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Burnout is coming. Here’s how to prevent it.



In the helping professions, burnout can seem almost inevitable.

The thing we want to give – deep, sincere compassion for others in times of need – runs out. We want to help, but we can only endure so much suffering. We become victims of our own giving.

Compassion burnout

We must not imagine the progression of burnout for a pastor, a counselor or a leader in the ministry of Christ. We have witnessed it or have experienced it ourselves.

A young leader enters the ministry with high hopes, intense training and a heart full of compassion. But after several years of long hours, little or no appreciation, and insufficient compensation, the leader gets tired. Working with less motivation and seeing less positive results, frustration begins and then frustration breaks into indifference.

The researchers identified four universal stages of burnout among the helping professions:

  • enthusiasm
  • stagnation
  • frustration
  • apathy

To be honest, I lived all four in one day of ministry. I can be full of compassion on an appointment at 7 am, tired and on autopilot for lunch, frustrated in afternoon meetings and, when I come home, completely unresponsive.

disillusionment it is the clinical term for burnout. We had a vision of a generous ministry but we went bankrupt before it was realized. The vision proved to be illusory.

Where do we go from here?

I found a deep and refreshing resource for the renewal of the ministry in an ancient but underestimated aspect of Christianity: The way to restore compassion for others is by receiving and enjoying the compassion of God.

The way to restore compassion for others is by receiving and enjoying the compassion of God.

Compassion is at the heart of the Christian gospel, an attribute of God that goes through the history of redemption and an essential virtue of a healthy and sustainable ministry in the model of Christ.

Search for compassion

So, what exactly is compassion?

Our word compassion comes from the Latin words pati is cum, which together means "to suffer with". As they write Henri Nouwen and his co-authors Compassion: a reflection on Christian life:

Compassion asks us to go where it hurts, to enter the places of pain, to share the fracture, the fear, the confusion and the anguish. Compassion challenges us to cry out with those who are in misery, to cry with those who are alone, to cry with those in tears. Compassion requires us to be weak with the weak, vulnerable with the vulnerable and powerless with the powerless. Compassion means full immersion in the condition of being human. (3/4)

Compassion is a common term in the English language, but has an immense theological weight. Compassion is an attribute of God, a virtue of Christ's likeness and a metaphor of ministry. Theologian Andrew Purves writes:

One can make a case to see compassion as the center of pastoral care. Compassion makes specific care. Compassion radicalizes care by giving our thoughtful root to the deepest places of God's being.

We were created in the image of a compassionate God. Being completely human means embracing our need to receive his compassion and show compassion to others in return.

So why do we experience "compassio burnout"? Because we are finished and fallen. Our compassion is a diminishing resource.

But when we turn to the Scriptures, we discover that God is an inexhaustible source.

Lord of Compassion

The Lord is compassionate and kind,
slow at anger, rich in love. (Psalm 103: 8)

Depending on the translation, "compassion" is shown 50 to 80 times in the Scriptures.

The historical books are full of references to God's compassion in his promise to keep Israel (for example, 2 Kings 13:23). The Psalms constantly praise God's paternal compassion for his people: Psalm 103 stands out as the best example. And the prophets promise an immediate compassion from God for the faithful of Israel (see in particular Isa 54: 7).

When we reach the Gospels, we find compassion incarnated. Jesus Christ is the last Lord of compassion. When he sees the crowds, he has compassion on them (Matthew 9:36, 14:14, 15:32). His ministry of healing overflows with his compassion for the broken, the weak and the needy (Matt. 20:34).

Compassion demonstrates our divine triune grace and mercy in tangible acts of patience and love.

And two of Jesus' most beloved parables are dependent on compassion. The good Samaritan is praised for having acted with it: "But a Samaritan, while he was traveling, arrived where he was, and when he saw him, he had compassion" (Luke 10:33). And the prodigal son returns to look for his full father: "But while he was still far away, his father saw him and was full of compassion for him, ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him" (Luke 15:20) .

Finally, the letters of the New Testament repeatedly appeal to the Lord's compassion (Romans 9:15, 2 Corinthians 1: 3, James 5:11) and urgently invite believers to show mutual compassion (Eph 4:32; 2: 1; Col. 3:12; 1 Pet 3: 8).

From creation in Israel to Christ to the church, compassion shows our grace and mercy of God in tangible acts of patience and love.

Here are three ways to renew your depleted compassion.

1. Slow down

Compassion is not efficient. To take care of other people's weights it is necessary to slow down, pay attention and not be in a hurry.

Hurry up is an infallible recipe for the burnout of the ministry. By definition, it is an unsustainable rhythm.

In our church planting process, we have set 10 commitments, including "We are not in a hurry". To cultivate compassion, we must allow God to redirect our plans, let go of our deadlines and respond to the suggestions and needs of our people.

2. Stock the Pond

Artists or writers are often encouraged to "store the pond" with images, experiences and books from which they can then draw in creativity. In a much deeper sense, the minister of compassion will return daily to the well, drawing new resources from the Source of all compassion.

We place the pond for compassion through a coherent reading of the Scriptures and a life of regular and lasting prayer. In the Scriptures we find our compassionate Lord who speaks directly to us, comforting us, encouraging us and renewing our souls. In prayer, we place our burdens before God, we ask for help and we find peace in our moment of need.

3. Lead from within

When we are fatigued, we usually drive from our intellect (what we know), from our expertise (what can we do) or from our reputation (who others say we are). But the model of a healthy ministry is to lead from & # 39; internal, from who we are in Christ.

Think of it this way: the compassion of Christ Hugs we, turns us in his likeness, and then Boost we at the ministry of compassion.

The compassion of Christ Hugs we, turns us in his likeness, and then Boost we at the ministry of compassion.

Driving from the inside means reflecting on our deep thoughts and feelings during the day, sharing our inner lives with others and encouraging the hearts of our people. We are not simply trying to change the behavior of others or to teach them knowledge and skills. We want theirs hearts to be formed in the image of Christ.

Therefore a compassion in the form of Christ will include a indoor receptivity to the compassion of the Father and to outward ministry of compassion for those who need it most. Like Jesus, when we are moved by compassion, we go to show compassion.

As Purves sums up, "Our compassion is a participation in the compassion of Jesus." Jesus extends his compassion to a needy world through us. We are his conduits of compassion.

The burnout of compassion is a reality of the life of the ministry as finite and fallen creatures. But by slowing down, by storing the pond and leading from within, we can find a renewal going on for a life full of compassion.


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