Mad Church Disease (Chapter 2 Discussion)

Today is our second discussion about Anne Jackson’s book, Mad Church Disease: Overcoming the Burnout Epidemic. If you missed last week’s discussion, you can find it here. However, even if you haven’t read the book, I believe you can still enjoy the discussion and I hope you will stay and do just that.

Chapter 2 – Emergency

I would really like to start by sharing two facts that I think help us to lay the foundation for this whole discussion:

1.       There is no shame in admitting that you are feeling burned out.

2.      Burnout is something that will not get better unless it is brought out into the open.

I struggled with burnout for years and couldn’t admit it to myself or anyone else. If I had recognized what was happening earlier, I could have allowed God to do a lot of things in me and through me that He couldn’t do because I was running too fast to hear His still small voice.

Anne very appropriately titled this second chapter “Emergency.” When I first started processing that it was burnout that I was going through, I thought that I just needed a little time off. Like maybe if I just took a Sunday or two to sit out of the choir, it would make up for the years of sleep I had lost. I thought: they won’t really miss me in the choir.

Can I tell you something?

It has been over a year now. And not only did I take off from the choir, but I left the praise team, the drama team, and the singles ministry as well. Once I took that step away from the ministry, God sat me down and begin to talk to me.

One thing that God talked to me about was the fact that my burnout was affecting every part of my life and everybody around me, too.

Let’s not just talk about me. Let’s talk about Dawn. She’s about my age and married, but doesn’t yet have children. She works full-time for a mid-sized church. She attends a different, slightly smaller church. Sunday mornings, she gets up at sunrise to put dinner in the oven. She leaves her husband sleeping and goes to teach Sunday school to a class full of little girls. During the morning worship service, she sings in the choir, leaving her husband to sit alone in a pew near the back of the sanctuary. She goes home and serves lunch to her husband—and often some of the assorted folks from the community—then turns around and goes back to the church at five for choir practice. On Monday nights, she’s the secretary for the Women’s Fellowship Group. Wednesday nights, she works in the nursery during the service. One Thursday night a month, she is on the missions board and has a meeting.

Now, Dawn’s husband, Jerry, is a nice guy. But he sure is lonely, sitting at home alone most of the time. And because they don’t have kids yet, when someone needs a babysitter, who do they call? Dawn and Jerry. When they need someone to make cakes for the bake sale, who do they call? Dawn. When they can’t find their church directory and need a phone number, who do they call? Dawn and Jerry. When Miss Edith broke her hip, who did they ask to go over and wash Miss Edith’s dishes and laundry? Dawn. When they need someone to hostess a bridal shower or a baby shower, who do they call? Dawn.

Dawn feels too guilty to say no to anyone. (Plus, who would she be if she wasn’t a worker? What would her identity be? But that’s another discussion for another chapter.) Her busyness has affected her marriage because her husband feels that she has put her responsibilities to the church as a priority above their marriage. It has affected her health. She has panic attacks, stomach problems, and is prone to colds. She has toyed with thoughts of changing jobs or leaving the church. And once, in the throes of a crisis, she broke down and admitted that she has started to question God.

My friend Eliza once told me that if the enemy can’t kill us, he’ll sure do his best to wear us out. If he can wear us out, then we won’t be able to be effective for the Kingdom.

Anne Jackson says this: Satan…has been plotting since the fall to ruin mankind, and what better place to start than with the one group of people whose purpose it is to share life with a hurting world.

God has called us to a relationship with Him and to help others find a relationship with Him. If we are too busy to spend time with Him, how can we expect to have what we need to do what He has called us to do? And more than that, don’t you just plain miss God sometimes? I know that I do.

I want to end with something I said in the comments on last week’s discussion. In John 15, God calls us to abide in the vine, not to strive with the vine. When we just cling to Jesus (the vine) then He will cause us to grow and our fruit will nourish those around us. In that place, we don’t have to strive or work or struggle. We just abide.

