Mad Church Disease

Update: Since writing this post, an expanded version of this book has been published. I’ve not read it, but the page numbers referenced in this post may be different.

“Through sincere pain and an obvious desire to change, Bill (Hybels) openly confessed that ‘the way I was doing the work of God was destroying the work of God in my life.'” Forward, p9

In the first chapter, Anne Marie Miller (formerly Anne Jackson) describes some of the atrocities her family endured when her father was a pastor. Our diaries are surprisingly similar.

“The greatest commandments are what? To love God and to love our neighbors as we love ourselves. In most cases, I don’t question our love for God. The passion and intensity with which we go about our lives are small indicators of our love. But we are guilty of not loving ourselves. The statistics don’t lie. And even if they did, I’m sure you could conclude from your own experience that, quite frankly, we’re pretty terrible at loving ourselves.” p.56-57

Chapter 3: Internal Risk Factors

Type A and Type B personalities are both at risk. Type B’s can have a difficult time saying “no.” “Dean’s strengths of being sensitive and friendly also became his weaknesses. Because he didn’t know how to set boundaries, his approach began handicapping him. Soon his bucket became empty. He no longer had the energy to minister to others in the way he knew was necessary. His growing ineffectiveness triggered a depression, and he eventually left the ministry.” p.64-65

Another case study: Cindy grew up in a home with strict and high expectations and little affirmation. “Fast forward fifteen years. Cindy now works as the volunteer women’s director in her church. She also serves in the children’s ministry and occasionally sings in the choir…Instead of trying to appease her parents, she tries to appease her ministry leader. She often takes work home with her, staying connected to her phone and email at all times. If something comes up, she doesn’t want to let the ball drop. She’s afraid that if she unplugs for even a moment, she’ll be letting her team down.” p.65-66

Chapter 4: External Risk Factors

AJ likens ministry environment to the furnace in Daniel.

“Here’s the reality: there is no perfect environment out there.”

(And my favorite part in the whole book) “And generally speaking, most people you run into in the church world are great, loving, caring people.

Stop laughing.

I meant that.

But I’m going to guess that more than half of you reading this at least smirked at that “great, loving, caring” line. Why?

Because you’ve been there–where it’s not great.”

Other external risk factors:
Unclear expectations
Conflicts in personality or values
Mismatch of job skills/passions
Old-school church politics
New-school church politics
No freedom to dream

A quote from “John’s story”:

This entire situation shook my belief in God and the church to the core. I would love to say that I did everything right and that I voiced concerns about inappropriate activities at every turn. Instead, I remained quiet most of the time. I didn’t think that expressing concerns would do any good. I was afraid that it would just worsen my situation.


“The healthiest leaders I know are the ones who are transparent in their conversations with me and honest with the issues they struggle with. And the reverse is true also. The sickest leaders I know are the ones who are hyperperfect and obsessed with pleasing onlookers.” p.92 Mike Foster, founder of and coauthor of Deadly Viper Character Assassins

My biggest indicator of burnout is how I treat people…If I find myself losing my patience with people quickly and my thoughts become negative toward friends and family, or I find myself withdrawing from relationships, this means I’ve entered a danger zone. p.93

“…one of the best things I did was to identify those things in my life that are most important, and I invest in them each day.” p.101 Wayne Cordeiro, senior pastor, New Hope Christian Fellowship, Oahu, Hawaii

“The first step in overcoming burnout is to own up to the decisions that have led you here.” p 106

The exception to this rule is physical, sexual or emotional abuse at some point in your life. The author went through some abuse during high school. A counselor helped her realize that, “even though I needed to let go of the guilt I was carrying in thinking that the abuse was my fault, I needed to take responsibility for working through the pain.” p.107
I sort of sped through the remainder of the book which is about the recovery process. Mostly it’s doing the basics of taking care of ourselves physically, emotionally, and spiritually.

The author wound up in the hospital before she began to make the necessary changes.

The book is dedicated to her grandfather, whose final words to her were, “never give up on church.”

She promised him she wouldn’t.

I never made that promise, and I’m still struggling with this.

I actually haven’t given up on the idea of fellowship with other believers, but more than ever, I’m questioning the institution we call church.


Comments are welcomed and appreciated.

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3 thoughts on “Mad Church Disease

  1. Thanks for visiting and asking the question.

    My short answer is worshiping simply in small groups, taking care of each other, feeding the hungry, taking care of widows and orphans, healing the sick, setting the captives free, which to me doesn’t mean marketing enough so that hopefully a few lost/sick/bound souls will walk into one of our commercial buildings.

    Thus, the title of this blog. Off Grid Worship.

    I’m actually not sure how rational I am at the moment. I’m in recovery from my most recent institutional church burnout.

    In the past, I didn’t realize it was burnout. I always thought it was just me not being able to “hang in there.”

  2. Saw your blog on twitter – thanks for the review – It seems that a lot of Pastors and church leaders know the information contained in the book but don’t practice it…. with good intention they keep going and going until apparently they burn out. Seems crazy but it also seems true. Even with this reality I like your closing statements from the book about not giving up on Church…. it’s something that I think we all should commit to.