The reality of compassion fatigue and how to avoid it

April 30, 2020

It costs us something when we care and are moved by compassion. There is an emotional price that one pays when we care for and walk with others through a crisis or loss.

As pastors, we have been walking with the entire church body through a crisis brought on by the coronavirus for several weeks. While we are motivated by the love and compassion we have experienced from Jesus to walk with our churches and communities through this pandemic, ministering to others comes with a cost.

Compassion fatigue is a real issue for pastors, nurses and caregivers. Miriam-Webster defines compassion fatigue as “the physical and mental exhaustion and emotional withdrawal experienced by those who care for sick or traumatized people over an extended period of time.” Some of the symptoms include: emotional exhaustion; loss of interest in your work or ministry; difficulty sleeping; and increased irritability.

Compassion fatigue is a reality for pastors under normal circumstances. However, during this pandemic, there are several factors that compound the issue.

  1. Compassion fatigue is compounded by screen use.
    Sitting in front of a screen most of the day presents a type of fatigue we are not accustomed to in our daily ministry and shepherding. Yet in our current environment, large amounts of screen time have become a necessity due to virtual calls and meetings. Try to keep these meetings and sessions as brief as possible. Also, take a break, and walk around before beginning another call.
  2. Compassion fatigue is compounded by sedentary ministry.
    Sitting in front of a screen all day sounds restful and relaxing, but it’s really not. Limited movement and an unchanging environment takes a toll on our minds and bodies. Consider taking your phone or laptop to a different location for some of your work. Also, have some of your less formal meetings on the porch. It’s important to move around as much as possible.
  3. Compassion fatigue is compounded by changing expectations.
    At first, many people thought the COVID-19 crisis might be a short sprint. It has turned into a marathon with no clear end in sight. People are usually open to change as long as there is some certainty when things will go back to “normal.” What ministry looks like amid COVID-19 has changed, and those changes will continue. As time passes, there will be many different expectations about what the “new normal” will look like. These changes will put increased stress on pastors. As these changes come, be prepared. Be sure to prioritize and increase your time alone with the Father.

Compassion fatigue is real, and it is a weapon the enemy uses to discourage, distract and disengage pastors and leaders. If you think you might be suffering from compassion fatigue, be honest with yourself, look for the symptoms and seek help.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Brian Davis with the Faith Health Division of Wake Forest Baptist Health contributed to this article.


by Sandy Marks  
Church Health and Revitalization  /  Baptist State Convention of North Carolina

15 vital things you can give your pastor

October is pastor appreciation month. As a pastor for 25 years, here are some ideas for things your church can give your pastor:Give him a place.Give him a place where he is free to preach the gospel.Give him a place where he is accepted for who he is, not compared to who he...

Why I’m excited about this year’s Pastors’ Conference

The past year has been difficult. The world we live in today looks quite different than it did just 18 months ago. Many things we were accustomed to doing have either disappeared, been restricted, or have changed, for better or worse. One of the biggest changes was the separation...

The local school: A great place for church ministry

For the most part I really enjoyed school. However, there were some aspects of the time that I enjoyed more than others. I enjoyed the learning, the socialization, and of course, the sports. I found most of the assignments manageable with the exception of writing papers. Sitting...

Ready or not, here they come! Evaluating your church with fresh eyes

Is your church ready for guests who may visit your church after first watching online? Are you ready for members who may return after an extended COVID-19 break? What steps can you take to make a great first impression and reintegrate those who want to reengage with your...

Why personal evangelism is a key ingredient for turnaround churches

Many pastors and churches today are struggling. Pastors are discouraged, and some are leaving the ministry altogether. It’s been estimated that more than 80% of churches are plateaued or declining. Yet, some churches are seeing a turnaround. A fresh wind is blowing. These churches...

Looking forward to being on mission together

In late August, a series of organizational changes were unanimously approved by our state convention’s executive committee aimed at advancing all of us forward as a movement of churches on mission together. We’ve been working toward implementing these changes, and I hope that our...

Fostering and adoption: Why forever matters

“Which one is my mommy now?” I never imagined a child asking someone to point out who their mother was. However, the little blonde-haired girl named Ally, who I was holding that day, had already lived with three different families in the span of 15 months since she and her sister...

10 principles for leading in church revitalization

Many churches in our world today are in deep need of revitalization. In order to lead your church in revitalization, there are some basic principles you must follow. Here are 10 principles for a revitalizer: Be humble. You must swallow your pride, humble yourself and love even...

0 Comments

Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Stay connected by signing up for the N.C. Baptist monthly newsletter.

Select Language ^

Share This

Share this with your friends!