Ever heard the phrase, "It's like putting an alcoholic in a bar?" I found myself sharing those words a few months ago when a mentor asked me what my experience has been like as a senior pastor. I said, "It's like putting an alcoholic in a bar." He looked at me in a caring, confused, and curious way. I responded to his curious look with these words...
"I struggle with anxiety. And, I was unprepared for just how difficult, challenging, and anxiety-inducing pastoral work can be."
"Anxiety-inducing pastoral work."
Hi. My name is Paul and I struggle with anxiety.
Being a pastor who struggles with an anxiety disorder is like being an alcoholic in a bar. Why? Because, the temptation to drink for an alcoholic is similar to the temptation of a pastor to allow others' anxieties to trigger their own anxiety. Pastoring is anxiety-inducing work. In any given week, a pastor could be called on to do deal with the following anxieties which other people express...
I wish, I beg, I plead often with God that he would take away my anxiety. Walking the floor at 2 o'clock in the morning because I cannot sleep, having a tight chest and fearing I am having a heart attack, wanting my mind to slow down but cannot get it to do so, have all led to times where I have cried out to God in a very raw, angry, sad, and vulnerable way. "God, I cannot do this...".
I feel like a slave sometimes to anxiety, like it owns me. I am controlled by it. I hate it. I hate feeling like I cannot escape it. I feel so overwhelmed and helpless. The anxiety may not kill me now, but I wonder if it will kill me later.
In a weird twisted way, I sometimes see anxiety as a gift. A gift that causes me to not only read the words of 2 Corinthians 12, but to actually digest and mediate upon and wrestle with the deeply hopeful words of Christ, "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness." When I am up at 2 o'clock in the morning pacing the floor, when I find my mind and heart racing, when I cry out to God in mental pain, I realize that I am a very, very weak individual. And then, I cling to God's promise, "My power is made perfect in weakness."
"My power is made perfect in your anxiety."
To quote St. Paul, "Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ's power may rest on me." Anxiety sucks. I mean it really really sucks. But, if it causes me to be more dependent upon Jesus Christ, then I see it not only as a burden, but as a gift.
The above words are not some pie-in-the-sky theology or philosophy. Again, I often find myself most angry at and sad towards God when I am experiencing an anxiety attack. But, from the depth of my being, the above words are true. I have a richer, strong, and more honest prayer life because of my anxiety.
Back to the bar analogy...I think churches often forget that their pastors are human beings who struggle with their own struggles. And if your pastor struggles with anxiety, please see them as human and ask yourself, "Does my pastor really need to know this today?" Every time a church member walks up to a pastor and casts their anxiety upon him or her, that church member is doing two things; not casting their anxiety upon Christ and metaphorically giving their anxious-ridden pastor an anxious drink. If your pastor politely turns and walks away, don't be offended. We encourage alcoholics who walk away from bars. Let's encourage anxious-ridden pastors who walk away from anxiety.
“Cast all your anxiety on him (God) because he cares for you.”
1 Peter 5:7 (NIV)
Paul is the husband to Tara, father to Natalie and Isaac, has an average jump shot, and enjoys running. His secret wish is to one day become a Jedi Knight. Paul holds a doctorate in marriage and family counseling from Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary and currently serves as senior pastor of Hardinsburg Baptist Church. Paul desires to help young couples navigate the early crucibles of marriage, especially when one or both of the spouses are engaged in vocational ministry.