A few years ago I spoke to a pastor about his church. After he shared with me all the areas in which he had been involved and the ministries he led, I asked him an innocent question: When do you take vacation? His answer flabbergasted me. “I don’t,” he said.
I thought maybe he had misunderstood me, so I clarified. In the past six years that you have served as pastor, when did you take a vacation? “I haven’t,” he reiterated. I had heard him right the first time. This pastor had deprived himself and his family for the past six years. I anticipated burnout was not far away.
Unfortunately, I was right.
Why Some Pastors Get Little or No Vacation
I do think the pastor I encountered was an exception, but I have spoken to more than one pastor who has skipped vacations for a year or two or even three. Some of you may know of pastors who have excessive vacations or who abuse the vacations given to them, but those pastors are the exceptions.
There are many pastors who have no other staff. Though the laity do some of the work of ministry, church members still want the pastor to visit the hospital. Or officiate the funeral. Or counsel the person in crisis. As a result, many pastors are reluctant to take vacation.
Some pastors have admitted to me that critics in the church get loudest when they are gone, so they are reluctant to leave. They know the church will have some type of conflict taking place upon their return, so vacations become a time of worry and wondering.
The Confusion Surrounding Pastors and Vacation
Numerous pastors have shared with me their uneasiness about vacations because they simply don’t know what they are supposed to do. If you take a corporate job, vacation policy is clear. Churches are different most of the time. Here are some of the questions I hear:
- How much vacation should I take? Many churches do not have a clear policy.
- How many Sundays can I be out? One pastor told me he was allowed to take three weeks vacation, but he could not be out on a Sunday.
- What do I do if my vacation is interrupted? Many pastors return from vacations to conduct funerals or attend to other crises. Should they be allowed to take an additional week? How do they make it up to their families?
- Who covers for me while I’m gone? This question is especially common where the pastor is a solo pastor.
- Should a pastor have mandatory vacation? Some pastors just refuse to be gone.
The Need for Clarity and the Need for Vacations
Serving as a pastor is a joyful calling. Serving as pastor can be a stressful calling. Pastors desperately need time, extended time, to rest and recharge. Very few vocations have the emotional highs and lows as that of a pastor.
The pastor’s family deserves vacation time as well. The spouse and the children live through regular interruptions of family time. They know that a pastor is on call 24/7. There is no such thing as a “normal” life. Husband, wife, and children need time together away from the church. Vacations are critical to the health of the pastor’s family.
How do you handle vacations if you are a pastor? If you are not a pastor, what does your church do to assure that your pastor has adequate vacation time? What are the policies or guidelines at your church about vacation time? What should a church do for the pastor if the family’s vacation is interrupted or terminated by a crisis in the church?
I know I have a lot of questions. I would love to hear your perspectives.