Anne Marie Miller Helps Church Leaders Avoid Burnout
Anne speaks at colleges, conventions and churches on topics of social justice, sexuality, health, addiction, and general Biblical themes of grace and restoration. She has traveled around the United States and to over 20 countries telling the stories of hope found in least likely places. In today’s podcast she gives some insights and practical advice for church leaders dealing the pressures of leading today.
Anne Marie Miller [website]
Interview Highlights //
00:43 // Rich appreciates Anne Marie’s video background
00:59 // Anne Marie shares her ministry story growing up
01:25 // Her pastor dad resigned to avoid a church split and has been heart broken ever since
02:27 // Anne Marie experienced burn out in her early church ministry career and was hospitalized
03:26 // Ministry is 24/7 and without boundaries this is stressful
05:18 // Her dad would go to great extremes to protect their family on his time off
05:49 // It’s ok to say no…Jesus did in Luke 4.
06:25 // Anne Marie shares some personal Sabbath practices
07:58 // Anne Marie shares some practical Sabbath tips
09:55 // Ironically Anne Marie struggled personally when she was re-releasing her book ‘Mad Church Disease’
11:43 // She shares the story behind the inspiration of this book.
16:17 // Anne Marie encourages listeners that they are not alone.
Lightning Round Highlights
Helpful Tech Tools // BuzzFeed Quizzes!
Ministries Following // Gospel Coalition, Proverbs 31
Influential Book // ‘I Want God’ by Lisa Whittle
Inspiring Leader // Barack Obama
What does he do for fun? // Travel Adventures with her Husband, puppy
Interview Transcript //
Rich – Well good morning everybody! Happy Thursday! It’s the unSeminary Podcast. My name’s Rich Birch, your host! Thank you so much for listening in. Today we have a real treat. We have author, blogger and just all around amazing person, Anne Marie Miller. Thank you so much for being on the show today!
Anne Marie – Thank you for having me. I wouldn’t say amazing, but thank you!
Rich – You know it’s funny. I was saying earlier, I think you have the best looking back ground of anyone that’s been on the show. We should send you some sort of award. Your glasses are really fogging up too. Why don’t we start. Give us a sense of your background. Tell us the Anne Marie story.
Anne Marie – Well I grew up in the church. I was a preacher’s kid. Southern Baptist. West Texas. I mean think tumble weeds. Think tractor rides. Think no friends because there were no children where I lived. So I was kind of immersed in that church culture right away. I think if my mom could have birthed me in a church she probably would have but she chose the Methodist Hospital instead so I guess it’s like the next best thing.
Rich – Close.
Anne Marie – There were no Baptist Hospitals where we lived. It’s a very important distinction. My dad left the ministry when I was 16. He burnt out. We had some really nasty West Texas politics that I guess he was just left with the decision to either split the church or resign. He did nothing wrong. There was no moral failing. He was actually wanting to reach out to our community because it was very unchurched. So to keep unity he resigned and that broke his heart and here we are 18 years later, it’s still very broken. But that was a shift in my life because I was like, everything I’ve learned in the church, it doesn’t line up with what I’ve seen, so I’m done. And for the next probably 5 or 6 years I lived a very agnostic type life. And 21 year old, teenage angst, car accidents and boy friends and drama kind of pointed me back to God and church and I started falling in love all over again. I started working vocationally in ministry when I was 23. Burned out when I was 25. Went through some recovery and healing and again fell in love with the church and the people that serve so hard, and minister so much. It’s a tough job and I really came to understand that. I know I was young, 25 and 10 years later now and here we are. I no longer work vocationally for a church but just my heart breaks for the pain that a lot of people go through, that a lot of our pastors and their families go through. But I want to bring some health and redemption and some beauty there. It’s just really hard to see when you are in that pit and it’s really hard to get out of.
Rich – Absolutely. Why do you think ministry is so prone to burn out? Why do you think it seems to be set up to do that? Why is that?
Anne Marie – I think it’s 24/7. I mean you are always going to have people and people are messy, and broken and people are typical and people are beautiful, but it’s this tension, this duality of how do you take care of yourself and other people. It’s never ending. The phone calls in the middle of the night because there was a car accident, or their husband beat them, or a teenager tried to commit suicide. Those are very dramatic experiences, but those are experiences I know I’ve gone through in my own ministry and you can’t shut it off. The question is, do you know how to balance, and I don’t like that word but do you know how to balance your life so that when those emergencies come up you have the margin to take care of them. Dr. Archibald Hart says, ‘Burn out is the accumulation of stress over time.’ So of course ministry is stressful, but if you allow that to accumulate and never take breaks from that, never take Sabbath…God put that Sabbath in for a reason…you are going to burn out. I see it happening. Once you have burned out it’s really hard to get back on that path of healing again, that path of hope and that place of abundance that God so desperately want’s us to have.
