Mad Church Disease – Chapter 4 Discussion

Happy Wednesday, Folks!

If this is the first Wednesday you’ve dropped by here in a while, let me fill you in on what you’ve missed! A little over a month ago, my pastor/blogger/musician friend, Jason S and I started a series on overcoming burnout in ministry. We gave away a handful of copies of Anne Jackson’s excellent book, Mad Church Disease: Overcoming the Burnout Epidemic. And now, we are on our fourth weekly discussion about burnout. If you missed a discussion, please go see them here:

Chapter 1 – Comparing Mad Cow Disease to Mad Church Disease

Chapter 2 – The Emergency

Chapter 3 – Internal Risk Factors

And today, we move on to Chapter 4, which talks about External Risk Factors.

As I was reading Chapter 4, the overwhelming thought I had was: How many of us have lost track of Who we are serving and why?

Last winter, just before I crashed-and-burned, I remember realizing that I was coming close to burnout. After a period of several weeks of working in ministry all day, then driving 45 minutes from work to my church for choir, praise team, and/or drama team rehearsals, we had opening night of our Valentine’s dinner theatre. Sitting backstage, waiting for my cues, I confided in another choir member that I felt overwhelmed. He suggested that I take a little time off, but I balked at the idea saying, “But Richard, if I don’t do these things, who will I be?”

Richard heard his cue and headed for the stage without finishing the conversation. But I knew that it was something I was definitely going to have to talk to God about. I had stopped finding my identity in God and had begun finding my identity in work.

Along those lines, there were two quotes of Anne’s that made me stop and think.

When we think that our calling is to be the biggest, the most creative, or the best, we have completely lost sight of the only important fact. We are called. (p. 77)

I’ve also realized who I really work for. I work for God. (p. 87)

Today, while I was driving home and pondering this chapter, I had a visual image pop into my mind. I was thinking back to some movies I saw as a child where a person would get trapped in a room and then the ceiling and walls would begin to close in on them. I don’t know about you, but that’s how I feel sometimes. Every time I take on one more responsibility or say yes to one more favor or bring home another briefcase full of ministry work, the ceiling gets lower and the walls begin to press in.

I love ministry. I love being at church and doing God’s work. I feel fully alive when I’m ministering. But each time I take on a load that God has not assigned to me or I try to do a task in my own strength, the box begins to shrink. And it happens so slowly that I don’t notice until I suddenly realize that I’m entombed in my own work and no longer know how to reach the tasks that God has assigned to me.

This week on Twitter, a person asked the question: “How do I know when I’ve taken on too much?”

My answer: if you have to ask, that’s a pretty good indication.

I know in my heart what the answer is. Whenever a task presents itself, I must ask God if I’m to take it on. Then, I only take on those tasks that God has assigned to me.

My problem is that I don’t naturally think like that. When I’m asked to do something, I use my likes and dislikes as a barometer. Or what the pastor or other leaders will think of me. Or that I feel guilty that I said no to that person before. Or that I should because I’m single and childless, so I have less responsibility than the poor lady with six kids that will be stuck with it if I don’t do it.

You see how I got sidetracked there? All of a sudden, it wasn’t about God or what He would have me to do. It was about people. It was about ME.

How do we keep from getting sidetracked? What are some of the thoughts/emotions/other things that sidetracked you? How do you deal with those?

About Sarah Salter


  1. This chapter spoke to me in many ways (but I guess, really, they all have). If I start feeling too much pressure or get overwhelmed, I tend to withdraw. In theory, it’s to protect me from giving myself even more to do, but it brings isolation. When it gets to that point, it takes me a while to see that everything in my life is suffering (relationship with God and people, emotional stability, etc.).

    Keeping first things first (as in, God and obedience to Him) and confronting these issues and feelings instead of running away is what I’m working on. Thank God for His grace. None of these factors have to take me down.

    Reminds me of 1 Peter 5:8, “Be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.” I will stand in God’s strength and grace- alert and ready!

  2. I have WAY too many thoughts on this to contain in this comment space. So I just wrote my own blog response.

    Anyway, as to the two questions you posed, I find myself sidetracked by guilt, people’s expectations, and my own type-A personality that does drive me to be rather competitive about things that should NEVER be a competition.

    The first two I’m still really struggling with. The latter, I look to the story of Mary and Martha and ask myself really what is “better”? What will “not be taken from me”? (Luke 10:41-42) Sometimes I hear Jesus speak to my spirit, “Dacia, Dacia…” just like he did Martha. And I reign myself in…sit at his feet…and remember what is best.

  3. Sarah Salter says:

    Dacia, I clicked on your link and went and read your response on your blog. AWESOME! You’re exactly right! When are you going to write a guest post for me?

  4. Like Jason said, this chapter was great just like the previous three.

    A few lines stuck out to me:
    “Ego can show itself as loud and abrasive, or as subtle and deceiving.” (bottom of pg 75)
    “Skill can only take you so far. It takes heart to fulfill your purpose the way God intends it to be fulfilled.” (middle of pg 80)

    These external factors once again reiterated the fact that we need to protect and equip ourselves properly. It is a constant process and I need to make sure that I remind myself, and especially my pastor, that physical, emotional, relational, and spiritual health is necessary to combat the circumstances that life is filled with.

  5. I’m really glad Shark Bait recommended your blog. I am really enjoying it and learning so much at the same time. Thank you!

  6. Sarah Salter says:

    Denise, thanks for coming by! Shark Bait is a good guy. I’m glad he sent you this direction and I’m glad you’re enjoying it. Please feel free to come by anytime!

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