone number.

    A fellow clergy called me on a Friday. His family was leaving Sunday afternoon for vacation, but a member of the church had died, and the family wanted the pastor to do the service. I advised him to send the family on vacation, do the service and get a flight to meet his family.

    My last congregation had a multiple pastoral staff. On vacation I still checked in every day. My thought was two-fold: if there is a major problem, I want to know about it. I would rather deal with deal with one small issue daily then the avalanche when I returned.

    Perhaps the biggest problem we had is it would take the clergy the first day of vacation to tie up the loose ends so they could leave.

    Today, I was given your new book on the Millennial Generation.
    Wayne Rhodes, Ph. D.

  • Although I’m not a pastor, my husband is, and I’ve seen one important factor and that is to be prepared for emergencies. This post mentions that and it is crucial.
    Scripture says elders are to be able to teach, which means surely any elder could step into the pulpit in an emergency.
    We have a deacon who is an ordained minister in retirement and could do whatever my husband does, too, but not on a 24/7 basis as my husband does.
    We also have friends who are elders, deacons, and pastors, who, in an emergency, could and would step up.
    Our women know how to speed-prep a funeral dinner without anyone even telling them. Often I, personally, learn of a death from the funeral dinner committee.
    This kind of advance readiness is not easy to achieve but it is a very good way to be gone without any worries.
    We welcome the phone ringing while we are gone; it will be requests for prayer for wisdom to run things while we are , from people we truly love. We know full well this is a gift and not to be taken lightly.

  • And clergy neighbours, see it as part of your job to respond well to requests for cover from your colleagues of the same donomination, or other demonations in the same suburb.

  • As a church member, a few of the comments are discouraging. I think the irony is that, while perhaps some Pastors would never cut a vacation short for the death of a church member, many of those same church members would readily cut their vacations short over a death in the Pastor’s family.

    • I’m not so sure. The people who make the biggest demands of the pastor are often the first to turn against him in times of need.

      • Mitchell Martin says on

        I have a few members, and only a few, that would sacrifice a vacation if I was in need. The other 98% expect me to give up everything for the church and remind me that they pay my salary. Go figure.

    • Terry I see what you are saying, but would ask you to consider this. My family has 5 members. My church has over 300, and that’s not including any of their kids and extended family. For a church member to come home for a funeral for a death in my family, it’s a very rare occurrence. It’s never happened. Deaths in the church for that many people are bound to happen on numerous of my vacations. If I come back every time, what is that telling my family? It’s all about scale. In a church of 20 a pastor could come back because it’s so rare. In a church of 1000 if a pastor came back every time he would never leave.

  • Mitchell Martin says on

    We all tend to forget that when Steven was stoned to death it wasn’t the Apostles that buried him! It was devout men of faith, filled with the Holy Spirit, that came and buried him. As a Pastor it’s my job to see that the saints are trained in handling everything in my absence.

  • I believe this is a topic that should be discussed when interviewing candidates for a new pastoral position. The church body, deacons, staff, and the incoming pastor absolutely must be on the same page regarding an action plan should an emergency crop up while the pastor is away on vacation.
    That has to happen well in advance of the emergency for it to be successful, so if you are currently pastoring and don’t have such a plan, you really should begin to develop one asap.
    Also, just know that a percentage of your congregation is likely not going to be happy should you not return for them, however this is also the time when you show your family that they indeed are your first priority. Church members might come and go, but your family is always going to be your family. That is what should drive the decision to go or stay.

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