How anxiety affects the pastor’s brain

Dr. Bruce Hopler

Executive Director of Church Strengthening

  • Church & pastoral health

 

Dr. Bruce Hopler: Hi, my name is Dr. Bruce Hopler, the executive director of Church Strengthening for Converge. Such an honor to be here with you. And as we have reflected on 2020, it has been a brutal year for everyone, of course, but especially for pastors. All of the emotional drain, the mental drain and all the things that they have been going through. And so what I had decided to do is I’ve been doing a series of videos, interviewing pastors and leaders on the areas of mental health and emotional health of our pastors. I recently became friends with Jason Cusick of Journey of Faith Church in Manhattan Beach in Southern California. And I want to introduce you to him, and you’re gonna love what you have to hear. But first of all, Jason, welcome.

Jason Cusick: Hey Bruce. Hey everybody. Thanks so much. Great to be with you. Great to meet you and get a chance to talk and great to be a part of this, thanks.

BH: Yeah, I’m excited about this topic, Jason. So, here’s the deal. One of the main reasons I wanted to meet you and hear from you is because of Bill Ankerberg from the Southwest district tells me in one of our Church Strengthening group meetings, “Yeah, my pastor, he was talking about in the sermon series that he’s doing on anxiety, and when he compared anxiety to a computer, a logarithm and a metaphor kind of blew my mind.” As I began thinking about that, I thought, I called up Bill and said, “Do you think your pastor, Jason, would take an interview on that?” And here we are today. So, as a way so we can get started could maybe you share about it?

JC: Sure, great. Thanks, Bruce. And a big shoutout to Bill Ankerberg. I love Bill. He’s such a big, important part of my life. So I appreciate him. So this idea behind a computer algorithm and stuff is that during our quarantine time, my wife and I we’ve been watching a lot of streaming movies. And one thing that I love about like, Netflix and Hulu and Amazon is that they recommend things based on your viewing preferences, right? So, there’s like this little robot saying, I see you watch this, here’s some other things you might like. And that kind of a computer algorithm is what all of our media is based on now. And I think what I realized is that God designed our brains to operate the same way. We pay attention to things and then our brains try to help us. So, like, if we’re thankful and happy about things, it’s like, our brains say, oh, are we being thankful and happy? Here’s some other things to be thankful and happy about. I mean, maybe Bruce, maybe you’ve noticed that when you’re in a good mood it’s kind of easier to see things positively, right? So, our brain also works the opposite way. It’s automatically helping us make connections, but it can make connections in a bad way, too. If you’re worried or anxious or scared, your brain kind of automatically goes, oh, are we being worried now? I can help. Here’s some other things to worry about. And that’s what gets us into kind of those worry loops and worry spirals, you know?

BH: Yeah. You know. Without all of the neuroscience and the brain knowledge that we have today, back in the first century it sounded a lot like what the Apostle Paul was talking about when he said to the Philippians, fix your eyes on what is good, pure, noble and praiseworthy.

JC: Yeah, exactly, exactly. This is, I mean, and he says, this is where our joy comes from. The problem is that all of our social media and news gets us focused on the bad, right? Paul’s saying, “Hey, focus on this good stuff.” We shouldn’t ignore the bad stuff, but it also shouldn’t get our full attention. And I think a lot of the struggles that we’re having with anxiety in our culture today, I think also the reason that we have more diagnosed anxiety and mood disorder problems among younger people is that our social medias increases what’s called vicarious trauma. Basically through our media, we’re being exposed to more problems in the world than we know what to do with. Right, and so, I don’t think God designed us to be exposed to that much information. Our brains kind of can’t figure out what to do with it. In fact, I was talking to my cardiologist the other day and he said, “Let me give you some advice. If you’ve been watching TV or on social media for more than 15 minutes, go do something else. You don’t need to expose yourself to repeated terror.” Which I thought was a great piece of advice. I feel like that’s what we’re getting a lot, you know?

BH: Wow! That’s probably also a message for pastors who, after they’ve watched their own video sermon or watching 30 other video sermons, and then comparing themselves and all of that.

JC: Exactly.

BH: So, OK. With this information on brain and anxiety, I mean, it seems pretty relevant right now. And there’s been a lot written, written in the Christian community about neuroscience. That’s actually a newer thing in my journey to see Christian community writing about this. And you don’t have to do a shameless plug. I’ll say it for you. I’ve learned in this process, you’re actually writing a book on anxiety and you’re going around the country and speaking on it; I didn’t know that when I first called you. Is this something that you’ve known for years about and you decide, hey, it’s pandemic time; now’s the time to share it?

