How much vacation time should a pastor take?

You may begin reading this post with the idea that I will suggest how many weeks of vacation you should be given by your church, or how much you should advocate to give your pastor.  Instead, I intend to answer this question a bit differently.  My concern is not about how much vacation time a pastor is given, but how he uses (or doesn’t use) what he is given. 

This is an appropriate time to pause for a confession.  I thought you should know, I often fail at my own advice.  I come to the conclusions I often write about on this blog because I have or are currently failing at them.  Just thought I would acknowledge that in case you think I write this way because I have figured it all out.  Far from it.   The stewardship of my vacation time has become a recent glaring area of failure in my life that I have tried to address in this last year. 

A couple of years ago, I was lovingly confronted by a dear friend and fellow pastor that I was not using all my vacation time.  In his rebuke, he explained to me the reasons I should be taking every day of vacation the church gives me, which I had never done.  Here was the basis for his thoughtful, insightful, and wise argument:

It’s for you.  The pastor never gets a break in the regular routine.  We are constantly on call.  Vacation time is that time where you get time to breathe away from the madness, be refreshed, and rest.  All of us who are pastors know we are no good for our people when we are exhausted, distracted, and mentally and emotionally spent.   Use the time and use it wisely to achieve that end.

It’s for your family.  Your family always has to share you.  Maybe just as important as the first one, this time is given so that your family has a blocked of time where they don’t have to share you with the church.  When you don’t use all your time that has already been approved by the church for this purpose, you rob your family from having your sole focus to care, fellowship, and enjoy them.

It’s for your church.  How is it that many of our churches have somehow existed and functioned for the last 50 – 100 years without us, yet all of a sudden we come and develop this complex that our church can now no longer live without us for a week or 2.  Using all your vacation time given to you forces others to step up in your absence, shows them they can make it without you for a time, and reminds the pastor most of all that God is not utterly dependant on him for this church to function.  We are expendable and we need regular jolts of humility to remind us of that. 

After my excellent week of vacation with my family this past week, I have officially for the first time in over 7 years used my full year of vacation given to me by the church since I was called as pastor.  The reasons above that my friend confronted me with all showed to be true and fruitful in those ways as I did so.  What have I learned from taking all my vacation time this year…well, I plan on taking it all next year. 

If you are a pastor, commit starting next year to take it all.  If you are not a pastor, do all you can to encourage your pastor to take it.  You, your church, and your pastor will experience multiple layers of benefit because of it.

Posted in Home and Family, Training for Ministry
13 comments on “How much vacation time should a pastor take?
  1. Chris Huff says:

    I don’t know if this if funny or sad, but I honestly don’t know how I’m supposed to use my vacation time. I’m given “2 weeks per year, plus another 2 weeks to be used for preaching revivals elsewhere if desired.” The only Sunday I’ve missed so far was in February when our third child was born. I’ve missed a Wednesday night here and there, and I will ask if I can be away on a Wednesday night in a couple weeks so I be present for all of our state’s annual conference. But does that count as vacation time? Or is vacation time purely for getting away and not doing things related to my role as pastor?

    We don’t have a personnel committee or anything like that, so I don’t even know who I would ask to get these kinds of questions cleared up.

    • Brian Croft says:

      Chris, thanks for writing. Go to those who were in charge of informing you of how much vacation time you get when you were called. Start there. If they are uncertain, go to those who are seen as an authority in the church (elders, deacons, certain people). State annual conferences should never count as part of your vacation time. The last thing they are to me are restful and refreshing. Know how much “Vacation time” you are given, then take it. But, you need to plan well and take it wisely depending on the situation of your church. You have every right to take your vacation when you want, but it will be wise to take it when it is a good time to take it (working around big events at your church, other staff gone, etc). I hope that helps.

    • Shannon says:

      Ministry Leaders,
      I strongly urge you, that every year you should negotiate some time off, regardless to how small it may see. I does not matter if it is Sunday worship, Sunday School, Bible Study, or even staff meetings. Try to maximize your time while your are on the church campus. For instance, hold as many ministry meeting after bible study, after Sunday morning worship, etc… Example, I have deacons meeting on the first Wednesday of each month after Bible study, and we were also able to change some committee meetings to bi-monthly schedules. I currently have seven Sundays off per/year with the exception of annual days, and Lord Supper. SO I don’t have a sabbatical in a technical sense, but I able to be renewed with those time off. Please comment!

  2. John Kuvakas says:

    Brian is right on all counts. this is a necessary break but a very hard lesson to learn for us who teak our calling seriously. I am in my current position as Senior Pastor because my mentor and friend, who brought me on as an intern, was a victim of Pastoral burnout and ended up under psychiatric care for over two years. Our Elders had learned their lesson. After 8 years of service, they sent my wife and I on a two month sabbatical to Greece! It was the trip of a lifetime and we are humbled to have had such an awesome blessing. But there were some difficulties…..

    At first, I saw absolutely no way we could do this. Fortunately, I have wise men I am accountable to and they insisted.

    We started planning six months out, writing a speaking schedule, making assignments and attending to details (like who would answer crisis calls and make daily administrative decisions).

    While planning, I accumulated books, CDs and curriculum I wanted to absorb while away. A good friend said , “What are you trying to do? Kill yourself or rest? You need time to sit and stare at the ocean. This is why they’re sending you away, to restore.” That sunk in and I purposed to “do nothing” (much harder than it sounds) and learn a bit about the culture. I actually ended up reading quite a bit, but with no “agenda” or deadlines.

