Mad Church Disease. What a name for a book. It certainly got my attention. I wondered if the author, Anne Jackson, was mad at the church, thought the church was diseased, or both. It sounded scandalous, which can make for an awfully good, nightlight read. Then I read the subheading for the book, "Overcoming the Burnout Epidemic." Now I wasn't so sure I was interested. I spent a lot of years working very hard in full time ministry. I didn't need to read a book that told me what I already knew. Her title compares the ministry burnout in church to mad cow disease, the bovine bug which has no cure, is this the same for the virus affecting so many church leaders?
If it isn't evident by hanging out with your friends who are ministry leaders, here are some recent statistics from The Fuller Institute, George Barna, and Pastoral Care Inc.
90% of the pastors report working between 55 to 75 hours per week.
80% believe pastoral ministry has negatively affected their families. Many pastor's children do not attend church now because of what the church has done to their parents.
33% state that being in the ministry is an outright hazard to their family.
90% feel they are inadequately trained to cope with the ministry demands and 50% feel unable to meet the demands of the job.
70% say they have a lower self-image now than when they first started.
70% do not have someone they consider a close friend.
40% report serious conflict with a parishioner at least once a month.
33% confess having involved in inappropriate sexual behavior with someone in the church .
50% have considered leaving the ministry in the last months.
50% of the ministers starting out will not last 5 years.
94% of clergy families feel the pressures of the pastor's ministry.
The profession of "Pastor" is near the bottom of a survey of the most-respected professions, just above "car salesman".
Over 4,000 churches closed in America last year.
Over 1,700 pastors left the ministry every month last year.
Over 1,300 pastors were terminated by the local church each month, many without cause.
Over 3,500 people a day left the church last year, over 1.25 million people.
Depressing? More than a little.
I watched Anne for a couple of weeks, on her blog, on Facebook and Twitter, and decided she might have something positive to share. I experienced her as being real, taking her own medicine, and having hope; three characteristics that I find highly admirable. I bought her book.
Anne has an axe to grind with the church, or maybe better put, Anne's experience in the ministry was similar to having an axe used on her. She grew up as a Pastor's Kid, experienced the pain of seeing her parents abused, rebelled, came back to organized church life, went on staff and got beat up just as bad as she had on the front end. She could have written a book of why never to go to church; instead she takes her readers on a journey of how to live in ministry safely. If she is bitter, she masks it well, instead I think we see a person who has taken responsibility of her own life and is moving forward despite of the pain. I admire her. Her chapter on Processing Through Pain is one of the strongest in the book.
My favorite sections of Mad Church Disease are Anne's stories, even the painful ones. I wish there was more time spent on the details of her healing. She has researched her facts well and even ends each chapter with an interview with a ministry leader to get their stories and perspective.
It is a very nice written book for this first time author. I'm sure it won't be the last we hear from her.
Who is this book for?
Those who are interested in pastoral care and everyone who serves on a church board (part one is, "How the Burnout Epidemic is Killing the Greatest Call").
Those who are currently in a ministry role (part two is, "Am I at Risk? Examining Risk Factors and Symptoms").
There is medicine here for those affected by burnout and strategies to keep you from heading in that direction (Part three is, "Getting Better," and part four is, "A Path to Health and Recovery").
Final thought: Anne has a blog, http://www.flowerdust.net/, where she engages people on the topics of Anxiety and Depression, Sex and Porn Addiction, Church, Authenticity, and Leadership. It is a good resource for people looking for help. How does having a successful new book and the pressures of a new ministry affect this young author? She took a break from it all during Lent. Just as her book was coming out she took off 40 days of public ministry to make sure she is being healthy. Economically a good idea? Probably not. Feasible for success? Hardly. Sane? Absolutely! This, to me, was the loudest chapter of all.