JC: Yeah, I wish I knew about this. This is all kind of super fresh for me. So, a little bit of my story, about five years ago, five years ago this month I accepted the role of a lead pastor at the church that I’m in. And about a year in, I kind of spun out with anxiety. I think it was the higher level of responsibility that kinda catalyze some of my struggles with, you know, I had struggles with people-pleasing and some underlying obsessive-compulsive behavior. I had great people around me on my leadership team and great counselors to help me. And I actually have a counseling and chaplaincy background. And I’ve learned a lot and have been able to help people with a lot of kinds of issues, but I never really understood fear and anxiety until I you know, personally faced it in this really big way. So all this stuff about anxiety and neuroscience and the stuff I’m writing, yeah, I’ve written a book; I’m hoping it’ll be out next year as I’m kind of finalizing some stuff. But all this stuff is really kind of new to me and it’s. So, I’m kind of learning stuff and working on stuff and then getting it out to people as I’m kinda mastering it myself, if I can say even mastering it, yeah.

BH: OK, so, this is a fairly, when I say a new journey for you, I’m sure anxiety and fear, and stuff like that’s not new, but the whole being cognitive about it and being intentional about it. Now, to go through that process is a beautiful thing. But for you to put it in a book, that means you’ve gone public about it. And I know a lot of pastors struggle with how open should I be about, you know, my struggles? So, let me ask you. How much does your congregation know about this?

JC: Yeah, that’s a good question. I mean, there’s definitely that weird tension ’cause we go to the extremes. You’ve got some people that are like, I’m not gonna share anything from my personal life. And if I do, it has to be something I dealt with in high school or 20 years ago. And then other people, like, I think there’s some of us pastors that are just way too disclosing. But I do think that vulnerability and transparency is, it is the new authority for the next generation, this sense of openness and honesty and disclosure. And it’s also good for accountability. ’Cause we see so many leaders falling because maybe only just a couple of people knew, but you put stuff out there and you’re able to deal with it. So, I would say with my anxiety, the people closest to me knew what I was dealing with. And I shared with our congregation little things along the way. You know, I didn’t hide it, but I didn’t want to get further down the road before, I wanted to get a little further down the road before, before talking about it openly. Mostly because I know there can be a lot of misunderstanding and judgment from people about anxiety. Most people just saw me doing a great job as a leader, which you know, I think I was. And it’s good to note that, most people with anxiety, just like most people with depression, are usually super responsible, super reliable, very successful.

BH: Yes, yes.

JC: But they internally struggle with intrusive thoughts and unwanted feelings and maybe chronic worry. So, usually the people that are very, very successful and very responsible and very godly, also struggle with anxiety. So, little by little, I kind of shared, you know, some things with our congregation, with our elder board, you know, things like that.

BH: So, let’s talk about the elder board because it is a beautiful thing, being able to have those that you surround. And a healthy board is not just doing business stuff. And I want to affirm about the congregation. You do, I like the authority to that and being open and real, but at the same time they can’t be your place for you to get your own counseling done, right? I mean, this is where you’re working out your stuff in front of them. But you can use that as a model and say, “Hey, I struggle too.” But back to this board, as a good reminder that the elder boards, I mean, their job is to care for the pastors and the congregational members, and remind themselves that pastors are just people doing a big job with a lot of spiritual warfare added into it.

JC: Yeah.

BH: I think sometimes pastors and church leaders can be a target for people’s worries and anxieties.

JC: Yeah, yeah. I agree. I think the role of the elders is super important. What you said was so good. It’s not the role of the elders to do therapy on their pastor, but to hold the pastor accountable. Hey, who are you talking to about this? How can we help check in with you? What progress are you making? And to be supportive and to try to understand what’s going on, I think that’s been a big thing for me is helping people understand how to help people who are worried and anxious; and elders would be advised to really get some good education or training or some basics on that. But yeah, everybody’s dealing with something. Right? Everybody’s got something. Yeah. Maybe your pastor’s got anxiety and worry. But what do you have? You know, the elder boards, the elder board is like, oh, this pastor is dealing with worry. Great, what are all the other guys on the elder board dealing with? Or what are the men and the women serving in your leadership position? Everybody’s got something, and we just need to be in a place where we’re gonna watch out for each other and take care of each other. ’Cause we’re all dealing with different things.