    Upon return, I found that I had been much, much more tired before the break than I thought. Not discouraged, not depressed and not overwhelmed…but just plain tired. I had let it creep up on me and was totally unaware that it was taking its toll on me and, subsequently, our congregation. I had no earthly idea how much I needed a real break, not a conference or time away to do there what I do here.

    The net result of being away is that I feel 10 years younger and have been able to approach my duties with renewed excitement and energy. I and am convinced we just added at least 5 years to the length of our ministry ( I am currently 58). If I had kept the pace I was maintaining before the break (about 70 hours a week), I most likely would not have lasted very far into my 60’s.

    While we were gone, the church did not implode. No one left felling unattended to, funerals and weddings occurred, the Body of Christ was nourished…all without me!

    Here’s the great news! You don’t need to go to Greece! We’ll probably never have a trip like that again but we did learn many lessons we were able to being home with us. We have an obligation to be fit to minister to our flock for as long as we are able. Burning ourselves out before our time does not help them or us! I now take at least one day a week off, having learned my lesson about taking care of myself, and take another day for personal study.

    Gentlemen, we all need time to “sit and stare at the ocean”. We owe it to our people and the Word of God tells us it is appropriate.

  3. Dave Cook says:

    Thanks for a great reminder, Brian. My church has been generous from the start with vacation time, and I believe they are blessed for it.

    Let me give another reminder to Pastors who live far from their parents or their wives’ parents- spend your vacation time making sure your children know their grandparents. I divide up my three weeks simply: one week for my parents, one for my wife’s parents, and one for a fun relaxing vacation. We’ve taken their granddaughter far, far away, so this is the best way we’ve found to honor them.

  4. Matthew says:

    Not only is vacation time important but so too is the weekly Sabbath. I have done much better at vacations than the day off however. In my setting I have always had at least four weeks off and an additional two that are called “study leave” all in addition to conferences and denominational meetings. We started out taking one week at a time, went to two and then for five or six years used all four weeks at once. (I took my model from both Lloyd-Jones and Spurgeon who took large chunks of the summers away) MLJ used the mornings for his own study and refreshment time. I have followed this pattern as well. Lengthy reading and contemplation and writing/journaling in the morning, big breakfast with my wife–or lunch then afternoons and evenings to play. We chose early on to go to a small village in Maine every year and just enjoy the awayness of it–we have never taken our kids to a destination vacation.
    This year we took our four weeks again (without children or grandchildren) and did not enjoy it nearly so much. Reasons? #1 We are not near our families and need to spend time with them when we can. #2 I do not feel the need to escape from the schedule or people of the church I am serving.
    We too took a 4 month Sabbatical after serving our church for 13 years. Spent Two months at home and two months in France. Studied like crazy for about 10 days and my wife pulled the plug–then we relaxed. Best thing we have ever done as a couple.
    Days off? That is so much harder, still working on that.

  5. Thank you, Brian.
    Sunday afternoon, I sat down with my youth ministry leadership team as we talked about how to shepherd our individual students. After we prayed, one of our volunteers asked, “And how are YOU doing?” I had to be honest – I was worn out. I admitted to being tired, and not having as much time with my wife and son as I ought. Then, driven by the Holy Spirit, I think, each member of my team admonished me that I needed to call upon them for more help than I do. It was then that I was reminded, just 6 months ago there was no Jr. high pastor here at Cornerstone EPC! It was all run by volunteers.
    After talking with my wife, Brenna, I think I know why I’m tempted to take little time off and run the ministry myself. It’s the question, “So you’re a youth pastor…what do you do during the week, anyway?” So, I take up every task I can, with a “job security” mindset. That way, when asked, I can list off an impressive array of responsibilities.
    That’s why I really connect with your comment that the church has run for the last 50-100 years without us. In my case, it’s run without a pastor at all!

    Nick MCDonald

    • Brian Croft says:

      Nick,

      Thanks for your honest and transparent comments. Acknowledging these things is huge and will lead you to know how God desires you to proceed. May the Lord give you grace as you evaluate these matters. Consider a similar confession to your wife. I assume it will be very meaningful to her.

  6. John Kuvakas says:

    Excellent words of wisdom, Matthew. It’s contrary to the thoughts of a shepherd’s heart but we owe it to the flock to get our rest, a reasonable and timely rest, each week. A balance has to be struck between “pouring ourselves out as a drink offering” and burning ourselves out as self-made martyrs.

    Great thread folks. This is the type of practical application that I have come to value Brian’s blog for!

  7. Allen Mickle says:

    Brian,

    Thank you for this. When we came to our present ministry I made it a clear question how much time off I had. I am allotted 3 weeks (basically 3 Sunday’s) that is pure and simple vacation. I dedicate each year 2 weeks solid as a family vacation away completely from my ministry and one week to return to Canada to visit my family. It has been an incredible refreshment to our family. And frankly, while I’m away, the Lord usually gives me some great wisdom and insight into some issues that our church might be facing.

    Our church has been gracious about the rest of the use of my time. As they say, if I begin to slip on Sunday’s, they’ll let me know that maybe I need to do more work during the week, but otherwise, do what you need to do. Most churches, when they see the results of pastors having some dedicated time off as a benefit to them, will usually be glad when you do leave! And on that note, I’ve got to get ready to head out of town next week to a conference… 🙂

4 Pings/Trackbacks for "How much vacation time should a pastor take?"
  1. […] How much vacation time should a pastor take? « Practical Shepherding <span class="“> – Annotated […]

  2. […] Make sure all vacation time is used.  See previous post. […]

  3. […] am on vacation this week trying to honor my word to use all my vacation time, so I intend to give special attention to all 3 of these areas.  Honestly assess whether you are […]

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