Rich – Now what would you say? How do church leaders take a break? It is that 24/7, a lot of us church leaders listening that can identify with that. There are so many demands on my time and my life. What are some practical boundaries or fences that you’ve seen people take that’s help them relieve that stress.
Anne Marie – I understand it’s hard. First let me say just that. I’ve seen it through my family growing up and being in small towns in West Texas, people just drop by your house anytime. So I saw how my dad faced that. Again 24/7. But remember on holidays or certain vacation days if we weren’t able to afford to leave our house or go out of town, he would close all the curtains and lock the door and we were not to leave the house. He would hide our cars. It would make it look like we were gone. In that way he would protect our family for a day or two days just so no one would come by. It sounds mean in one way because what if someone really needed him. But I see in Luke 4 Jesus is with the apostles and he’s healing and casting out demons and they are working hard. It says they don’t even have time to eat. After they are done they go away and the town follows him. “Wait, wait wait, don’t go, we are not done yet. There are still people…’ He said, ‘No, I need to be about my Father’s business.’ He had this kingdom mindset. He was the bigger picture. If he were to stay in Capernum, knowing what we know, Christianity as we know it wouldn’t have happened. It’s ok to say no. You have to do it. I struggle with that still but you have to set aside time. Some practical things. We turn off our phones at 5. No checking social media unless there is something very abnormal happening. No checking email. My husband and I limit out time online. We have intentional date nights. We take time off even if it is just a couple days to get away. At least once a week we unplug from everything. Hanging out in community. I’m an introvert so I need time by myself to refresh. He’s an extrovert. Sometimes being in community. just because I am an introvert, doesn’t mean I hate people. But being around my friends that don’t require that energy is very refreshing. I know that there’s a lot of lonely pastors and lonely church leader who are sometimes in big churches and they are in small groups, but sometimes they are still lonely. It takes that intentionality to connect with others and connect with God and to not be afraid to sit by ourselves too.
Rich – Absolutely. I love that picture of your dad closing all the window, closing everything off. I think that’s a great visual picture of, sometimes you have to go to extreme to celebrate the Sabbath. You’ve got to do what it takes to make that happen. That’s a beautiful picture from him for you. have you heard anything, or bumped into a church leader that had a similar kind of extreme that had a ritual or pattern around Sabbath that you were like, ’That’s particularly intriguing?’
Anne Marie – Ya. It actually doesn’t sound all that intriguing or interesting, but my friend Brett Smith. He was in ministry and now he’s a counsellor, he has tech basket by the front door. That’s where they put their cel phones when they come home after work, and if they need to go check it, usually they don’t, but if they need to go check it, they have to go to the tech basket, leave it there. They are not bringing it into the house. And I thought that was really cool. A pastor friend of mine, turns offf his phone, and change his voice mail. He’s the leader pastor of a small church plant. He will turn off his voice mail on Saturdays and say, ‘iI’s my day off. If you need help call so and so and leave their phone number.’ If there is an emergency, it’s ok. They enable people in their lives to take care of those emergencies. I think we are afraid sometimes. ‘What if I turn off my phone and someone is in trouble…what if I do this and I’m not there and I lose my job over it?’ I know it’s super churchy but we just have to trust God’s sovereignty and respect the Sabbath that he gave us as a gift to operate out of that rest. We need to trust that rest and that everything will be OK when we take that break. If we are listening, communing with the Holy Spirit that will just happen.
Rich – Now what about you? This may be too personal of a question. Now what area do you have a hard time unplugging from. I would imagine, you are in an interesting spot as these are the kinds of things that you speak about, so I would imagine that these are areas in which you have struggled in turning things off.
Anne Marie – Oh ya. There are many areas. I just rereleased ‘Mad Church Disease’ which is a book on burnout. I almost burned myself out while rewriting and editing that because I was so intensely trying to finish it that it was stressing me out. Work can be hard for me to turn off. Social media isn’t that hard for me to turn off because I kind of don’t like it. I have this expectation of what a perfect wife does. I am a newly wed. We’ve been married for a year and a half. So I place these expectations on me of like keeping a perfect house and making the most gourmet dinner every day. He gives me so much grace in saying, “I don’t expect these things from you and you need to take a break and wind down from that.’ But sometimes I don’t allow myself space between managing the wife thing and managing travel and managing writing and managing friends and life and that sort of thing.
