In my experience, most leaders in the faith guard themselves with gusto which can prevent their church family from understanding the burden that they carry. My goal with this post is not to mindlessly rant. I simply wish to be frank about the emotional weight that all Pastors shoulder.
As a pastor, I encounter a lot of emotion.
These emotions do not originate with me and are in addition to what comes naturally – I am, after all, a living breathing person. This “foreign emotion” is called empathy and most normal people have the ability to feel it. Empathy allows society to function and lets us “put ourselves in their shoes” when connecting with other people. There’s a downside to empathy though which that it can get overwhelming after awhile.
I tend to care about pretty much every person I encounter. I feel “happy” or “sad” based on other people’s attitudes which is often an annoyance to the point where I wish I could stop caring completely – I can get so bogged down with feelings that it can be a struggle to even function. I remember being told by an older friend of mine (who had a couple decades experience in Youth Ministry) that I needed to develop some thick skin so that I wouldn’t burn out. Realizing that I had to protect myself from other people was a harsh wake-up-call.
Everyone can experience “empathy overload” from time to time. But where most others have the ability to bury themselves in their work as a way to escape, I can not. Pastors don’t get to enjoy the luxury of “losing themselves in their work” because when we do we end up coming into even more contact with the emotions of other people. Day in and day out we are surrounded by those who need love and comfort and, to be honest, it can be exhausting.