Mad Church Disease

Last year in Uganda Anne told me a little bit about a book she was working on called Mad Church Disease. I thought the concept – ministry burnout and how to overcome it – was oh-so-clever and intriguing since I have several friends in ministry who can hover on the edge of utter exhaustion if they’re not careful. It’s the part of ministry that nobody ever talks about, really – the part where you’re so busy taking care of other people’s needs that you neglect to meet your own. Sometimes you feel distant from your family. Lots of times you even feel distant from God.

Before Christmas I got a copy of Anne’s book in the mail, and after I got past the feeling of being SO STINKIN’ PROUD OF HER, I sat down and read. And read. And read. I thought of many of my friends as I read Anne’s stories and anecdotes. I identified personally with some of the struggles Anne mentions. And I loved the frankness with which Anne addresses it all.

Anne’s making the rounds on several blogs today, and mine is one of them. She offered to answer any questions that I had after reading MCD, so I sent her a question that came up during a conversation with my Bible study friends a couple of months ago. Here it is:

Let’s say someone works as an assistant to a senior pastor / executive pastor / high-up-person-on-the-church-leadership-flowchart. And let’s say that someone who works as an assistant notices that his or her boss is stressed, anxious, tired – basically on the verge of burnout. Do you think there are any specific things that assistant could do for his or her supervisor to lighten the load? Or should the assistant just stay out of it? I ask this because a friend and I had this very conversation a few weeks ago – and I’m not sure we came to any real conclusions.

Her response is so wise:

To answer your question – YES. Absolutely YES. How will depend on that person’s relationship with their supervisor and it could take some serious guts…maybe even putting their job on the line in the worst case scenario….but we have a responsibility to carry each other’s burdens (See Galatians 6).

A few ways the assistant could do this practically:

1. Communicate it directly. Set some time up with the supervisor to specifically address this. Don’t throw it in the mix of another meeting. “The reason I wanted to meet with you today is because I’m concerned.” Explain the behavior you see that is worrying you.

2. Offer any assistance you can provide. If it’s something obvious like a particular project or area of responsibility, THINK AHEAD. Assistants know better than anyone the details of what’s happening. Make a plan ahead of time of how you can lighten the load and recommend it for the supervisor. Otherwise, you’re giving that person more work trying to figure out what you can do.

3. Encourage them consistently and appropriately. When I see my own pastor getting stressed or overwhelmed, or maybe he indicates he’s had a long day, I shoot him a text message or quick email just to say how honored I am to work with him and that his passion for what he does is contagious. Small gifts for his family like a dinner out or offering to babysit so they can have time are both practical ways you can also encourage him.

4. Lead by example. You may be on support staff but people all around you see what you do. Are you contributing to a 24/7 workaholic, always available culture? Or do you have boundaries that you stick by? As an example, I don’t typically check my work email on the weekend. If I do, I won’t respond until Monday unless it’s a legit emergency. This is the culture on our church staff, but it has to be constantly made intentional. Talk freely about the time you spend with your friends or spouse. Leave on time. When you’re sick, stay home. All these things will communicate what is more important…work? Or health?

5. When all else fails, find someone else to help. It may be another pastor, or an elder, or a leader you know your boss trusts. If it doesn’t seem like your concern is having an impact and your leader is still about to fry, talk to someone else respectfully. Don’t spread rumors or talk about it with everyone…but find one or two key people that you know your supervisor will listen to.

Don’t EVER think “I’m just an assistant!” Who cares? You’re a believer! There is no hierarchy when it comes to caring for each other!

See? Isn’t she good?

If you’d like to read a sample chapter from Mad Church Disease, head over to Anne’s blog and follow the links.

You’ll be so glad you did.

  • Twitter
  • Facebook
  • email


  1. This is so helpful–for ANY job. This is a good reminder how we can help those we work with!

  2. Sounds like very sound advice for a touchy subject! I’ll take a look at the chapter! Thanks, friend.


  3. Excellent! We need this book. Thanks for getting the word out. I’ll definitely check out her site and the book.

  4. can’t wait to get this book for my parents…both in church ministry! thanks for sharing!

  5. Excellent!

    Thank you,

  6. I’m de-lurking! Love reading your blog, I laugh ’til I cry sometimes…and can often hear your voice inside my head…I’m sure you could have grew up w/me in East TN!

  7. That book sounds excellent. And she is so right. I think communicating appreciation to our spir leaders is vitally important, because they are so often, sadly, discouraged from people communicating to them the exact opposite. I was a PK and I know whereof I speak.

  8. What a great point she makes about not encouraging a workaholic atmosphere at church. This sounds like a great book.