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Original Research - Humanity

Compassion fatigue: Spiritual exhaustion and the cost of caring in the pastoral ministry. Towards a ‘pastoral diagnosis’ in caregiving

Daniël Louw

HTS Teologiese Studies / Theological Studies; Vol 71, No 2 (2015), 10 pages. doi: 10.4102/hts.v71i2.3032

Submitted: 08 May 2015
Published:  13 October 2015


The pastoral ministry of caregiving inevitably implies a cost. The spiritual ethos in the Christian ministry implies a huge sacrifice. Dietrich Bonhoeffer (see footnote 9 in the article) described this ethos as ‘the cost of discipleship’. Very specifically in the case of unexpected and the so-called ‘undeserved modes of suffering’, the meaning framework of the caregiver is being interpenetrated, causing a kind of ‘depleted sense of being’. It is argued here that an appropriate diagnosis, and a description of the phenomenon of compassion fatigue, can help caregivers to better understand their sense of being depleted. Instead of leaving the pastoral ministry, this can help them to attend anew to their spiritual capacity. In this regard, a theology of compassion, framed by theopaschitic theology, can help pastors to become ‘healed’ in order to re-enter the pastoral ministry and regain a sense of parrhēsia.

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Author affiliations

Daniël Louw, Department of Practical Theology, Faculty of Theology, Stellenbosch University, South Africa


Compassion fatigue, Burnout, Spiritual exhaustion, Theopaschitic theology, Pastoral caregiving, Pastoral ministry, Parrhēsia,


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ISSN: 0259-9422 (print) | ISSN: 2072-8050 (online)

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