Empathy is the “ability to understand and share the feelings of another.” For many people, we assume this is the same as sympathy, but it truly isn’t. In church, I see people have sympathy for the homeless, the widowed, the orphaned, the mentally ill, the physically injured, the locked up, the abused, and the addicted.

Sympathy is “we’ll pray for you” and then by the time you walk out the church doors you’ve forgotten that commitment. Empathy is being willing to drive that person home, pray for them when they leave, showing up at the homeless shelter to give them supplies, and sit to authentically listen to them weep over their fears and losses six months or a year after the event has happened.

Dr. Brene Brown is a Licensed Social Worker and works with the Huffington Foundation at the University of Houston. She speaks on topics ranging from vulnerability, shame, and trust with a tone of research and storyteller. The video below is the perfect illustration of that, which I would specifically push for pastors to soak in as they understand the difference when they do hospital visits, speak to congregation members after a Sunday sermon, and talk with someone in their office about mental health.

Here are some of the big points from the video below:

  • Empathy feels connections. Sympathy drives disconnection.
  • There are four qualities of empathy
    • Perspective Taking
    • Staying Out of Judgment
    • Recognizing Emotion In Other People
    • Communicating That Recognition
  • Empathy is a choice, a vulnerable choice. Empathy is not about trying to make things better. What makes things better is connection.

Published by Jeremy Smith

Jeremy is a Licensed Professional Counselor working with adults and youth. Jeremy has a history of working as a ministry director for Youth for Christ for 8 years and then working as a mental health and substance use adult counselor in Ohio, specifically running an Opioid Residential Treatment Center.

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