BH: You know, Jason, as a quick tangent, one of my next frontiers as I was going into 2020, was doing board and elder development. Because a lot of them don’t know exactly, well, they mean well, but they don’t know what the role is. They all have different definitions of that. But then COVID hit, and so all these training seminars, all of the stuff I was working on, I kind of put it on the side and did a deep dive into dealing with the pandemic world. And now I’m discovering boards are having to step up and support their pastors and make decisions that they’ve never had to make before. And this training is becoming even more vital. So, and I think that a big part of it, how to learn to support and encourage a pastor going through stress. So, obviously, now, let me get back to you. There’s a few things, I mean, you’ve been on a journey of learning. And so, particularly in the last four or five years, what are some few things you’ve learned that been really helpful to you related to anxiety that might be helpful to others?

JC: Yeah, so I’m an avid reader, and an avid learner. And I looked at a lot of stuff and what I found is that there’s basically four basic principles that guide all anxiety treatment. And so we actually did a four-week sermon series on these principles to help people understand it. So, let me just walk through those four, and we can walk through those four things really quick because they were the things that helped me the most to really simplify it. So, the first principle is what we would call normalization. And so, the idea behind this is anxiety is normal. We all have it. In fact, God designed our brains with this little almond-shaped threat center called the amygdala; it’s kind of right in the center of the brain. And when there’s a perceived threat in our life, that little thing goes off like an alarm. And it sends signals to our body. You know, our eyes dilate, our body produces adrenaline. Our body causes blood to flow to the extremities so we can have our flight, fight or freeze response. And all this is automatic. You know, thank God! You know, if you’re in a threat situation you don’t have to say, “Oh, I should have more energy in my body so I can run.” No, it just all happens. God designed it that way. The psalmist said: we’re fearfully and wonderfully made. You know, you’ve made me marvelously complex. So, I think the super important part of this is to remember that anxiety and worry, that’s part of a built-in God response. Because sometimes Christians go right to the sin thing first. Fear is a sin. Worry is a sin. And I think that keeps a lot of us in hiding.

BH: Yeah.

JC: And not getting the help that we need, so, anxiety is normal. Now, sometimes the problem is, though, that the brain can send us signals to be anxious when there’s actually nothing to be afraid of. Or when the threat is gone the alarm in our brain is still on. So, just for me, the normalization of it really helped. Wait a minute. There’s something spiritual going on, but there’s also just something organic going on in my body and in the organ called my brain that maybe I just need to get healthier a little bit. So that’s the first principle that stood out to me.

BH: Yeah, you know, anxiety, I mean, it’s so normal. And the complexity is, is that we have a difficult time identifying, OK, is this something spiritual? Is this something emotional? Is this something chemically going on in my brain? All of these different things. But unfortunately, especially in the Christian world, there’s a lot of shame around it and mental health in general. So, anxiety is normal, but sometimes our brain is sending us false alarms.

JC: Yeah, exactly. Exactly, and you, we talked about this actually just recently, you and I, of just neuroscience and what we’re learning about, how our brains work. And I think maybe instead of thinking there’s something profoundly wrong with us, we can just maybe un-shame our anxiety a little bit and we can just ask God to be with us in our anxiety. And then the second principle that really helped me is what’s called exposure. And the idea behind this is anxiety grows through avoidance. So, the best way to deal with our fears is to face them. Right, again, our brains are trying to help us live the life God wants us to live. But our brains are always learning. I know I’m kind of anthropomorphizing the brain here, but our brains are continually learning and adapting because God’s designed our brains to help us live for him. So, let’s say you know, you a bad experience swimming when you were a kid. And you panicked, right? Your brain registers that as a fear. Now when you go near the water, your brain wants to help you avoid harm. So, it reminds you that water and swimming is something to be afraid of. So you get afraid and anxious. But what’s the best way to deal with the fear of water or the fear of swimming?

BH: I would say, jump in, get in the water.

