From Hope Made Strong, this is The Care Ministry Podcast a show about equipping ministry leaders and transforming communities through care. supporting those in your church and community not only changes individuals' lives, but it grows and strengthens the church. But we want to do that without burning out. So listen in as we learn about tools, strategies and resources that will equip your team and strengthen hope.
I'm Laura Howe, and welcome to The Care Ministry Podcast. Last fall, my husband and I had the opportunity to go to the Grand Canyon. And it was unbelievable way beyond my expectations, it was huge, the vastness of space and the beauty of the rocks. It was absolutely stunning. But I was also shocked that outside of a few lookout points, there were no fences, there was nothing between you and the cliff and most certain death, it was a little bit scary at times, because Aaron and I were walking just inches from the edge.
Clearly, I was freaked out before and a little bit now still wondering how that is possible but I'm gonna say that view was worth it. It was unbelievable. And we happen to go on a freezing cold day, it was snowing at the Grand Canyon, I don't know if that's normal but I was really shocked about that being in the desert and there were so few people there so we felt like we were alone, just the two of us in this huge, vast space. It was unbelievable.
So often in ministry, the view of what God is doing is incredible. It is so honoring to be a part of it and we're awestruck by God's faithfulness and beauty and, and being a part of ministry. And it's kind of like walking along that cliff where we are amazed at what God is doing. And we want to stay on that track but unknowingly sometimes, we are walking straight towards the cliff about to fall into burnout.
And this episode is for pastors and for ministry leaders and we are going to be talking about how to stay safe and avoid burnout. So much of your time is thinking about others, you prepare messages, small you do small groups with and think about you know content with others in mind you check in on your teams, ensuring that they're cared for and tended for you see prayer requests comes in and you tend and care for those needs. And oftentimes there's no closure about whatever happened to that, you know, situation that you heard about.
You plan outreaches and events, and you support people day in and day out most of your time as a ministry leader is spent considering other people's needs, and this can be exhausting. In fact, this is a huge contributing factor to compassion, fatigue and burnout and we might not recognize it or realize that while burnout might seem cliche and lose its meaning a bit I want to confirm that it is, in fact, a struggle that anyone can experience.
Burnout is when someone is feeling helpless, hopeless and experiences prolong levels of high stress. When you feel like you have no control over your situation, or that there is no end in sight, and that you are just stressed out pressure on every side. If you're feeling all of those things, then you are likely experiencing symptoms of burnout. I think every one of us can think of a time when we have felt out of control and hopeless over our situation and stress and this is why the term burnout is so relatable we can all experience it. Every demographic children to seniors, every culture, every occupation, everyone can experience burnout, but those who spend their time caring for other people, it's compassion fatigue, that is the real challenge or that is an additional challenge.
Compassion Fatigue refers to the profound and emotional and physical erosion that takes place when helpers are unable to refuel and to regenerate. It is this gradual erosion of all the things that keep us connected to others in our caregiving role. It's our empathy, our our hope and our compassion for others, but also our hope, empathy and compassion for ourselves.
When I was a full-time clinical social worker, I was supporting those who are battling mental illness, homelessness, and addictions and when I came home and heard about my husband's bad day, which typically included the internet was spotty or had to work through lunch or had back to back meetings, I had little very little, probably zero compassion for him.
This wasn't because I didn't care about him, although I'm sure that that's how it came across. But it's because my empathy had eroded because I was exposed to such high needs all day long, but his knees just didn't seem to measure up.
Compassion Fatigue can lead to depression, and cause people to struggle with addictions, relationship conflicts, and question their calling. But compassion fatigue isn't the fault or or defect of the carer or ministry leader. Compassion fatigue is a workplace hazard. It's the result of caring so much, and not having opportunities to refuel. But I have to ask pastor, care ministry care coordinator director, who cares for you?
Laura How 6:08
Just like construction workers are aware of the dangers of the job and, and they wear protective gear to help keep them safe. There are things that a caregiver or as a ministry leader you can do to protect yourself from the workplace hazard of compassion fatigue, so pastors, care directors, leaders, we really need to talk about how you are refueling and who is caring for you.
You might feel uncomfortable just hearing that question or having this conversation. It can cause you to kind of like grimace or recoil deflecting, or maybe even maybe even puffed up with pride saying no, no, I'm good. Others need more support, or I don't have time right now or serving is my calling. It's my cross to bear. But I bet that if I asked you this question in a private office, and your spouse was sitting beside you, they would be nodding their head. You know, it's true. There are loved ones in your life that are that are concerned or saying who is going to care for you? When are you going to attend to your own needs.