Do you ever feel that even in the midst of working for God, that you are missing Him? Have you ever seen your ministry get in the way of your earthly relationships? Do you ever feel isolated in the midst of your ministry?

Please feel free to join in the conversation by posting a comment. You may do so anonymously if you wish. And please join us next week at Jason’s site for Chapter 3!

About Sarah Salter


  1. Sarah, from a previous post you used the concept of balance. Abiding in the vine is part of that balance. We receive so we can give, but we can’t just give and give and give. Paul talks about the Body of Christ in 1 Corinthians 12 and how the Church is suppose to be that Body. We all are all not an eye, an ear, a mouth, an arm or a leg. We are each given gifts to combine with those gifts of others in the body so that we we work together in abiding, the entire body comes together, is balanced and does the work of the Kingdom. Too often, though, people are not looking for what their gift or gifts and they rely on others which leads to burnout. When we realize what’s happening we must step back, acknowledge to God where we are and our need for HIS help. Then we can recover and again become the funtioning portion of HIS Body HE intended us. Often that requires us finding another brother or sister in faith we wholeheartedly trust to help us find our way back into full health.

  2. I work full time as an engineer in the “secular” world. And I serve full time as an elder, volunteer, worship team member, and navigator for my smaller sized church. I also grew up as a pastor’s kid just like Anne Jackson did. So I’ve been in the church physically and spiritually my entire life. However, I have never felt burnout….yet. But maybe it is lying dormant, waiting to strike. I loved chapter 2 because it spelled out several statistics and facts, and as an engineer I love statistics and facts. And these facts prompted me to examine my life against them. It was eye opening for me. But even more, as a elder in my church, it opened my eyes to fact that I need to protect my pastor. One of my goals should be to protect him from burnout, at all costs. There is no more powerful or fundamental expression of a pastor’s leadership than the preaching of the Word. And based on “the emergency” of chapter 2, I need to urgently make sure that he is protected so that he can effectively preach the Word. I need to encourage him in getting sleep, eating healthy, having solitude, fostering his own communion with God, etc. Despite the harsh reality of chapter 2, it was encouraging to me in this way.

    Thanks for having this book discussion!

  3. This chapter hit home because of the delusion we embrace as pastors. The statistics that Anne cited were that most pastors thought their families were fine while they felt other pastors’ families were not doing as well. It’s so easy to ignore what’s in front of our faces and believe lies for “the greater good.” The question is are we following Jesus or our own sense of ambition and duty? As you said, Sarah, ministry flows from Jesus. If we are in Him we do what needs to be done and we are refreshed (though it may not be easy in the least). When things start to grind to a halt, we need to examine closely instead of “pressing on.”

    For me as a leader, I need to be watchful and I want others to be watchful that we don’t let people get to the point of burning out. An intervention might need to take place even though everything looks “fine.”

    To Ryan, I think the wonderful thing about this book and understanding what God is saying through it is that you may never have to deal with burnout. If we really get these principles and apply them, we can embrace relationship over busyness. And it’s encouraging to me as a pastor that you read this and thought of how to care for your own pastor.

  4. Sarah Salter says:

    Jason, I think a lot of non-pastors also live with the delusion that their families are fine while they feel other people’s families aren’t doing so well. I think that human nature is that it’s easier for me to see the imperfections in you than to see the imperfections in me. I also think a lot of that delusion comes from the fact that we get tunnel vision and get focused on the ministry and lose track of where the rest of our lives are. As long as no huge flashing lights or loud warning sirens are going off in our faces, we just assume that because we’re focused on God’s work, that the rest of our life is continuing in a quiet and orderly fashion. But that’s just not so. And it’s very easy as a preacher’s kid to say, “While my Dad was out saving the world, I was going to hell.” But it doesn’t HAVE to be that way.

  5. Preach it, Sarah! I’m totally with you. I think this needs to be our battle cry in a lot of things, “It doesn’t HAVE to be this way.”

  6. Sarah Salter says:

    Ryan, I’ll echo what Jason said… If your eyes are open, you don’t HAVE to become burned out. And praise God that your heart is to protect your pastor from it! Thank you!

