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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.


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20 thoughts on “The Cheap Way to Bless Your Pastor”

  1. Linda says:

    Our session had to make our pastor take a 4 week study sabbatical last month. Our pastor loves his flock, but works too hard. I’m thankful that he was able to submit to the authority of the session, and drop one of his weekly services. His dedication to the Lord and to his congregation was affecting his health. We want him around for many years to come.

  2. Josh B says:

    Looking at this from the perspective of Presbyterian polity, why do the rest periods between ruling and teaching elders differ? You’re arguing for more generous periods of rest for teaching elders. As things stand now, either ruling elders have the option to rotate every few years or sometimes serve for life, without a sabbatical. This practice doesn’t exist for teaching elders, and neither do ruling elders get weeks of leave during the year. The difference in expectations of service between teaching and ruling elders suggests a lack of parity in the office, no?

  3. Jim says:

    Well said pastor.

  4. JP says:

    Josh,
    That would be fair if the assumption you laid out that there is complete parity between the position of ruling elders and the teaching elder holds true. However, more often than not, that’s not the case. Just because they are both within the order of eldership does not imply they share in the same amount of labor. The teaching elder will often shoulder a larger burden of work in his preaching duties than the ruling elders who manage other administrative duties.

  5. Dominic Stockford says:

    What is this big deal about holidays? Paul never had one. They are not Biblical. If we live our faith, we can also live our ministry without going off for several weeks.

  6. Teri says:

    Well put! People don’t understand the burdens placed on pastors, the time spent counseling, ministering, studying, preparing sermons & other teachings, and on and on. We can easily say “what’s the big deal?”, become very selfish and expect our pastors to be superhuman. I’ve seen the effects of burn out and effects on their family. Our elders and congregations all need to see that our pastors are given the time to regenerate, as most of us have the luxury of doing.

  7. Josh B. says:

    JP,

    Thanks for the response. I don’t think the eldership’s duties are divided purely into preaching and admin. After all, both teaching and ruling elders have a rightful claim to the title of “pastor” (i.e., shepherd). The burden of labor is probably difficult to quantify and likely varies from church to church. However, I am wary of codifying things that further diminishes the parity between elders.

  8. Matt says:

    Dominic Stockford…Please don’t become an elder.

  9. Gayle Sayles says:

    As an Elder when our pastor had been there seven years- we all decided to send him and his wife on a seven week sabbatical. The congregation was concerned but we had three other retired pastors in our congregation and the Elders preached the rest. Actually our numbers grew which we found hilarious- God’s plans are always amazing!

  10. Jim Swindle says:

    Dominic Stockford, remember that in the Old Testament the men were required to attend a family reunion in Jerusalem 3 times a year. Remember also that the apostle Paul, amazing as he was, did not have a cell phone interrupting him many times per day. Their modes of transportation also gave time for thinking and for enjoying the Lord’s creation. He also did not have a family.

  11. Peter Charlebois says:

    I have also been extra-ordinarily blessed with a ministry life where I have been the recipient of just this kind of generosity from the churches we have served.

    I emplore you, if your Pastor is not on the high end of this incredible advice, please take steps to remedy that. You will be served better and your joy will be increased!

    HEBREWS 13:17

  12. A. Amos Love says:

    Hmmm?
    “I can’t fathom how some pastors preach 48 to 50 weeks a year.”

    Was wondering…

    In the Bible, did any of **His Disciples** become a…
    Paid, Professional, Pastor, in a Pulpit?
    Preaching, to People in Pews?
    Weak after Weak?
    ——-

    Seems, in the Bible, Paul, and most likely Jesus…
    Gave some instructions for, **when ye come together.**
    That many of today’s pastor/leader/reverends, “Ignore.”

    That, **when ye come together.**
    **ALL** can, and are expected to, “Participate.”

    1 Cor 14:26 KJV
    How is it then, brethren?
    **when ye come together,**
    **every one of you**
    hath a psalm,
    hath a doctrine, (Teaching.)
    hath a tongue,
    hath a revelation,
    hath an interpretation.
    Let all things be done unto edifying.

    Know many? any? sunday Mourning meetings…
    Where this takes place?
    ——-

    Jer 50:6
    “My people” hath been “lost sheep:”
    **THEIR shepherds**
    have caused them to *go astray,*

    1 Pet 2:25
    For ye were as *sheep going astray;*
    BUT are now returned to
    the Shepherd and Bishop of your souls.

    {{{{{{ Jesus }}}}}}

  13. Ann says:

    Our pastor is a woman. So it seems strange to me that you only refer to men as pastors in your article. Is that because there are no women pastors in your church? I think vacation is even more important to woman pastors as they often don’t have the helpmate that a minister’s wife usually provides and end up doing both jobs.

  14. Grace says:

    To Ann: Pastor John MacArthur said it best, if you have a woman as pastor, then you don’t have a pastor. The bible strictly prohibits this; therefore God never calls a woman to preach or to teach men.

  15. Josh Parham says:

    As a bivocational, southern baptist pastor, this article is hard to understand from my perspective. I simply don’t understand why a pastor could want what amounts to 5 weeks off, or what’s wrong with being expected to preach 50 out of 52 times a year. It seems right to me. I think a lack of perspective of what the welders and waitresses in the congregation go through is the only thing that would give rise to such a huge request of benefits. Everyone would like that much time off, of course, it would do everyone wonders to be so rested! But we are called to put our hands to the plow… and let’s not pretend that our demands of our American churches are anything like our brothers overseas. My $0.02.

