In the early 1990’s I stepped out of pastoral ministry for four years to do clinical counseling in a large metropolitan clinic.  In that setting I encountered the entire spectrum of emotional and mental health issues that people contend with.  I had encountered many of these issues in my pastoral ministry as I interacted with people in the church, so I was not blindsided by the experience.  One big surprise however, was the high incidence of anxiety among the cross-section of my client caseload.  Rarely did a day go by where I was not dealing with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, Generalized Anxiety, Panic Disorder, or phobias of one form or another.  Even those who presented with other issues such as depression or marital conflict, often had significant levels of anxiety as complicating factors in their presentation.

Fast forward to 2015.  In my view, anxiety has become one of the most significant and prevalent health issues of our day.  Although it is evident in all generations, it appears to be on the rise in the younger population.  Worry and fear are becoming predominant features in the lives of many people, and Christians are not exempt.  From vaccinations to the foods we eat, anxiety is tightening its grip.  Social media is fanning the flames of anxiety and Christians who desire to be responsible stewards of their lives can fall prey to the growing hysteria.  How does one exercise good stewardship, making good choices for themselves and their families, while not succumbing to those who promote fear?

This is not just a mental health issue, this is a theological issue.  Paul gave us clear direction:

Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present
your requests to God.  And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts
and your minds in Christ Jesus.   (Philippians 4:6-7, NIV)

In this context, peace is not the absence of conflict, it is the absence of anxiety.  Conflict, difficult circumstances and tough decisions will always be with us, but in the midst of these things we can have peace.  How is this accomplished?

  • By fostering a life of prayer (4:6)
  • By fostering a spirit of thanksgiving (4:6)
  • By trusting God to guard your heart and mind (4:7)
  • By being intentional in the way you think (4:8)
  • By practicing what you’ve learned (4:8)

Paul went on in his letter to the Philippians to say,

I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances.  I know what it is to be in need, and I know what
it is to have plenty.  I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed
or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.  I can do everything through him who gives me strength.
(Philippians 4:11b-13)

In these verses Paul defines peace as contentment.  It is a satisfaction of the soul, regardless of the circumstances of life.  As leaders in the church, it is important that we help our people discover the secret to this kind of peace.  Like our salvation, this peace is found only in Jesus Christ (4:13).  It will never be found by doing one more google search for airborne pathogens, or by clicking on the latest Facebook post about right-wing or left-wing political conspiracies.  Yes, ISIS is a real threat in our world, and sharks do at times inhabit the waters off the Carolinas, but Jesus has always and will always desire to be the master of our lives and the master of our thoughts.  In part, church leadership is about helping God’s people to live in submission to His authority and control in their lives, helping them to experience what David spoke about in Psalm 40:

I waited patiently for the Lord, he turned to me and heard my cry.  He lifted me out of the slimy pit, out of the
mud and mire; he set my feet on a rock and gave me a firm place to stand.  He put a new song in my mouth, a hymn
of praise to our God.  Many will see and fear and put their trust in the Lord.  Blessed is the man who makes the Lord
his trust.  (v. 1-4a)

Leadership is also about modeling.  We can model for our people a life of contentment in Christ, free of the worry and fear that is so prevalent around us.  We can be a less-anxious presence, as some counselors would say.  I’ll never forget the counseling session I had with a very anxious person.  About halfway through the session the client became very animated and was obviously angry.   Then I heard something like this:   When my life is falling apart around me, how can you sit there and be so ____________ calm?  Anxious people often draw those around them into their anxiety, which fuels and feeds the frenzy.  When we decide not to be drawn in, but to stand in the peace of God, we position ourselves as true helpers and leaders.  By observing my peace in the midst of his increasing anger, my client began to see the potential for peace within his own life.  Leadership needs to set the example.

In His Sermon on the Mount, Jesus spoke directly to the issue of anxiety.  He challenged His followers by saying, “do not worry” (Matthew 6:25-34).  For many, that is easier said than done.  Worry is almost a natural default mode for many people.  So, Jesus calls upon His followers to create a new default by saying, “seek first his kingdom and his righteousness” (Matthew 6:33).  Church leaders can help anxious people to reorder their lives, putting kingdom things above the cares of this world.

A pastor wears many hats, but one of those hats will always be that of counselor.  In that role we have the great privilege of leading people away from fear and worry toward true peace.  Peter said, “Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you” (I Peter 5:7).  As people come to your church and sit under your leadership, will they get a taste of the peace of God which transcends all understanding?  This is one of our leadership responsibilities.

“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you.  I do not give to you s the world gives.  Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid”  (John 14:27)