  7. Shinyhalo3:16 says:

    Hey everybody,
    Just ran home from work for a minute. I know what it feels like to get “burnout” in the ministry. I have had a ministry at church where we worship in sign language and body language. It is an awesome ministry where lots of souls have been saved. But…………I was sooooo tired! I felt like I had actually let God down! I felt like a fake. And….so ashamed to admit that I dreaded my practices with the kids, etc.
    I had even tried to just quit it all. I didn’t realize that others were feeling the same way as me until I started reading this book. It has really opened my eyes and made me do a complete turn around with my ministry. I had started feeling resentful of the people who would sit on the pew and enjoy the services with no obligations to any kind of ministry. I called them pew warmers. I am feeling a lot better about the situation since starting the book. I am normal with this aren’t I?

  8. Sarah Salter says:

    Mabel (aka Shinyhalo3:16)- YES! You are quite normal! I wrote a blog post a while back where I talked about the parable of the old and new wineskins that I think can apply to burned out Christians, too… The reason that the old wineskins burst is because the sediment from the wine settles into the pores on the inside of the wineskins. Over time, this sediment wears on the wineskin and causes it to burst. The important thing to note here is that the wineskin didn’t do anything wrong– it was just doing its job! BUT there’s hope for the wineskin (and for us) because there’s a way to keep the wineskin from bursting. The method for cleaning the sediment out of the wineskin is to wash it in the water and then beat it on the rock. The water softens it and then the beating knocks the sediment out. For us, the water is the Word of God. When you start to sense that the sediment is building up in your pores (so to speak), immerse yourself in the Word and then just hang on for the ride! (I also suggest seeking a bit of counsel. It helps! Just make sure it’s objective, loving, Godly counsel.) Did that all make sense? If not, ask and I’ll clarify. When I wrote it before it was a 1,000 word post and not just a blog comment. 🙂

  9. During most of my 20s and before I was married I:

    -Ran a mid-week children’s program for kids age 2-5th grade during the school year;
    -Was a guide during Sunday school (helped families get their kids to the right rooms);
    -Taught Sunday School during the summer;
    -was the recreation director for a summer camp for 4th-6th graders;
    -Was the volunteer admin for the Children’s Pastor;
    -Taught VBS every summer;
    -Performed with the puppet ministry;
    -Went on three mission trips to Mexico;
    -Participated in every children-related special event like Kid’s Night Out, etc.; and
    -Worked part-time in the church office as the only graphic designer/publications person.

    Along with a full time job, I did this for seven years (though I worked in the church office for only the last two of those years). Honestly, I loved every minute of it until the last 1-2 years. I still loved what I was doing to some extent, however, I was so immersed in ministry all the time and for so long, that I think I was suffering from a little burnout in the end.

    To some extent, the burnout was caused by other influences. Working together with a team of people can be both very rewarding, but also very toxic if some of the members start causing problems.

    I worked very hard to stay out of the negative drama that went on behind the scenes, and prayed to stay focused to ensure my motivation for all this work was not just for works-sake (or pride), my heart definitely desired to bring as many children as I could to the feet of Jesus.

    Eventually I realized that I felt God calling me away from doing all these things. But I didn’t know how to leave. And instead of doing what I knew God was telling me to do, I continued on working until things got so bad I was forced to walk away. It nearly destroyed me.

    I wished that Anne had written this book 10-12 years ago. I could have used it back then. Perhaps a lot of the drama and damaged souls could have been avoided?

  10. Sarah Salter says:

    Thanks for your comment, Ginny! And it brings us to another point that Anne makes in Chapter 2. ONE person can negatively affect a whole ministry. Which is why it is SO important to stay in right relationship with God so that you can avoid that. Thanks again, Ginny!

  11. Good for you Ginny for trying to guard against the negativity. Too many people just fall right into that trap. I’m still reeling from how widespread this problem is. I know I shouldn’t be surprised, but I am. Glad we can find healing and glad we can attempt to do things differently…

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