Mad Church Disease – Chapter 6 – Recovery

Welcome one and welcome all to the sixth installment of our discussion of Anne Jackson’s fabulous book, Mad Church Disease: Overcoming the Burnout Epidemic. We (my partner-in-discussion, Jason, and I) are happy to have you here whether you’ve read the book or not. We sincerely believe that each and every one who has ever experienced ministry—from either side of the pulpit—can benefit from these discussions. Feel free to stay, read, and discuss!

For the last five weeks, we’ve dissected what it means to be burned out. Now, heading into Chapter 6, we’re ready to discuss what it means to recover from burn out.

In the book, Anne shares five principles to recovery. I’m going to list them here and probably mention all of them, but I’m going to concentrate on the areas that I feel that I can speak to the most. Jason (and other participants) feel free to concentrate on the areas that I don’t have time/space here to discuss.

The Five Principles of Recovery:

1.       Accept Responsibility For Your Decisions

2.       Change Your Purpose

3.       Make A Plan

4.       Create Boundaries

5.       Find Accountability

When I first became a Christian, and each time I’ve gone to another level of my relationship with Christ, I have panicked. The feeling I get is a lot like the feeling I had when I was 18 years old and on a dare, I climbed to a 12-foot platform over a swimming pool to dive in. When I got on that platform, I looked down and thought, “Sarah, you are completely insane! You are going to kill yourself!” I turned around to climb back down the ladder and the person who had dared me was standing at the bottom saying, “Sorry, Sarah, the only way down is to jump!”

As we stand here together on the 12-foot platform facing recovery from burn-out, there are some things we need to remember.

First, we have to accept responsibility for our decision to climb the 12-foot platform. Honestly, that was never really my problem. My problem was the next three steps…

Change my purpose? I had a lot of problems with that. First of all, change is not something that I particularly adore. And wouldn’t a person have to KNOW their purpose in the first place to be able to change it? I was notorious for falling into whatever ministry opened their door to me. I was desperate to prove my ability and my worth. And the churches that I went to were desperate enough for help to not particularly concern themselves with whether I was particularly called or gifted in an area. Because of that, I found myself struggling under a lot of burdens that were never in the neighborhood of my gifting or calling. Once people saw that I was a worker, they developed an expectation that I would always be there, always do what I was asked to, and never say no. Then, when I couldn’t be there, couldn’t do what I was asked to do, and said no, that created a lot of friction. All because I hadn’t FIRST gone to my Creator and asked Him what He had created me to do.

Make a plan? I had a plan—to earn everyone’s love and respect—mostly God’s. The steps to that plan pretty much included always saying yes, always showing up, and always giving 100%. (By the way, my plan was doomed to fail—and it did—big time.)

Create boundaries? My answers to the previous two should make it pretty clear that I had no boundaries.

So, when did I figure out my purpose, make a plan, and create boundaries?

I had lived in apartments in the city for most of a decade when my roommate moved out and I found myself unable to pay the rent on my own. God’s solution (which was completely unexpected and pretty much blew my mind) was for me to buy a house in the country. I was in a church situation where I was burned out, but didn’t realize it. Moving me was really God’s way of rescuing me, but I didn’t realize that then, either.

The first thing I recognized was that God was using this move to show me my purpose. Out of the crowded city I would have the time, space, and quiet to focus on my relationship with God. It also gave me a place of sanctuary from my full-time ministry and short term missions. It’s a place to be healed and restored and renewed between battles. It’s a place where I can walk the floors and pray or sing at the top of my lungs without bothering my roommates or the neighbors. And when God showed me all of that, I began to realize that my purpose is to be a warrior—in ministry, in missions, and in prayer. And sometimes, in my writing—which I had strayed away from in the situation I was living/serving.

Once I realized my purpose, God began to give me the plan (during my prayer times) and He had me write it down. And let me interject here that writing it down is so key! When you write a plan down, it makes you far more committed to living it out.