As caregivers, ministry leaders and pastors, we are driven to serve others and it's hard to admit that we need help too and it's even harder nearly impossible to tell when we are in over our heads we have a natural blind spot for our own well being and our own burnout. Yeah, you know, there's something off, you know, you're not working at your, your peak performance or you know, that your stress, but other than just having this general feeling, it is hard to identify what is really going on. I heard an analogy once and I'm probably going to mess it up. But I'm gonna give it a go anyway but that burnout is like leaders are walking towards a cliff, and they can't see the signs that there's danger up ahead. They just see all around them the needs and not where they are going, they just see to the side.
And this is why leaders, myself included, don't see that there are that they are in trouble in until that last moment, when they're just teetering on the edge. It's not until they are about to fall, crash and burn into the burnout that a leader takes notice that they're not doing well and they need some help. Left to their own devices leaders can walk directly into a crisis without recognizing that they're not doing well and they're about to crash. And I'm sure you've had maybe you've seen this happen that the others are people are coming to mind that would fit this description. And I'm sure you've witnessed friends and families who were slowly decompensating or you could see that they were isolating themselves serving at the cost of their health and family having very little time for refueling or refreshment, but doing it all for the cause. And this is a direct path to the edge of a cliff and I'm not saying this and blame or shame it's so easy to do.
In fact, I've done this before as well, for most of us, it's easier to serve others and be exhausted than it is to care for ourselves and, and refuel. The path of health and healing requires you to do really hard things. Although I would say that working at night with few boundaries and, and witnessing suffering is hard as well. But it's a different kind of hard refueling and tending our needs doesn't come naturally. It requires us to say no, or admit that we can't do at all or dare I say, talk about our feelings. I just think I lost a few people there. But stick with me, stick with me.
In episode six, I talk about the seven keys to resilience. These are seven habits or practices that help strengthen our resilience. They prevent us from getting stuck when facing life's challenges. And they allow us this these skills are these habits allow us to bounce back more quickly. And while these things are great, and we need to practice those, that we are able to remain resilient, when we are weary, or when we are right on the edge about to have a breakdown or we're facing a crisis. These things can feel condescending, we are past the point of self care. We're past the point of you know, finding rest or getting hobbies, we're needing outside support.
And I can relate to this so much because back in 2017, I found myself on the edge of a cliff. I was experiencing all the things burnout, compassion, fatigue, vicarious trauma, you name it, I was probably experiencing it. And thankfully, I had a compassionate supervisor that told me several times that hey, Laura, it's okay. You can call your doctor doesn't mean that you are less of a social worker. It's okay. They're there to help at home, my family. God bless them. They tolerated my short temper my irritability. I no longer went to went to book club or girls night out, I isolated myself I had no energy to play with my children or no capacity to flirt or, or or be with my husband. I just wasn't good at home. I was not myself. I was not well, but I didn't see it. I didn't see it, but at work, I tried to keep it all together. But over time, the cracks are beginning to show.
And one day when I noticed that my work and my care for others began to be impacted. I suddenly had this realization that I'm not doing well, I was teetering on the edge. And I'm so thankful looking back for my supervisor who was gently nudging me or encouraging me to call the doctor in. And so I did that I called my doctor thinking I would get a sick, stress leave for two weeks off, all I needed was to catch up on some sleep, and reconnect with my family.
But friend that two weeks turned into two months, I didn't realize how empty I was how close I was to crashing. Not only was my empathy for others eroded, but my empathy for myself was gone. I had no awareness of how unwell I was, I didn't see my struggles as a result of deeply caring for others. I blamed myself and I saw it as my fault that my own fault or my my inabilities. I wasn't a good mother, a good social worker, I abandoned my friends. I wasn't a good wife or an employee. I took it on I had no compassion for myself.
And I'm sharing my story to say that if you are feeling this way, you are not alone and it's not your fault either. That I understand that what it feels like to be so close to the edge and have no idea until the last moment. Now, of course looking back I can see all the signs but in the moment, I was clueless.
Laura Howe 12:34
In episode 20, I actually share more specific signs of compassion fatigue and go into my story a little bit more deeper but in this episode, I want to share with you three resources or three tools that are specifically for pastors and ministry leaders for number one counseling, number two peer support, and number three, finding a self-guided course. Now I shared these three things because if you are teetering on the edge, you might be past the point of the self-care strategies and needing outside help you need some reflection, or some guidance to be able to help you navigate, healing and navigate, coming back into well-being.
