Bethann was the friend everyone wanted to have. Growing up, she was the one who was there for all her friends … and anyone else, for that matter. No matter the issue, people saw caring in her eyes and knew she’d listen thoughtfully and have the right answer. She even became a confidant to the adults around her.
During her freshman year of college, the ministry called to her. In seminary, she was the person classmates sought out as they struggled with relationships, problems with classes, and those moments of self-doubt. Bethann accepted an assistant pastor role at a large suburban church and was assigned to oversee groups for teens and young mothers.
Lately, she feels like an impostor. She’s beginning to dread the conversations that once energized her. It’s become an endless line of people sharing problems. Every time Bethann tries to take a moment to breathe, someone else is there needing from her. She’s even starting to feel emotionally distant from her husband and their young children. After an evening of endless crises no matter how minor, she’s starting to wonder if ministry is the wrong place for her.
My guess is you may have been there.
What Bethann is experiencing is so common among church leaders and staff. It’s something we call compassion fatigue. Even people who are remarkably skilled and compassionate when it comes to serving the needs of others get exhausted. The people who turn to Bethann expect her to be completely alert and fully focused on their issue whenever they need her. They don’t stop to wonder if she’s fully rested, feeling well, or even having a good day. She summons all the mental and emotional energy she can, but lately, it hasn’t been enough.
Bethann is a remarkable leader who has much more to give. But saying she needs to learn how to take better care of herself and her own needs sounds like one more expectation of her. It’s a common trait among church leaders, who constantly put others ahead of themselves. Unfortunately, that can catch up with you over time. If you’ve begun to dread the next conversation with a church member, you’re struggling to get started each morning, or if you’re thinking you’d be happier working somewhere outside the church, you may be suffering from compassion fatigue too.
The good news is compassion fatigue doesn’t have to win. We can show you and your team strategies for heading off compassion fatigue. It goes a little deeper than pray more and healthy foods. Through our specially designed workshop, we’ll help you understand what causes compassion fatigue, recognize the warning signs in yourself and others, and learn to use simple, practical steps to get yourself back on track. Taking care of yourselves will enhance your ability to take care of others. Why not contact us today?
John Money is one of our professional counselors. As a previous pastor, he understands the demands pastors and church leaders face, and he’s one of our team members who can come talk more about this topic.