Summer is rapidly approaching and that usually means vacations. I’ve recently had a couple of church boards ask me how much vacation time pastors should get. So I thought I would write about that subject. 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 especially includes pastors. 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 so you can be refreshed and renewed for ministry. That is the purpose of vacation: refreshment and renewal. Everyone needs that periodically – especially pastors.
So, how much vacation time should a pastor get? Great question. Before I answer that, let me set the context.
- Unlike most jobs, when a pastor takes a week of vacation it typically involves five work days, one Saturday and one Sunday. With most jobs a week of vacation involves five work days, 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.
- 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 know where I am going. Being on call means one rarely gets a total break from ministry. Though hopefully the 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. So it only makes sense to compensate for this demand by providing a generous vacation policy.
- Ministry is emotionally and spiritually demanding. I’m not saying other jobs are not. Just that pastoring is demanding – sometimes very demanding. 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. The bad behavior of church people is the biggest cause of pastoral burnout;
- 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 in multiple areas. One of the things we can do to lessen the toll is to be generous with vacation time.
Pastors need adequate recovery time or the demands will likely knock her or him of ministry, and at the least add stress to the pastor’s marriage and family. Without adequate vacation time and setting appropriate boundaries pastors will be reduced to being one of the walking dead.
Because of the high demand nature of pastoral ministry, I recommend the following for pastoral staff members:
- 0-4 years – three weeks
- 5-9 years – four weeks
- 10+ years – five weeks.
In addition, be open to six weeks of vacation for pastoral staff who have been in ministry more than 15 years.
The above scale is based on cumulative years in full-time ministry not full-time ministry at your church. Give the pastor credit for time spent in ministry elsewhere rather than expecting him or her to start over earning vacation time with each ministry change. And DON’T be afraid to be generous. I very rarely hear pastors complain about getting more vacation time than they can use.
Vacation time can be incredibly renewing. It is a small investment by a local church that can yield incredible dividends for the ministry family and the church. And, as an added suggestion for renewal – have a sabbatical policy for pastoral staff that engages after each seven-year period. 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. I’d even be happy to meet with any church board to talk about it.