What is Empathy Fatigue?

Man sitting with his back against a brick wall looking tired

Care for Pastors exists to help pastors navigate through the unique challenges of pastoral ministry and learn to “thrive” not just “survive” in ministry. One of those challenges is empathy fatigue. This is sometimes called “ministry fatigue” or “compassion fatigue”. It occurs when a minister gives out compassion, support, comfort, encouragement, leadership, conflict resolution, care, understanding, counsel, and energy to others but never takes time to care for his/her own soul.

We talk with hundreds of pastors and their families every year and empathy fatigue is one of the most common ailments. It strikes younger pastors and older pastors alike. No one, and I do mean no one, is immune to empathy fatigue. It gets to the best of us.

In a recent article, Rainer on Leadership #341, Thom Rainer identified 13 warning signs of ministry fatigue:

  1. Living by a “get me through the day” philosophy.
  2. Losing vision.
  3. Developing poor sleep patterns.
  4. Declining spiritual disciplines.
  5. Repeating lessons and sermons.
  6. Faking joy and excitement.
  7. Frustrating family members.
  8. Magnifying minors.
  9. Failing to return emails and phone calls.
  10. Misdirecting affections.
  11. Decreasing exercise.
  12. Focusing on a “grass is greener” syndrome.
  13. Avoiding people who speak truth.

This is not an exhaustive list but it does provide a glimpse into the downward spiral of empathy fatigue. The great news is that you don’t have to stay in this condition. There is help and support available.  If you find yourself in this place, please know that there is a resource specifically designed for you.

Care for Pastors is a safe place to turn when you find yourself experiencing empathy fatigue, marital challenges, or church conflict. We are here to help. Please reach out to us.

About Robert White

Dr. Robert White was raised in central Florida and completed his Bachelor’s degree at the University of Central Florida. After college, he completed the Master of Divinity and Doctor of Ministry degrees at Luther Rice Seminary in Atlanta, Georgia. For more than 40 years he has served as pastor of churches in Florida and in Massachusetts. He served as adjunct professor at the Orlando Extension Center of Luther Rice Seminary, teaching Bible and Theology for 15 years. He taught classes for the certificate program of New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary. He has served on the New Work Council of the Greater Orlando Baptist Association and the Pastor Support Team of the Ridge Baptist Association. In October 2016, Dr. White joined the counseling staff of Care For Pastors. He currently resides with his wife, Kaye, in Leesburg, Florida.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.