Depression, Burnout & Ministry: Anne Jackson Interview, Part 1

Today I begin the first part of a two part interview I did with Anne Jackson.  I first heard about Anne around two years ago when one of my church jacksona22co-workers Matt Singley kept referring to some blogger named Flowerdust.  I was told that she was one of the most popular and influential bloggers on the internet.  Immediately intrigued I hopped onto her site and almost immediately felt a breath of fresh air as wrote with an authenticity, vulnerability and purpose that is sometimes hard to find–not only in blogging circles, but the “Christian” world.  Since that day Anne is one of my favorite daily reads and I  really appreciate her insight and passion that is obviously very contagious among her readership.

As you will see from the two-part interview, my main desire behind interviewing her was because of her often “lone voice” in the Christian blogging circles to openly talk about issues of depression, anxiety, mental health and medication.  I think her willingness to talk so openly about these things has resonated with many, many people as is witness by the tons of comments she receives on a daily basis.

51exizsjwkl_sl500_aa240_Oh, and lest I forget, she’s the author of the new book Mad Church Disease: Overcoming the Burnout Epidemic.

Anne, in a sentence or two, what was the impetus behind writing Mad Church Disease?

It was twenty seven years in the making…from watching my own parents burn out in ministry, to my own stress-induced hospital stay, I realized that left and right church leaders are being taken out – yet nobody is talking about it.  I hope this book will catalyze conversations about not only our brokenness, but our health.

As you address the issues of burnout and self-care I was wondering if you have seen a correlation between burnout or lack of self-care and depression?  Do you have any personal examples you could share?

Stress, when accumulated over time, can cause chemical changes in our bodies.  It increases bad hormones and decreases good ones.  As time goes on, these changes can lead to semi-permanent or permanent damage.

Over the two years I allowed the stress to run my life, I noticed how I went from feeling “stressed” to feeling hopeless and unmotivated.  At its worst, there were days when I didn’t even leave my bed.  Ashamed (and again, unmotivated), I withdrew from my relationships and my responsibilities.

One of the reasons I wanted to interview you as you know, is that not many Christians are forthright on the topic of depression, anxiety and what I would describe as adjustment disorders….so why did you decide to be more vulnerable about this issue in such a public forum such as your blog and book?

I remember feeling so alone as I struggled with anxiety and depression…especially in the church world. I would go to services at my church or even as I would hang out with other staff members, it seemed like everyone was so happy and put together.

Those issues became so bad, I had to take a three week leave of absence from work where I started some medication and went to see a counselor.  Talking about it with her made me feel so free.  Go figure…the truth will set you free…that sounds familiar, doesn’t it?

As I began to share what was really going on with my friends and coworkers, many times those same people would share with me their own struggles with anxiety, depression or other issues.

I realize when other people share their struggles with me, it builds an instant bridge of trust. I know I can talk with them because they’ve walked in my shoes.  It also makes a “me too” moment. I think it was Rob Bell who said the words “me too” are the two most comforting words in the English language.

Again, just starting that conversation and allowing others the permission to share knowing they will be welcomed with grace and trust and love – unconditionally, is why I am so passionate about talking about these things.

Why do you think Christians and the Church in general are hesitant to talk openly about these issues?  And do you see that changing?

I think most people see Christians as the goody-two-shoes of society.  We are supposed to be the ones who are perfect and have all of our junk together.  This perception and imposed expectations have gone on for as long as I can see.  When it comes to matters of spirituality, we want to be seen as holy.  Admitting we are flawed somehow makes us less than adequate or worthy.  Unfortunately, the church also has a stigma of judgment when people have been honest with their issues, which only makes people want to hide even more.

There is a generation longing for rawness and honesty. I hope that we will begin to change it.

Stay tuned for Part 2 of my interview with Anne Jackson.

22 Comments

  1. by Jason Taylor on January 23, 2009  10:00 am Reply

    @jasondtaylor
    Rhett great post. We talk a lot with the pastors and leaders we coach about the issue of burnout and I like her word "Epidemic" because it fits. This isn't just a cold bug that goes around a house, it's a full on in your face onslaught that is hitting a lot of today's leaders.

    On my run this morning I was listening to Mark Driscoll's 2nd podcast in his new series Trials and wanted to recommend it to you as you research and post on this subject.

    http://www.marshillchurch.org/media/menu?direction=desc&order_by=date

    Keep up the great work, I'm really enjoying your blog.

  2. by Rhett Smith on January 23, 2009  8:51 pm Reply

    Jason,

    Agree, it is an epidemic. And pastors and ministry leaders all know about it...but we often feed the beast nonetheless!

    rhett

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  11. by Jo Ann Siegfried on June 22, 2009  12:56 pm Reply

    Anne, i am looking forward to getting your book on burn out. A year and a half ago I was burned out, I also had taken birth control pills for 34 tears when I went off I experienced anxiety, not being able to sleep, depression,fear. i took to many sleeping pills because I just couldn't take it any more. I am a stong christian but I thought you weren't supposed to talk about the way I was feeling. I ended up in the Behavorial Center in a hospital nearby. God brought people in my life every step of the way. My family, A counselor, Doctor , medication which I thought christians do not take this type of medicine, my pastor , my friends and my husband who stuck by me. I talked alot too. God has healed me! I still need to take time for myself and realize I cannot do everything. Many times that is hard for women to do. Thank you for being open and honest.

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  15. by A. Amos Love on May 14, 2010  5:01 pm Reply

    Is it possible the reason "Burnout" is such a problem for today's "Pastor/Leader" is
    they have found themselves with a "Title" and "Position" NOT found in the Bible?

    Did anyone have the “Title” “pastor” in the Bible?
    Was anyone ordained a “pastor” in the Bible?
    Were any congregations "led" by a “pastor” in the Bible?

    And every “pastor” I’ve met also had the “Title” “Reverend.”

    Does anyone have the “Title” Reverend in the Bible?

    In my experience...

    Titles become Idols.
    Pastors become Masters.

    Heavy weights on shoulders NOT easy to lay down.

    Jesus taught “His Disciples” NOT to be called “Master/Leader”
    For you have “ONE” “Master/Leader” The Christ. Mat 23:8-10 KJV

    Ezekiel 14:1-7, speaks about "Idols of the Heart,"
    and now God will speak to us according to the "Idols of our Heart."

    And other sheep I have, which are not of this fold:
    them also I must bring, and they shall “hear my voice;”
    and there shall be "ONE" fold, and "ONE" shepherd.
    John 10:16

    One Fold - One Shepherd - One Voice.
    If Not Now, When?

    Be blessed in your search for Truth... Jesus.

    • by Pastor_Alex on June 16, 2011  5:11 pm Reply

      While the words pastor and reverend do not appear in the Bible, we are commanded to feed the sheep and the lambs. We are also told to be prophets and to speak truth boldly and in love.

      The Bible is full of people who burn out. Elijah burned out and hid in the desert where he was fed by ravens. I lived this except for me it was food banks instead of ravens. David has his periods of burn out too.

      I think Jesus avoided burn out by spending as much time in prayer as he did being with the people. Folks were always off looking for him as he had wandered away again. We are too tied to our schedules and offices and need to keep the people happy to just wander into the wilderness and seek God.

      I will be checking back for part two.

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