JC: Yes, exactly! Go swimming, get in there. Right, that’s exposure. So, exposure is when you expose yourself to what makes you anxious. And then you start retraining your brain to respond differently. Can’t swim? Take swim lessons, right? You got a fear of elevators? Start getting into elevators? Got a fear of speaking in public? Take a Toastmasters class, right? Now, for those who are watching this or reading this, they’re probably freaking out right now. ’Cause they’re like, that’s the last thing I want to do, you know? But one of the stories in the Bible that really stands out to me is that miracle story of Jesus inviting Peter to walk on the water with him. You know, the disciples are scared in the boat during the storm. And Peter is so focused on Jesus that he steps out of the boat during the storm. And we know Peter was a fisherman. He knew water and storms. But his focus on Jesus was bigger than his fear. So, that second principle, first of all, you normalize, OK, anxiety is normal. This is a natural part, in fact, my brain might be encouraging me to be afraid. But I need to expose myself to my fears, not avoid them. But I need to like begin stepping into them so I can get well, right? So, exposure, is that second idea.

BH: OK, so, if you exposure, you step in, you go out there. That’s scary, right? And so what would you say is a fear that you had to face, you yourself with exposure?

JC: I would say that the biggest one for me was the fear of disappointing people. You know, my previous pastoral roles were in care ministry. So, a lot of comfort, a lot of encouraging, empowering people to own their own progress, to go at their own pace. And I stepped into that lead pastor role and I had to start making decisions that I knew people would not like. I moved very slowly, part of that because I was a succession leader and not a startup leader. But the other part was because I was just exposing myself to people’s disappointments.

BH: Wow. OK, so, how’d it go? And because I had this idea in my mind that you, you face your fears and you will find that when you get into it, you know, there’s really nothing to be afraid of in the first place.

JC: Yeah, so, what I discovered in this process, especially as I was learning about this idea of exposure, is exposure doesn’t guarantee nothing bad will happen. Exposure proves that you can face your fears and not let them hold you back. So, you know, as a Christian, as a leader, I was afraid I would disappoint people and that would prevent me from making good decisions. So, I worked through that and I made good decisions. And then guess what? People were disappointed. You know, I didn’t want them to be disappointed, but I needed to face my anxiety and do what God was calling me to do. So like, for example, let me go back to the swimming example. You have a fear of water. So, you take a swimming class. You face your fear.

BH: Back to swimming class!

JC: So, you say I’m gonna take a swimming class. I’m gonna face my fear. Great. First day of class, you feel like you almost drowned. All right? So, that’s not a failure. You faced your fear; you’re taking the swimming class. Right? And then what do you do after that? What’s the next step? You keep going to the swimming class, right? I mean like, that’s, you have to keep going back to that. Exposure isn’t something you do once. It’s something you do over time. ’Cause again, what we’re trying to do is retrain the brain to respond differently. And this is the third principle that really helped me. It’s called habituation. The more you do something, the more you get used to it. So, interestingly, Paul, we know warns people that this is what happens with sin in our lives, right? Ephesians 5:19 says: when you keep doing wrong then your conscience becomes kind of numb to it. So, related to anxiety in a positive way, when you face your fears, your brain kind of rewires and says, “Oh, we’re not afraid of this anymore?” So, my wife did this recently with her fear of spiders. She used to just shudder and freak out around spiders. I remember, I’ve known this about her for years, but sometimes I’ve forgot, and I remember we went to the theater years ago and we watched Lord of the Rings, and in one of the Lord of the Rings movies there is a scene where Frodo goes into a cave.

BH: Big spider. Yup, yup, yup.

JC: It was, and I remember, I researched the movie ahead of time and I found out that that scene was in there. And then we got into the theater, and I totally forgot that that scene was in there. And then he walks into the cave and there’s all these spiderwebs. And I turn to my wife and I said, “I’m so sorry. I forgot to tell you something.” And it was like the worst scene ever. So, my wife had had this big fear of spiders. Anyway, she decided, when I was going through counseling I was talking to her about exposure and habituation. And I said, would you, while I’m working on my anxiety would you try these principles with your fear of spiders? So what she does, she started looking at pictures of spiders. And looking at them for a while and allowing the anxious feelings to just be there and then kind of talking herself through those feelings. And just allowing herself to be kind of.

BH: That’s the hardest part right there.

JC: Yes! Yeah, ’cause you’re really getting flooded with those feelings. And when you think about it, this is part of the reason why we avoid, right?

BH: Right.

