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Vacation Hacks for Church Leaders (Learning from the Lab)

Take time away with these tips
by Faith+Lead | May 28, 2021

Church leadership may be difficult to “unplug” from when we take vacation time. So, we asked leaders in the Learning Lab, “What are some things you make sure to arrange or do so you can truly be away while on vacation?

Their responses focused on three main areas.


“Aaaah the guilt… it’s tough to get around that one,” one participant commented. Yet, get around it we must.

Church leaders deserve time away, and we need time away. The congregation is able to function without us, and in fact it is healthy for them to do so. They benefit from us setting firm boundaries, clearly communicated, about our vacation time.

One leader said in the Lab, “I notify the congregation that I am taking sabbath rest to maintain my faith. Connecting it to the spiritual practices of our tradition helps people understand the boundary differently.”

When connecting the concepts of sabbath or the priesthood of all believers to our planned absences, we reinforce not only for our congregation members but also ourselves these valuable parts of our theology.


Learning Lab participants have a variety of ways to prepare for a vacation, and indeed even for returning from one.

  • Planning out services for not only the time they are going to be gone, but the next one after they return is one strategy. “Allowing for space to ramp up when I return, makes my time away more renewing.”
  • Pulpit supply is arranged well in advance but also stipendiary pastoral care coverage.
  • One congregation has a position they call “undershepherds of the month,” lay leaders who are the first point of contact when the pastor is taking time off.

Others leave detailed information on delegated responsibilities with multiple staff or lay leaders for different situations that may arise. Don’t forget the small details, like who is going to unlock the church building or monitor the church Facebook page, if those are things you usually do by default. Is there a back-up plan for the needed coverage if it falls through? Staff-parish relations committees can be supportive in this.

Some leaders repeatedly announce that they will not be checking or responding to e-mail or social media messages while they are on vacation.

Which leads into the largest category that the Learning Lab participants wanted to talk about…


To have a vacation from the congregation, a leader must disconnect. One leader went so far as to suggest: “The best vacation spots have no internet access!”

While a clear and firm out of the office auto-reply is important, folks were also concerned about just seeing their e-mails.

One participant shared that they uninstall the email app from their phone and iPad before vacation, and reinstall it afterward (an idea others in the Lab called “brilliant”). Another leader routes church-related e-mails into a particular folder so they cannot see them.

Some of us value vacation time as being unscheduled and spontaneous. Or love hikes in the woods (again, with no internet connection).

One leader summarized, “Develop a plan. Trust your lay leaders. Disconnect, rest and seek Sabbath!”

Join the Learning Lab for conversations from practical matters to spiritual ones!  

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