Our love for God fuels a genuine compassion for others, but sometimes our fuel runs out. When compassion fatigue sets in on pastors, you can see it in their eyes and hear it in their voices.
While tough seasons of ministry are inevitable, do they really have to be open-ended? If you are in a ministry sprint that never ends, you need to ask yourself whether you are actually sprinting or merely surviving.
Pastors who love and lead on empty may be tempted to think that it is a normal part of their call to ministry. I can assure you that compassion fatigue is neither normal nor admirable. I’ve found three alternative routes that can help you avoid compassion fatigue altogether.
- Say ‘No’ more than you say ‘Yes’
Did you just flinch when you read that?
While pastors are servants who are not too good to do anything, we should also be equippers who are not too stupid to do everything (footnote: “stupid” is a legit CSB word).
I have heard many preachers implore people to put their “Yes” on the table. I am outright begging you to also put your “No” on the table. Pastors may have trouble saying “no” to people because we like to be liked and enjoy serving the Lord. However, if you make every issue your issue, you will end up embracing everyone’s emergencies as your own. People-pleasers dig big holes by over-promising and under-delivering.
If you are doing most of the ministry in your church, you are heading down the predictable path of compassion fatigue. Giving ministry away affirms the giftedness of the Body of Christ while simultaneously stewarding our own gifts better.
- Quit blowing off boundaries
Healthy churches are led by healthy pastors who have learned how to pastor at a healthy pace. Make sure your calendar reflects your convictions, then communicate your work-life flow to your leaders and members. What a great discipleship opportunity to demonstrate God’s perfect plan for the rhythm many Americans are trying to achieve.
Pastors recharge their souls by connecting daily with their Savior at a time and place that has the least interruptions. When history’s first pastors neglected the disciplines of prayer and the ministry of the Word, they stopped growing, as did their church (Acts 6).
We also recharge with our families when we protect our time with them. The simple way to connect with our family each day is to intentionally and literally disconnect from our ministry. Compassion fatigue sets in when boundaries are set aside.
- Take a whole day off
When pastors tell me how overwhelmed they are, it does not take long to diagnose the source of their dilemma. They stopped stopping. God modeled and commanded Sabbath for us, which literally means “to stop.” We need to create margin every single day so that we can sleep well, and create margin every week so we can recharge well.
Don’t brag about working hard, yet also don’t apologize for resting hard. Exactly how and when you stop is up to you. While we all believe in the idea of Sabbath, the practice often eludes us, so we must be intentional about it.
The cold, hard truth is that nobody in your church will make you stop. No one will give you a day off. You have to take a day off, which is an act of faith, obedience and discipline. There will never be a long line of people wanting to police their pastor about his churchaolic tendencies, so choose carefully who speaks into your life the most.
It is your choice whether to steward your time or allow it to be stolen. No pastor sets out to be a superhero, but if the cape fits … take it off anyway.