JC: Like, when we get into a situation we’re afraid and we go, I don’t like what I’m thinking or feeling right now. So, we give in and we just avoid what scares us. You know, we get out of the water. We quit the swim class or same thing with temptation. If I’m facing a temptation and I’m flooded with thoughts and feelings, rather than inviting God into that vulnerable moment, my temptation is to extinguish the anxiety. So, I want to have that drink, or I want to log onto that website, or I want to avoid that person. And this idea of habituation is basically the process of allowing ourselves to have those anxious feelings, invite God into that moment, and maybe inviting others into that moment. And then slowly retraining our mind and our body and spirit to relax and respond differently.

BH: So, how long does that take? Can you get that done on a weekend?

JC: That would be awesome! You know, honestly I found it easier in some areas of my life than others. You know, I guess it really depends. It is amazing how God designed our brains to quickly adapt and learn. And we know we are not our brains. Right? It’s great, Christian neuroscientist Jeffrey Schwartz wrote a great book called You Are Not Your Brain. And it’s like, I do have authority over my life even though we normally associate our thoughts and our feelings with our identity, but our thoughts and feelings come from our brain in part, and so, we can have authority over that, gracious authority; we don’t have to give in to the signals that our brains are sending us. We can make positive changes for God when we have the right kind of health. And I would say probably how long does that take? It really depends on the support that you have. And I think that will be the fourth, the fourth and main principle, and that is care. Caring for ourselves, being caring for people, for other people in our life means having understanding people around us that can keep encouraging us to step out of the boat. You know, to face our fears. And love us when we’re feeling anxious. To not view us like we’re in sin or doing something wrong but walk us through our anxiety. A lot of ways that we can be walked through other struggles that we have. I’ll be honest with you, Bruce, I have a friend of mine that lives out of state. And when I am feeling tempted toward lust, when I’m feeling tempted toward bitterness, when I get those yucky feelings where I want to just post something nasty on social media, to fire off against a small group of people that have ticked me off, you know, when I’m feeling those ways, I’ll actually call him. I call this guy when I start to feel that first, that first hint of sexual temptation. I’ll call him and say, “Hey, I’m in one of these moments. Man, just talk me through it.” And I think we need people that when we’re feeling anxious and worried that we spot it in ourselves and then we reach out to people. And again, this goes back to this idea of not accusing people or having people that accuse us of the sin of fear. I had some well-intentioned people that have done this to me. I haven’t talked to somebody recently that was worried and anxious that I wasn’t being clear with people that worrying and anxiety are a sin. How’s that for irony? Like, I wanted to say, “Wait a minute. You’re worried and anxious, and you’re, and so you’re telling me that I should be telling people that it’s a sin?” You know, like, wait a minute. What’s going on with your worry and anxiety?

BH: Right, definitely. That’s a self-identity issue there.

JC: Yeah, exactly. Like, let’s turn the mirror around. And I think it also means having healthy self-talk. You know, what we say to ourselves about ourselves. I think sometimes, especially for us as Christians and for pastors, we say things to ourselves and about ourselves that are actually wrong and unbiblical.

BH: Yeah.

JC: Maybe we just are repeating stuff we’ve learned when we were young. I can’t tell you how many pastors I’ve talked to, and one of them being me, that after a Sunday the stuff we say to ourselves. “Oh, that was horrible. Oh, I didn’t do a good job. I’m not changing anybody’s lives. I don’t know what I’m doing.” The stuff we say to ourselves, I think people will be shocked how we would talk to ourselves. Because we would never say that stuff to our congregation members. But we say it to ourselves and then this just flares up, you know, our anxiety. And I actually think this is why we probably need to have healthy habits and hobbies to kind of keep us, you know, grounded with all that anxiety.

BH: I definitely have my own stories where I felt like, Oh, that sermon was terrible. You know, I need to drop out of ministry. I’m turning in my resignation. And then I get that email saying, “That changed my life.” I’m like, oh really? I thought it was pretty bad.

JC: And then we realize, yeah we really, we realize how vulnerable we are. Like, we can be set off into a negative place by one negative comment, but then we can also be just liberated by one positive comment. I mean, how temperamental and vulnerable are we, right? You know, but that’s where I think those hobbies and habits really come in.

BH: Yeah, and so, look, that, everything that we’re saying, I have a feeling people are gonna have to re-watch this like, a dozen times ’cause there’s so much density to it. But this last part, can you just unpack that just a little bit more?

JC: Yeah, about like, habits and hobbies and stuff?

BH: Yeah, yeah, yeah.

