By Scarlet Hiltibidal
First Baptist Church of Pasadena terrified me.
Don’t get me wrong. It was a great church with a beautiful pipe organ, solid teaching (as far as I could tell in elementary school), and sweet people. It wasn’t the way church was done that gave me nightmares, it was the teaching of Jesus I had a problem with.
I know it was a me problem because we moved and I heard more panic-inducing words of God from the preacher at First Baptist Church of Miami Shores. You’d think I was attending Sunday morning horror movie screenings with all the chest tightness and hyperventilating, but it was just church.
I was raised to believe that Jesus is God—with power over life and death. But I also had a pretty extreme case of anxiety.
One of my earliest memories is of collapsing in a grocery store because I was convinced my appendix had ruptured, since I’d read about a similar situation in the book Madeline.
Note: My appendix is still intact.
I suffered anxiety as a child in church and still struggle with ministry-minded worry as an adult today.
According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, anxiety is the most common mental illness in the country, so of course the people of the pews suffer with it, as well.
When I was a less experienced Christian and I sat under Bible teaching, my brain sifted out all the joy and grace and comfort parts. Not only as a child, but well into my adulthood.
I didn’t really absorb the whole point of Christianity and how life-giving and freeing and simple it is. I lingered on specific verses that led me to believe that Jesus was never satisfied with me.
No matter how hard I tried the please Him, the Judge sat on His heavenly throne, looked at me, and said things like:
“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven. On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, didn’t we prophesy in your name, drive out demons in your name, and do many miracles in your name?’ Then I will announce to them, ‘I never knew you. Depart from me, you lawbreakers!’”—Matthew 7:21-23
Lawbreakers? People who did miracles in His name weren’t good enough? I must be done for.
When I decided to give my life to the Lord, verses like that one tortured my mind, and along with all my other anxieties, I developed a deeper, underlying, ever-present anxiety that I was doing the Christian faith all wrong.
The Bible wasn’t a comfort to me. The gospel wasn’t “good news” to me. Ministering in “the kingdom” was a burden, not a blessing.
The gospel didn’t make me feel loved. It made me feel like a failure. And I worried over everything.
There are children and teenagers and adults sitting in services every Sunday who are hearing the hope-filled words of Jesus, but instead of being encouraged and finding rest in this beautifully good news—that because of Christ, by grace, we have been saved, through faith, not by ourselves, but as a gift from God (Ephesians 2:8).
Instead of believing that, we’re worried. We’re anxious. We’re even anxious about why we’re anxious!
Does being anxious mean I’m not a real Christian? Phillippians 4:6 says, “be anxious for nothing?” Well, does that mean I’m disqualified?
People like me, who can view ministry through a lens of worry, may hear and read hope-filled truth, but internally be asking questions like, Am I doing too much? Am I doing too little? Am I doing the right amount the wrong way? Am I doing the right amount the right way with the wrong motives?
We Worry We’re Doing the Wrong Amount
I got married really young. At 19, I was the church secretary of a church plant and I married one of the pastors. It was church from scratch, so I worked constantly.
I woke up, drove to the office space we rented in a little warehouse, and figured out tax exempt status issues and scheduled counseling sessions and burned sermons onto DVDs pretty much until I collapsed into my bed every night.
I have a distinct memory of hand-perforating bulletins with a scrapbooking tool in a back room at a Christmas party at 8 PM because the paper company messed up, and those 300 connection cards HAD TO BE PERFORATED, SO HELP ME!
I lived like this for years. I probably had a lot of breaking points, but one that stands out—years after the perforation incident—was when I found myself standing in a media/sound booth and sobbing because I didn’t push play on the video clip that was supposed to go with the pastor’s sermon point right on cue.
I was doing way too much.
“Whatever you do, do it from the heart, as something done for the Lord and not for people” (Colossians 3:23).
I was trying to earn the favor of God and people. I was afraid Jesus would say, “Depart from me! You didn’t hit PLAY on that movie clip at the right second in the service. You didn’t volunteer in enough ministries. You were only doing everything, but I wanted you to do MORE THAN EVERYTHING!”
I had this earn it mentality, and I was doing too much.
I’m probably not the only follower of Christ to sob in a sound booth, but I’m certainly not the only one who has worried about the amount of service is to be given back to the One who saves.
An Answer for Worry In Ministry
So, what can we do to avoid this? How can we help people in our church stop worrying about over-serving? We can guard against binge-serving the church and cherry-picking the Bible, and remember the gospel.
More simply put, we can rest and read and remember.
Maybe this is for your heart or maybe it is for someone in your ministry, but guess what? God doesn’t need your service this Sunday to save the world. “From Him and through Him and to Him are all things” (Romans 11:36).
Even if you are the lead pastor, it’s true. Nothing you do this week can ruin Redemption’s Plan and nothing you do this week wreck God’s love for you.
It’s ok to rest from your work without worrying the work will fail or His love for you will falter.
And we know this because we read His words to us. There are almost too many to choose from.
Romans 8 says, “Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those in Christ Jesus, because the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and death.”
Romans 5 says, “Therefore, since we have been declared righteous by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. We have also obtained access through him by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God.”
Ephesians 1 says, “In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace that he richly poured out on us with all wisdom and understanding.”
And in John 19:30, Jesus said, “It is finished.”
Worriers, remember: Jesus already did all the work to love you.
If we’re working for Jesus in an attempt to earn His love, we are doing it wrong. Even one job is too many if we do it to gain His smile. We have it.
If this is you, or if you serve people who seem to struggle in this way, have them take a break and lead them to read the Bible and pray for the grace to believe that because of the work of Jesus, “Neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:38-39).
SCARLET HILTIBIDAL (@ScarletEH) is the author of Afraid of All the Things and He Numbered the Pores on My Face. She enjoys speaking to women around the country about the freedom and rest available in Jesus. Scarlet lives in Middle Tennessee, where she loves sign language with her daughters, nachos by herself, writing for her friends, and learning how to raise ducks with her husband for no reason other than cuteness.