  16. A. Amos Love says:

    Ann

    Was wondering…

    In the Bible… Can you name…
    One of **His Fe-male Disciples** who became a…
    Paid, Professional, Pastor, in a Pulpit?
    Preaching, to People in Pews?
    Weak afte Weak?

    In the Bible… Can you name…
    One of **His Fe-male Disciples** who called them self pastor?
    Or shepherd? Or leader? Or reverend?

    In the Bible… Can you name…
    One of **His Fe-male Disciples** who took the “Title,” pastor?
    Or shepherd? Or leader? Or reverend?

    What is popular is NOT always “Truth.”
    What is “Truth” is NOT always popular.

  17. A. Amos Love says:

    Grace

    Was wondering…

    In the Bible… Can you name…
    One of **His Male Disciples** who became a…
    Paid, Professional, Pastor, in a Pulpit?
    Preaching, to People in Pews?
    Weak afte Weak?

    In the Bible… Can you name…
    One of **His Male Disciples** who called them self pastor?
    Or shepherd? Or leader? Or reverend?

    In the Bible… Can you name…
    One of **His Male Disciples** who took the “Title,” pastor?
    Or shepherd? Or leader? Or reverend?
    ——–

    And other sheep I have, which are NOT of this fold:
    them also I must bring, and they shall “hear My voice; “
    and there shall be “ONE” fold, and “ONE” shepherd.
    John 10:16

    If not now? – When?

    One Voice – One Fold – One Shepherd – One Leader

    {{{{{{ Jesus }}}}}}

  18. Shannon Dyess says:

    I read and am often benefited by your blogs. (Thank you!) I appreciated your thoughts on this one. As a deacon in our assembly I am wondering how do you balance the recommended time off with the other Sundays that preachers take to go and preach at other places during the year?

  19. Martin says:

    To Ann, A. Amos & Grace …

    About a month ago, our church allowed the youth group to design and structure our Sunday worship service. A 14-year old girl delivered the sermon which she wrote. In other words, she preached to young and old, male and female. The sermon was wonderful. It was profound in content and spirit. It was an exhortation to hope in Christ. Was the Spirit of God upon that young woman? Was God displeased with her, with us?

    I believe that the issue of gender-specific roles in the church needs to be re-examined in light of: a) the fatherhood of God, b) grace versus law and c) freedom in Christ; as well as Paul’s writings.

    The Fatherhood of God – What kind of earthly father would promote the hierarchy of his sons over his daughters? Do you really think that God would be displeased if his sons chose to share their authority with their sisters? Think like a parent.

    Grace versus Law – There is nothing in Scripture to prohibit males from choosing to share their authority with females (both male and female must, of course, be spiritually mature). Since males have claimed the top authority roles, they are able to choose to share them with females. This is not the disrespecting or abandonment of their own authority. It is the recognition of qualified sisters in the faith. This is ‘grace’ which fulfills ‘law’ (in the Reformed church, Paul’s instructions are for all practical purposes, ‘law’). Extending an invitation for women to share in the leadership of the church is not anti-biblical, it is the exercise of grace.

    Freedom in Christ – Is freedom in Christ some unearthly spiritual reality or can we see it take form in our midst? We cannot cage the Spirit of God and we dare not smother each other’s freedom in Christ. The Spirit of God hovers over both men and women. The Spirit of God will not be caged by any words lest we deny the independence of the name “I AM That I AM” or “I Will Be Who I Will Be”. The only thing that threatens to quench the Spirit’s voice is law (absolute rules).

    It’s easy to pick verses from the Bible and erect a façade. It’s been done many times over the history of the church to support such things as war, persecution, obedience to civil despots and crimes against creation. Frankly, Paul would not write those words regarding women today to the church in Chicago, Los Angeles or Atlanta. The words he wrote to Timothy were born out of cultural chaos caused by the Artemis Cult which taught that women were superior to men.

    Jesus preached and gave us a living example of ‘grace fulfilling law’. He gave us the Holy Spirit to lead us into all truth. I am very troubled with young pastors who promote gender-profiling roles in the Church. It is a distortion of the image of God and of his Kingdom in the world. Simply put, it is an errant interpretation of historical texts and of the life of Jesus. God does not ‘prohibit’ (a very restrictive verb) female pastors or female congregational teachers. His Spirit will enable whoever He chooses.

  20. Paula Gruttemeyer says:

    I’m really torn with the idea of pastors needing/getting/taking paid sabbaticals. It’s been a struggle for more that 20 years. I’m just a nurse. Not married to anyone in any clergy. My husband doesn’t get a sabbatical. I sure never received any more “paid time off” than the average Joe. I did take a leave for a month once and it surely wasn’t paid. I don’t know about who works harder. Preachers, or nurses who have to take call. Do preachers go out in the middle of the night to the most dangerous parts of a city to pronounce someone dead? I’ve not seen any pastors do that in my home hospice career. So I remain confused about the issue. My husband was an elder in our church once. He continued to work his job and be an elder. No sabbatical. No vacation time.

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Kevin DeYoung


Kevin DeYoung is the senior pastor at Christ Covenant Church in Matthews, North Carolina. He is chairman of the board of The Gospel Coalition, assistant professor of systematic theology at Reformed Theological Seminary (Charlotte), and a PhD candidate at the University of Leicester. Kevin and his wife, Trisha, have seven children. You can follow him on Twitter.

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