JC: Yeah. So, I think the way that God designed us, it’s really easy for us to get drowned in anxiety and addiction because we aren’t enjoying life the way that God wants us to. I was actually looking it up the other day, there’s some theories on addiction that’s called enjoyment theory. And the idea is that some people, they’re getting into addiction because it’s the only adrenaline rush that they have, that they can find. But God’s actually designed us to enjoy this world fully and to be engaged in this world with our five senses. So, I think sometimes our anxiety and worry is increased if we don’t have a natural outlet in healthy ways to engage our five senses. And, you know, it’s different things for different people. You know, we can find things that we enjoy. Like, I’ve gotten into crafting and woodworking. For other people it’s exercise. Another person it might be cooking or art or photography. And I think it’s especially important if we’re vulnerable either personally or because of our job, to anxiety and worry. Because a lot of us, especially in ministry, we take life pretty seriously. Also in ministry, I would say it’s tough because a lot of ministry stuff happens in our heads.

BH: Yeah.

JC: Like, a lot of us we’re in our offices, we’re either doing counseling or we’re writing or we’re strategizing. It’s not like we’re hanging drywall half of the day. You know, or it’s not like we’re, you know, there’s a physicality, a living in our body that we don’t often get. So, a few years back, I had the privilege of spending some time with Jud Wilhite from Central Church in Vegas. And he said, if you’re in ministry you need to prioritize two things. He said, learn to manage your calendar well and get a hobby. And he said make it a hobby that’s not easily connected to your job. So, for example, my hobby used to be creative writing. But I write all the time now for my job. So as I’m writing, it feels like work and it can easily go to work. So finding a hobby that’s like, actually this isn’t even connected to my job. And that can help us, you know, care for ourselves and care for, you know, give us, give us kind of that God-honoring pleasure and rest in the world that I think God, you know, wants us to have.

BH: Yeah, going back to something you said earlier. Ministry is the one unique place that you can be on the top of the world, completely bottom out in extreme fear and extreme hope, and it all takes place in five minutes when you’re sitting behind your desk and absolutely nothing has happened, right? It all happened in your brain. And you’re just like, “I wanna quit! “I’m a rock star.” I mean, it just goes back and forth. And you just realize, oh, nothing around me happened. That was all you know, up here. So, and you know, you talking about habits. I have a motorcycle that I have labeled meditation. And because it’s very meditative for me. And I would tell Tom, I used to tell my admin back at my former church, if someone calls and says, you know, is Pastor Bruce available? And say, “Well, he’s in meditation right now.” And that, man, I just went off into the woods, up into the mountains or whatever ’cause I had to, you know? I was detoxing all of the different things.

JC: Yes. Yeah.

BH: I fully affirm that if I didn’t have those kinds of hobbies, I would have burnt out a long time ago.

JC: I talked to this youth pastor a while back, and he nicknamed his bed The Word. So if somebody, when he’d go take a nap, like a siesta during the day, “Hey, where is he?” “Oh, I was just in The Word.”

BH: He’s in The Word. He’s in The Word. I’m in deep!

JC: There is something powerful, though, about allowing the, there is something powerful about giving yourself that space, though. Like, you talked about meditation. Even if it’s a little trick, there is something powerful about that. There are times where I will schedule meetings with myself and with God in the calendar. And someone will say, “Are you available on this day?” And I said, “No, I’m in a meeting.” And the meeting is with myself. You know, like, we have to, this is good information for elder boards. In ministry, no one prioritizes self-care, especially the pastor.

BH: Right.

JC: So, elder boards need to empower self-care because if you’ve got a good pastor, that pastor is gonna work 24 hours a day. That person is probably, the person you hired is probably naturally driven toward overworking. And so somehow we need to, we need to train pastors differently, of course, and care for pastors differently, but to prioritize self-care and things like that is really good, so.

BH: Jason, I’m having a good time. And I wish we could go for a lot longer because I’m having a good time. In fact, the next time I’m in Southern California we’ll go out for lunch and that would be good. So, I guess, could you just kind of land the plane for us? What advice in just a few minutes? What advice for helping people who have anxiety?

