Compassion Fatigue and Burnout for Church Workers

By Karen Tripp MS LMFT 

 What’s it like to be a church worker? 

  • 28 percent of ministers report being “forcefully terminated.”
  • 33 percent say being in ministry is “an outright hazard” to their families.
  • 75 percent experience “severe stress causing anguish, worry, bewilderment, anger, depression, fear and alienation” during their careers.
  • Ministers join doctors and attorneys among those with the highest rates of addiction and suicide.

Travis Collins, author of For Ministers about to Start… or about to Give Up

What is Compassion Fatigue?  Key Issue is denial/avoidance due to over involvement.

DISCUSSION: First born vs fourth born learning to walk. What changed?

DISCUSSION: Vigilance at time of cancer diagnosis verse after 4th treatment?  What changed?

Compassion Fatigue: (Or Secondary Trauma) Emotional absorption due to a trauma followed by increasing apathy and poor self-care.

  • Can occur in medical personnel, counselors, teachers, first responders, church workers, family members etc.
  • Can be due to ______or __________cases. People may be getting better yet your apathy increases.
  • Empathy is good. ___________________ is bad. ____________is bad.

EXAMPLE: Mom car accident

What is Burn Out?  Key issue is hopelessness/futility due to not meeting constant demands.

Burnout: a state of emotional, mental, and physical exhaustion caused by excessive and prolonged stress. It occurs when you feel overwhelmed and unable to meet constant demands.

EXAMPLE: pastor

Compassion fatigue is a boundary problem with ___________________________.

 Burnout is boundary problem with ______________________________________.

 Symptoms of Compassion Fatigue (Similar to burnout):

  • Bottled up emotions
  • Isolation from others
  • Receives unusual amount of__________________ from others
  • Voices excessive ______________________about administrative functions
  • Substance abuse used to mask feelings
  • Compulsive behaviors such as overspending, overeating, gambling, sexual addictions
  • Poor self-care (i.e., hygiene, appearance)
  • Excessive blaming
  • Legal problems, indebtedness
  • Reoccurrence of nightmares and flashbacks to traumatic event
  • Chronic _______________________________________ such as gastrointestinal problems and recurrent colds
  • _________________ sad, no longer finds activities pleasurable
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Mentally and physically _______________________
  • Preoccupied
  • ____________________ about problems

Do I have Burnout?

Burnout Self Test

 Do I have Compassion Fatigue?

Compassion Fatigue Self Test

What can I do to prevent and/or relieve Compassion Fatigue and Burnout??

  1. Pastoral care is not meant to be done in isolation.

Jesus sends out 12 (Matthew 10) sends out 72 (Luke 10).

Elders James 5:14.

Body of Christ 1 Corinthians 12

  1. Who else CAN be involved in pastoral care? Friends far away? Other pastors?  Other church staff?  Elders? Council? Trained laypeople? Confidential Counselor?
  2. Needs from others for:

Compassion Fatigue

Level 1 – sharing/supervision

Level 2 – visitation/notes/ meals/chores


Level 1- calling clarity/vison building

Level 2 – affirm progress/celebrate accomplishments/risk change for the ministry

  1. Church expectations? Where’s your boundaries?  It doesn’t always have to be you.
  • Death of a long time member when you are on sabbatical.
  • Council member enters hospice when you are on vacation.
  • Senior pastor involved in hospital visits.
  • Growth of membership and offerings – pastor’s responsibility or congregations?
  • “I only want to talk to a pastor.” OR  “…THE pastor.”

 5. Define and adhere to healthy emotional boundaries: 

  • Know what your role is in the church and stay in the role.
  • You cannot be all things to all people. “There’s no one else.  I have to do it.”
  • You cannot be all things to one person. “I’m going to make things better for this person/family.”

 6. Improve team building:

  • Do you feel supported in your work environment?
  • Who can you share that you’ve had a hard day?
  • Who can you tell when a family’s story is upsetting you?
  • Is sharing empathy with church staff/elders seen as a weakness or a strength?

 7. Increase Self-care behaviors: 

  • Are you sleeping enough?
  • Eating healthy?
  • Working an appropriate amount?
  • Going for checkups?
  • Taking your own maintenance meds?
  • Involved in leisure activities?

About Karen Tripp

Beyond being a Christian Counselor and the President of Cancer Companions, Karen loves to read (she's a great reader) and loves to sing (she's a bad singer) in her home near St Louis, MO. Cancer has personally touched Karen's personal life through her dad - a 23 year colon cancer survivor. Impacting lives for Christ through her speaking, writing and counseling fills Karen with a passion which infuses every task she approaches. (except matching socks. Karen hates matching socks.)
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