By Doug Talley
Summer is rapidly approaching and that usually means vacations. I recently had a church board ask me how much vacation time pastors should get, so I thought it might be helpful if I shared this widely. This is really an article for church boards. Pastors, I encourage you to share this with your board – or send me their email addresses and Indiana Ministries will send them this article.
Vacation time is very important for anyone with a job. That includes pastors. Vacation is not a cure all for everything that ails you. But it does allow you to step away from the stresses and demands of daily ministry and engage in the 3R’s – rest, renew and recalibration.
I’ve known some pastors who were reluctant to take vacation time or rarely used all their allotted vacation time. One pastor even told me he hadn’t taken a vacation in 35 years. I think he was expecting me to affirm his work ethic. Instead, I talked about how important it was to use ALL your vacation time to maximize your health, relationships, and ministry effectiveness AND to lessen the likelihood of burnout.
You might have seen a recent Barna Report:
“As of March 2022, the percentage of pastors who have considered quitting full-time ministry within the past year sits at 42 percent… Over half of pastors who have considered quitting full-time ministry (56%) say ‘the immense stress of the job’ has factored into their thoughts on leaving.”
The pandemic, accompanied by political divisions and other stresses, has taken its toll on many people. Part of the reason taking vacation time is so important right now is because it is a critical component of self-care, especially during a pandemic. Even when life is more normal, taking time off is extremely important.
Before I focus on how much vacation time, let me set the context. Afterall, pastoring is not a typical job. If one fails to understand the following context, a pastor’s vacation plan will likely be inadequate.
- Unlike most jobs, when a pastor takes a week of vacation it typically involves five workdays, one Saturday, and one Sunday. Seven total days. With most jobs a week of vacation involves five workdays, two Saturdays, and two Sundays for a total of nine days. I encourage church boards to keep in mind that “one week” of vacation for a pastor is not the same length of time as “one week” for the average employee. So, boards, be generous.
- Unless on vacation, pastors tend to be on call 24-7. Now, if you’ve never had a job that required you to be on call that may not be significant to you. But if you have, you should know where I am going. Being on call means one rarely gets a total break from work even on a day off. Though hopefully a pastor does not receive a lot of after-hours phone calls, some are necessary. Even when necessary, they interrupt rest time, family time and personal time. It only makes sense to compensate for this demand by providing a generous vacation policy.
- Ministry is demanding. I’m not saying other jobs are not demanding. Just that pastoring is demanding on multiple levels. That’s one reason why . . .
- 80% of persons who enter the ministry will leave within the first five years.
- 14 years is the average length of a pastoral career – yes, career.
- 75% of pastors report a significant stress related crisis at least once a month.
- 85% of pastors say their greatest problem in ministry is fatigue from dealing with problem people.
- 80% of pastors believe that pastoral ministry has affected their families negatively.
A family therapist told me that he does not see stats like these for any other career or vocation.
Pastoring takes a huge toll on pastors, their marriages, and their families. One thing churches can do to lessen the toll is to be generous with vacation time.
Because of the high demand nature of pastoral ministry, I recommend the following as a starting point for pastoral staff members based on total ministry experience:
- 0 – 4 years of total experience – three weeks.
- 5 – 9 years of total experience – four weeks.
- 10 – 14 years total experience – five weeks.
- 15+ years of total experience – six weeks.
The above scale is based on cumulative years in full-time ministry rather than full-time ministry at your church. We have an increasing number of persons going into ministry as a second career, so I would even argue that it is valid to include a pastors non-ministry work experience in her/his total work experience. Keep in mind that it is OK to exceed my recommendations and allow additional vacation time! J My hope is that churches will not do less than the above guidelines.
Here’s the overall guideline I encourage you to adopt: Be Generous.
When you think about it, vacation time is a small investment by a local church that can yield incredible dividends for the ministry family and the church. It sends the message to the whole pastoral family that we care about you and want to take good care of you.
As an added suggestion for renewal – have a sabbatical policy for pastoral staff that provides for a more extended break. Many churches allow 13 weeks of sabbatical after each seven-year period of ministry. Some are adjusting this to 8 weeks every five years. Keep in mind that sabbatical is NOT vacation, so please don’t confuse the two. If you’d like to know more about sabbaticals for pastors, send me an email (email@example.com). I’d even be happy to meet with any church board to talk about it. The Lilly Foundation recognizes the value of sabbaticals and even provides grants in Indiana to pastors and churches for this very purpose!