Once the plan took shape, God surrounded me with people that could help me walk out the plan. And He showed me where to make my boundaries. In this instance, He told me not to tell anybody (except my realtor, two close friends, and my parents) what I was doing. He knew that if I told anyone, they would discourage me from doing it and it would poison my confidence. Incidentally, when God finally did let me start telling people (after I’d made an offer on my house and had it accepted), they did exactly what God told me they would. They questioned how a single woman could afford a brand new house. But let me tell you—when God makes the plan, God finances it! By the grace of God, I’ve lived in my beautiful country home for more than three years and I’m paying LESS to buy than I was to rent! It was all God promised it would be and more!

So, how about you guys? Have you ever seen the five principles of recovery at work in your life? How? What are your weak areas?

About Sarah Salter


  1. Do you think that a lot of resistance to change is an indicator of whether one trusts the Lord? I mean really trusts Him. What say you?

  2. Sarah Salter says:

    Denise, in my life, the times that I have resisted change it has been because I haven’t trusted God enough in those areas. I used to beat myself up about that, but then I heard someone talk about how when we don’t change we become stagnant– like a pond that never moves or flows and becomes covered with fungus. Now, when I see change coming, I TRY to remember that the Lord is just trying to stir me up and keep me from becoming stagnant. I have to say, though, that it’s easier said than done.

  3. I think the hardest thing for David and I to do has been to set boundaries. There is so much pressure on pastoring families to have pretty much no boundaries at all. Our houses should be open for anyone to drop in whenever (a practice we have strongly protested, to some small avail), our family time is anything but sacred. And it is very hard to put your foot down and say, no, we won’t be having another night of the week taken up with church activities. Its very hard to turn your cell phone off so you can eat a meal in peace, when your parishioners immediately start complaining that they can ‘never’ reach you. I have pushed and continue to push David in this area. I think now that we are taking some time off from full-time ministry (we resigned Feb. 28th for health reasons related to burnout) we can start to remember, ‘Oh yeah…this is how normal people live…’ and be more firm about those boundaries once we do return to the pastorate again.

  4. Sarah Salter says:

    Dacia, I remember hearing the late Rev. Tommy Tyson, Sr. talking about how as an older man, he realized with great sorrow that he had “stolen” many, many hours from his wife and family. After he had that realization, he learned how when the phone rang and someone said, “Pastor, I need you,” to say, “I can come first thing in the morning. If you need someone now, may I suggest you call Brother/Sister So-And-So.” But I find it very sobering–and clarifying–to think about that phrase he used, that he had “stolen” hours from his family. You know, our first ministries are to our families. Often, I don’t think we or those we minister to understand that… Thanks again for sharing, Dacia! I love you, sister-friend!

  5. I’m with you. Accepting responsibility is never hard for me, but a lot of people struggle with that. I’m more in the camp of ‘I think everything is my responsibility whether it is or not’ 🙂

    You’re so right, this whole process is not easy. If you haven’t had any boundaries and then you introduce them, people will get upset. It is important to note that people rarely get as upset/disappointed/angry as you think they will. I’ve been so apologetic sometimes, thinking a person must hate me, when really they were just asking a question if I could do something or not.

    We can’t let fear win. The reason the psalmist can declare ‘even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I fear no evil’ is because God is with us. If we are no longer with Him and our hearts longing for Him, fear rushes in and can paralyze us (until burnout is inevitable or profoundly lengthened).

    People don’t always (or perhaps rarely) understand what you’re going through–many times even if you tell them. That’s okay. Our relationship with Jesus is to be first and foremost. We do have to find someone who will listen and fully accept us, encouraging and challenging us. So important to the process (and life, really).

    As Anne said in the book, healing hurts. There is pain before restoration, but we can’t get so preoccupied with the first that we miss what God is offering with the second. What a gracious God!

    Okay, I’m shutting up now. 🙂

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