Overcoming Compassion Fatigue in Ministry, Part 2


Read Part 1.

Scriptural Solutions for Compassion Fatigue

The pastor who recognizes compassion fatigue can experience recovery and renewal by meditating on these biblical realities.

  • We are all called to bear one another’s burdens.
    Galatians 6:2 Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ. This is a normal part of Christian fellowship and ministry. So we should not withdraw ourselves from helping others through their trials and tragedies.
  • There is a cost of ministering to others.
    Paul wrote, So, affectionately longing for you, we were well pleased to impart to you not only the gospel of God, but also our own lives, because you had become dear to us (1 Thess 2:8). And to the Corinthians, And I will very gladly spend and be spent for your souls; though the more abundantly I love you, the less I am loved (2 Cor 12:15) Jesus came not to be ministered to, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many (Mark 10:45). He is our model for servant leadership, and it cost him his life. So we need to count the cost and be willing to pay a price.
  • God can strengthen us for the rigors of ministry work.
    Paul encouraged Timothy, You therefore, my son, be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus (2 Tim 2:1). Paul himself labored to exhaustion, but received strength from God: Him we preach, warning every man and teaching every man in all wisdom, that we may present every man perfect in Christ Jesus. To this end I also labor, striving according to His working which works in me mightily (Col 1:28-29).

We need to regularly receive strength from the Lord through dependence on Him in prayer and being nourished from the Word of God and Christian fellowship. If we let these go, we will be quickly depleted and overwhelmed by the burden of caring for the souls of others.

  • Remember we are finite beings with human limitations.
    Although God empowers us for ministry work that exceeds our natural ability to perform, He does not eliminate the need for normal human sustenance such as food and rest. And we can reach our capacity for handling major, traumatic scenarios. There is a point where we reach overload. It’s ok to say, “I need help with this.”
  • Rest in God’s omniscient, omnipotent, omnipresent involvement in people’s traumatic life events.
    God is present and active in people’s lives all the time. I can do my best do deal with a hard situation, then go to bed at night and know that, although I’m not with that person, God is and He is at work – comforting, providing, sanctifying.
  • Trust in the process of inner progressive sanctification through the Word and the Holy Spirit.
    I think part of the problem is thinking I am the Savior, the one with ability to do all the things. If something’s going to happen, someone is going to change, someone is going to recover, gain hope – I am going to produce it or at least be the key to facilitating it. It comes down to our view of God, His sovereignty, and progressive sanctification.

The foundation of prevention and healing is trust and rest in the work of Christ.. The hope that counselors extend to counselees is the same hope upon which their faith rests, namely, the gospel of Jesus Christ.

… only God is infinite. Only He, working in and through the power of His word and Spirit, is able to accomplish the goal of biblical soul care: sanctification.9

Practical Solutions

In addition to appropriating scriptural truths, there are practical ways to overcome compassion fatigue in ministry.

  • Manage your weekly schedule.
    Establish priorities and commit time to them. Build in “sabbath rest” – a rhythm of life that includes, not only sufficient sleep, but also regular breaks from ministry work.
  • Block out times when you do not counsel (e.g., your day off, a heavy sermon prep day, and weekends, except for emergencies).
  • Determine a realistic load of pastoral care for your role and enlist others to share the work.
    Utilize your pastoral team, elders, retired pastors, deacons, or a biblical counseling center.
  • Have someone you can talk to.
    Find someone to help you carry your burden (Gal 6:2). Proactively involve someone else. Pastors naturally share a lot with their spouses, but it’s healthy to have another colleague or friend with whom to share ministry burdens.
  • Steward your personal life and priorities for long-term ministry
    This includes sufficient rest, healthful diet, regular exercise, consistent and meaningful personal devotion, spiritual growth, appropriate commitments of time, energy, and attention to marriage, family, ministry, and friendships, along with discernment in saying yes or no when necessary10
  • Practice an unhurried, pace of grace like Jesus.
    Kathy Schoonover-Shoffner wrote in the Journal of Christian Nursing on the issue of compassion fatigue:

Jesus followed the pace God set for him, rather than what people expected of him. He didn’t send away the Canaanite woman asking for help (Matthew 15:21-28); didn’t rush to heal Lazarus (John 11:6); and he stopped to help a sick woman when a centurion’s daughter was dying (Mark 5:22-34). Yet at the end of his life, he had completed everything God had given him to do (John 17:4, 19:30).

Fadling [in book she’s referring to – An Unhurried Life: Following Jesus’ Rhythms of Work and Rest by Alan Fadling] calls this the “pace of grace” (p. 10), an unhurried, relaxed way of the heart that accepts what God thinks of us and follows Jesus’s lead. This pace of grace lets God guide what I should and should not be doing: to work or to rest. Fadling (says), “Just as surely as God gives us ministry opportunities, he also gives us opportunities to rest with him and be restored.”11

So let us learn to work when it’s time to work, rest when it’s time to rest, bear what we are meant to bear of our own and others’ burdens, and trust our all-powerful God, our ever-present Savior, and our continually-working Paraclete, the Holy Spirit, to accomplish the real work of comfort, restoration, and spiritual progress in people’s lives.