Most of us are familiar with the Superman saga. But just in case you have been living on another planet for the past 70 years, kryptonite was an element from Superman’s home planet that when exposed to it, Superman began to lose his superpower. The longer the exposure, the more kryptonite drained his strength. Though DC Comics, or the movies, never allowed the exposure of kryptonite to be long term, we are lead to believe that long-term exposure would result in the death of Superman.
Empathy Fatigue is like kryptonite to pastors and those who serve in ministry. The very nature of what we do in ministry is give. We give service, we give counsel, we give attention, and we give and give. The more we give and serve, the more we are expected to give and serve. It seems that we can never do or give enough at times, which leads to Empathy Fatigue. The longer we are exposed to Empathy Fatigue, the weaker we become.
You may be suffering from Empathy Fatigue if you have lost your enthusiasm for ministry or if you find your mind wandering while others are talking directly to you, or instead of praying for your critics, you spend time and energy coming up with ways to destroy them. Your once gentle and caring spirit has become sharp and abrasive, especially with your spouse. If you find yourself avoiding people and any level of conflict, or you want to find a hole somewhere and crawl into it, or you would rather do anything than be a pastor, you may be suffering from Empathy Fatigue.
Untreated exposure to Empathy Fatigue results in not caring for yourself, your family and the church you serve. Not because you don’t want to, but you simply do not have the wherewithal to care. Physically, spiritually and emotionally you are exhausted.
The goal of every pastor is to finish well. At best, exposure to Empathy Fatigue that goes untreated will prevent a pastor from finishing well and at its worst Empathy Fatigue leads to death, death of ministry, death of relationships, and even physical death. It is essential that every pastor have a plan for care and prevention of Empathy Fatigue. I will give some suggestions next week.