hammock-on-the-beachThis is the sort of post I can write only because my church doesn’t need to read it. My church allows for ample vacation time and more study leave than most pastors would dare to ask for. I’m blessed and extremely thankful.

But many pastors are not so fortunate.

So let me make a simple plea. For any elders, deacons, trustees, and committee chairs—to anyone with authority over the fringe benefits for your pastor—please make sure there is enough time for a real vacation and some kind of study leave. It’s the cheapest way to bless your pastor and one of the best things you can do for your church.

When I started out as an associate pastor in Iowa at the ripe old age of 25 I was given (if memory serves) four weeks of vacation and one week of study leave. I’m embarrassed to say this is more than many 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. 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 issue or complex theological conundrum. 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. I promise you: all of these will benefit the people in the pew.
  • 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 had George Whitefield preaching to you, you would still 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 this: if you want your pastor to make it not just a year or two or five, but twenty or thirty, he needs more than two weeks of vacation. He needs a break. He needs to read. He needs a rest.

I preach in the neighborhood of 42 Sunday mornings a year and most of the evenings, and it feels like plenty. I can’t fathom how some pastors preach 48 to 50 weeks a year. It’s a recipe for shortcuts, burnout, and resentment.

You may be thinking as a layperson, Well, I don’t get four weeks off a year. And I don’t get sabbaticals and study leaves. True, but maybe you should. (Maybe you wouldn’t be the grumpiest member on the finance committee if you did!) Let’s not make the practices of the corporate world the same practices we assume in the church.

Pastoral ministry is not like most jobs. I’m not calling for a pastor’s pity party. We are incredibly privileged to do what we do. But the fact of the matter is pastors don’t have weekends like everyone else. Many 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 for ever doing 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. Stringing together meaningful time off is next to impossible. 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.

Of course, pastors must be honest that sometimes the problem lies with us. We’re too scared to tell anyone how close to burnout we are. Or we feel selfish asking for time off to study. Or maybe, let’s be honest, our pride is holding us back. We hate being so needed, but also love feeling so needed. We worry what will happen without us. How will the church survive if I’m gone too long? Or, worse, what if everything goes along great without me? What if they like the guest preacher better? What if they don’t want me back?

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, I can write this article because I have it much better than I deserve. I know my elders want what is best for me. But some elder boards have work to do to if their pastor is going to survive, let alone thrive, in the years ahead.

So as budget time rolls around, consider the cheapest way to bless your pastor and your congregation: make sure the minister has enough time to rest, read, and recharge.