This is the sort of post I can write only because my church doesn’t need to read it. My church pays me well and allows ample vacation time and more study leave than most pastors could dream of. I’m blessed and extremely thankful.

But many pastors are not so fortunate.

The point of my plea is simple. For any elders, deacons, trustees, committee chairs–to anyone with authority over the fringe benefits for your pastor in 2011–please make sure there is enough time for a real vacation and some kind of study leave.

One of the benefits of being ordained in an old mainline denomination is that the stipulations for this kind of stuff are fairly generous. There are minimum pay guidelines for pastors based on years of experience and the size of the church. We also get insurance (though it costs extra to get out of the inferior overpriced denominational plan). Churches must pay into a retirement account for their pastors. Congregations are also strongly encouraged to provide a sabbatical every seven years, plus professional development money and at least a week of study leave. When I started out as an associate pastor in Iowa at the ripe old age of 25 I was given (if memory serves) 4 weeks of vacation and 1 week of study leave (in addition to a short conference here or there). I’m embarrassed to say this is more than most ordained pastors of any age receive regardless of their years of service or the demands of their position.

I understand that some churches can’t pay their pastors as much as they would like to offer. We’ll save that for another post. But here’s the wonderful thing about vacation and study leave–it adds almost nothing to the church budget. At most it may cost an extra thousand dollars to pay for a few more weeks of pulpit supply. But what you’ll gain is worth so much more.

  • Your pastor will have more time away from the pressures of ministry. This will be good for the long term health of his marriage and family.
  • Your pastor will have time to think through that thorny congregational issues or complex theological conundrums. He may be able to hone his writing skills. He’ll have the energy to dream again. Or he may just have free time to read a book and go on a long walk with his wife. All these will benefit your pastor and your church.
  • Your pastor will come back rejuvenated. I’m told my best sermons are usually the first ones after I get back from a break.
  • You’ll get to hear other men preach. Even if you have John Piper or Tim Keller preaching to you, you’ll gain by hearing the same gospel message from other messengers.
  • A few extra Sundays without your pastor will allow other men in your church to exercise their teaching gifts. It might also give you the chance to hear from other pastors laboring in your city.

There are other benefits too, but I’ll stop here. The point is if you want your pastor to make it not just a year or two or five, but twenty or thirty he needs more than 2 weeks vacation. I preach 40-42 Sunday mornings a year (plus more in the evenings) and it feels like a whole lot. I really can’t fathom how some pastors preach 48-50 weeks a year.

You may be thinking as a layperson, “Well, I don’t get four weeks off a year.” True, but maybe you should. Maybe you wouldn’t be the grumpiest member on the finance committee if you did! And maybe pastoral ministry is a little different. There’s no reason for a pastor’s pity party. But the fact of the matter is pastors don’t have weekends like everyone else. Most pastors work six days a week. They never have two days off in a row except on vacation. Pastors can’t leave early on Friday, head for the lake, and stroll back into town Sunday evening. I’m not faulting families who do that sort of thing and I’m not asking anyone to feel sorry for pastors, I’m just asking boards to understand that the life of a pastor is different. Plus, you have to remember ministry is not a 9-5 job. There are evening meetings, morning meetings, lunch meetings, and special events along the way. The times where a pastor can let his graying hair down are few and far between.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t also challenge my fellow pastors. Let’s be honest men, sometimes we are the problem. We are too scared to let anyone know that 10 days off each year is not enough. We fear what people will say if we ask for two weeks each year just to read books or go to a couple conferences. More than anything, our pride holds us back. We hate being so needed, but also love feeling so needed. We worry what will happen at the church without us. How will they manage. Or the opposite: we may secretly wonder if they’ll like the guest preachers better. On top of all this, we fear letting people down or being perceived as soft. Yes men, we have a tendency to be yes men. But we need to take care of our families, our souls, our hearts, and our brains even more than we need to take care of people’s expectations.

Again, let me repeat: I can write this blog because I have it so much better than I deserve. My elders don’t need to do anything more for me. But some elder boards have work to do to make sure their pastor is going to survive and thrive for many years. It won’t cost much money, if any. So do yourselves a favor: give your pastor a break in 2011.