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

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