How much of a pastor’s vacation time should he use?

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.  In light of this being a common time where vacation time is used, I thought this post would be well-timed for many of you.

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 was once a glaring failure in my life.

A few 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 block 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 two.  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.

As a result, for the last 3 years I have 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 these last few years…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, The Pastor's Soul

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