Rich – Nice. You know one of the things that I appreciated, we tried to book this interview a couple times, and I appreciated that you had boundaries around that. I was like, that’s great! Good for you! Obviously if it doesn’t work out for us on whatever day it was that it didn’t work out, that’s great. I encourage you in that. Sometimes availability isn’t a great thing. The fact that you are always available created tension in peoples lives. I would love for you to tell us about ‘Mad Church Disease’ and your writing. I think you have a new book coming out. Why don’t you tell us about that?
Anne Marie – ‘Mad Church Disease’ was my very first book I wrote coming out of church burnout. I was 25 years old coming out of a fairly large church and had just taken a job from support staff to leadership staff. So hear I am really one of the only women on leadership staff and I felt like I needed to prove myself to the pastors of the church, also if I worked hard for God that he would love me more. That was kind of the way I was operating from. I ended up burning out to the point where I was hospitalized for a week. I had inflammation. They thought it was appendicitis so they admitted me and were running tests. Well, it’s not appendicitis so they said they were going to keep running tests for a week. The two years that I was in ministry / vocational ministry, I had gained 40 pounds. I had acid reflux. I was eating Taco Bell almost every day because it was right across the street from the church and I didn’t want to leave. I wasn’t taking days off. We were producing about 10 services a weekend and that kind of fell on me for the most of that time. ‘If I didn’t do my job, people aren’t going to get saved.’ My heart wasn’t right. So the doctors came in at the end of my stay and said, ‘You don’t have cancer, IBS, gall bladder stones. How’s your stress?’ I had a family member with me at the time and they were like, ‘She doesn’t take time off.’ And I’m like, ‘I work at a church. I love my job! And Jesus is great!’ They were like, ‘If you don’t change whatever you are doing there, you are going to end up back in the hospital within a year and I don’t know what we can tell you, your body is just kind of attacking itself.’ So that was kind of my wake up call. I took three weeks leave of absence. I started going to counseling. I started eating better and over the course of about 9 months I lost that weight. I looked around, I am not the only one burning out. I had my own church staff. The internet was kind of booming and people were blogging about how people were stressed and anxious and overweight and depressed and they weren’t operating out of joy. Why aren’t there resources for this!? So I started a website for people to kind of, not complain on, but for people to share their stories and for people to just know that they are not alone. And within a couple days, I think we had over a 1000 responses or 1200 responses from people just sharing their story. This hit a nerve. Now what do we do with this? How do we practically help people who are burning out? So we addressed the spiritual, the physical, the emotional and the relational. And that’s kind of where that book was born out of, a need for resource. It’s very practical. It’s nothing new. Research and healthy stuff….the heard is, where is your walk with God. A pastor came into my office, I had returned from my leave of absence…he said, ‘Is working in this church, is serving in this church interfering with your community with Christ?’ I was like, ‘Oh my gosh!’ It wasn’t the churches fault. Being 25, I wasn’t mature enough at the time so it was very easy for me to point fingers and say, ‘They demand this and she demands this…’ I had to own up and take responsibility for that. Eventually I learned that it wasn’t the best church for me and I did resign. But the book was born and I learned that was the hardest thing, for not just pastors, but teens, family, anybody really, that they can implement in their lives. Even if it is just tackling it one area at a time, even if it is just getting a little bit healthier, focusing on spiritual health first and then the rest all falls back into place.
Rich – Very cool. It’s a great read. I highly recommend it. I think we can all identify. We all have a slice of your story in us and so I appreciate your heart and not wanting to see people end up in the hospital and not end up in some sort of train wreck situation. I appreciate that. Is there anything else you want out listeners to hear before we jump into the Lightning Round?
Anne Marie – So much pressure! My bottom line, in every book I have written, I have written a couple more, is that you are not alone! No matter if you are struggle in in your work, ministry, work as a stay at home mom…I have a friend that is really, really wrestling with being a stay at home mom, or whatever your occupation your are in…whether you don’t have community or you feel like you are alone, or you are going through depression or anxiety, or something’s wrong with your marriage, or whatever it is, you are not alone. if you just reach out and ask for help, God will honor that requests, your desire to live authentically, and I promise there is joy on the other side of that!