JC: So, first off, I would say, love them and accept them. Anxiety is a really heavy burden and it’s really confusing, and it’s very internal. And I think remind the people in your life that have anxiety of the truth, that they are loved and that God is with them even when they’re anxious. I’d also, I also encourage people to get help from a professional. There’s really a lot of great resources and help out there for people with anxiety. A lot of my help came from a great counselor named Scott Symington, a Christian guy who has done some great work on anxiety. There’s actually some very innovative and creative techniques and treatments available to help people with anxiety. I think the other thing that we can do, like you said, is just lower the shame around anxiety and mental health in our churches. And then I think the big thing is just encouraging people with anxiety to keep moving forward. Sometimes we get caught in these worry loops. We want to ruminate on what we’re anxious or afraid about, and having people in our lives and being someone in the lives of people that are anxious to just encourage them to keep moving forward. To be solution oriented. To take risks with God’s help. I had a great, I’ve had a great working relationship with Scott Ridout, and I remember I called him one time and I said, I’m just really anxious about this and this conversation with an employee that I need to have. And he said, “Tell me about it.” And we talked about it a little bit. And he said, “How long have you been feeling this way?” And I said, “You know, I’ve been wrestling with this for about a month.” He said, “OK, all right.” He said, “You’re a good leader. God’s called you to this. And you care about people. That’s why you’re feeling anxious. Because you care. But it’s been about a month of you needing to have this conversation. So, let’s hang up the phone. I want you to go have the conversation. And then I want you to come back and talk with me about how it went.” And it was a very gracious, loving way of just pushing me out of the boat and say, let’s face this and it’s gonna be tough, but we can do it together. And I’ve got a few people in my life on my team that are very much like that. When I get anxious they just say, OK, let’s go toward a solution. Let’s find an answer. Let’s try something. And not allow the feelings to stop us from taking some good risks. And again, because people with worry and anxiety are so responsible and successful and caring, the mistakes they’re gonna make are not gonna be as bad as they think.

BH: Right.

JC: You know?

BH: Right, right. Absolutely. So, Jason, you’ve given us a lot of great and beautiful challenges and I want to encourage all the pastors that are here, listen to this a couple of times. Mark down a couple of things. What is the Holy Spirit speaking specifically to you? What are some of the things you’ve got to work through? And that God’s at work. Some of you it’s time to do some theology work. You’ve had a bad theology about fear, a bad theology about mental health and the brain and, and all of that. And so therefore it’s time to do some of that. But most of all, I don’t believe this 2020 has created. I think it has just exposed. It has exposed a lot of areas that have been challenged within us. And that’s a gift. It really is a gift that we can actually say, “OK, Lord, this is a mess; I need to deal with this.” So it is our prayer that God would just continue to use you and work in you in a mighty way. We want to encourage you. I do want to say Jason made reference to his video series. We’ll put that in the script down below, his sermon series on this topic. We’ll put that in the script down below. He does have a book that’s coming out eventually. And whenever it comes out, I’ll let you know. You know, there’s always. Yeah, anybody who’s ever been an author knows that that’s a process. But definitely, and Jason, don’t be anxious about that. Just know it’ll happen. But no, seriously, we are praying for you. And we consider it an honor to be in journey with you. God bless and Jason, would you pray for the pastors out there that are dealing with anxiety right now?

JC: For sure. Thanks a lot. Thanks for what you’re doing and all that ministry. Gracious, God, thank you that you are with us all the time. Whether we think it, whether we feel it, whether we feel we’re at peace or whether we’re anxious, thank you that you love us. Help us to continue to invite you into those most vulnerable moments. Just like Jesus did in the Garden of Gethsemane. God, help us to have the right views of ourselves and of you and our situation. Surround us with the people that can encourage us to take the kind of risks we need to take. And we thank you that through all things, through all the things that we’re feeling and thinking, that we are loved by you more than we realize. We thank you for this in Jesus’ name, amen.

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Dr. Bruce Hopler, Executive Director of Church Strengthening

Dr. Bruce Hopler has been coaching pastors and church planters for over 20 years. He now serves as the executive director of Church Strengthening at Converge. Bruce started a church in Maryland against all odds with no core group and no upfront funding, but it has grown for 18 years. He then moved to Las Vegas, where he was the Spiritual Formation pastor for the eighth-fastest growing church in America. During his time in Vegas Bruce completed his doctorate in spiritual formation and leadership from Fuller Theological Seminary. After four years there, he moved to Orlando to join Converge. Bruce loves planters and pastors. He has been certified in StratOps, Church Unique and SOULeader coaching. He strives to help pastors discover what healthy means, within their unique calling and context.

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