And so the first one is counseling and it can be really hard to go to counseling, I kind of went begrudgingly, to be honest, and for and for pastors. There are a number of reasons. Number one, it's expensive to go to counseling. Many leaders don't want to go to a local counselor, because you know, that's their mission field, what if they come to my church, right? That's always tricky. You want anonymity you want that privacy and you want to talk to someone who understands the challenges of ministry, it's a unique occupation, you have some unique challenges, and it's helpful to talk with someone who understands and so these challenges are real and I don't want to minimize those.
But I do want to introduce you to an incredible resource that overcomes these barriers and allows you to access the counseling supports that you desperately need. It's an organization called Full Strength Network and they offer wellbeing resources specifically for pastors, and their counseling services are the best that I have seen yet. They're so good, they offer a subscription plan that gives you access to up to 12 counseling sessions for less than $300 a year. That's like 25 bucks a session, it's you cannot find that in I know a few of the counselors personally, and they are incredible, I would send my family to them. Plus, there's a lot of other tools and resources that are included in this subscription. But this counseling, opportunity is absolutely massive.
So if you are a ministry leader and been putting off seeking out counseling, here's your sign here is an opportunity that this is it's time it's time you sought outside support, and extra support to help tend to your needs. counseling helps respond to a crisis. So if you're teetering on the back edge, but it's also an incredible prevention strategy that you can utilize to prevent yourself from getting to the edge. Okay, that's my that's my soapbox on counseling.
The second type of support for ministry leaders is peer support and peers are supporters that aren't professional counselors, but they have walked a similar journey or their they've been on that similar path, they face similar challenges and they can walk alongside of you and provide encouragement and support as you navigate your journey. Standing Stone Ministry is a great resource for those who are looking for peer support. It's free at no cost to you. They match ministry leaders with what they call a shepherd, which is a fellow peer ministry leader. So you are connected and talking with someone who has been there who has done that. And this is so restorative, there's no judgment and you are able to connect with someone that really understands the unique challenges of working in ministry, and those demands that you are facing. And so I definitely recommend if counseling is not for you, and you want to connect with someone who's been there, done that you want someone who has additional training, who's confidential, who is outside of your denomination that is able to walk alongside of you definitely want to check out Standing Stone ministry or seek out peer support.
Now the final type of support is like a self-guided support. Self-guided support is helpful when you don't need or you can't access a counselor, and you're really just not interested in connecting with someone as a peer. But you still think it would be helpful to be walked through a step by step process that will help you overcome the exhaustion and frustration that comes with burnout and compassion fatigue. So if this is what you're looking for something a little bit more self-directed, I recommend you check out the course Finding Hope and Helping. This is a course that I wrote for those who don't have access or feel they don't require a one to one support. It is specifically for ministry leaders.
And I like to give the analogy that counseling is like having a personal trainer and peer support is like having a buddy to go to the gym with and and my course finding help and helping is like watching an exercise video or going to a class. Someone is guiding you through the steps but you are leading your own work. What you get out of it is what you put into it.
Finding Hope and helping was developed for ministry leaders who are exhausted and overwhelmed. It's 19 video lessons that are very, very short only like seven minutes of video. And there's a workbook to go alongside of that that helps you overcome burnout and compassion fatigue. And if you are interested in something like this, a course to help you walk through step by step in overcoming compassion, fatigue and burnout, then in the show notes at home made strong.org/episode 79, you're going to see a coupon code for 40% off the coupon code is the name podcast.
So you're going to want to click on that link or grab that coupon code to get 40% off the Finding Hope and helping course. I want to make sure that there are very few barriers for you ministry leader to seek support to step away from the edge, because I know firsthand what it's like to come close to the edge like being on that hamster wheel of ministry, and caregiving without even realizing how close you are.
I've heard spouses and you know, friends and family close to leader say that they saw signs, but just didn't know what to do. They just didn't know how to bring it up because there was no awareness. And I hope that these three very affordable resources, give you options for finding support. Whether you see counseling, peer support, or a self-guided tool. receiving support for yourself is absolutely essential. As a leader, it is absolutely necessary for you to stay well to prevent a crisis and to be able to navigate this journey of serving others well.
So friends, thank you so much. I hope you engage in these courses or in these resources and I encourage you to put this into action. Go to the show notes at hopemadestrong.org/episode 79 check out the support options and links and if you know of a fellow leader who might be struggling, they are an incredible leader. They're kind and compassionate, but they're exhausted, and we're weary. I encourage you to pass this episode along to them. This might be exactly what they needed. Thank you so much. And thanks for connecting. Take care