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Lifeway breakfast provides tools for addressing anxiety

Lynley and Ben Mandrell, president of Lifeway, talk with Steve Cuss, right, associate pastor of Discovery Christian Church in Broomfield, Colo. during the 2022 Lifeway Breakfast held prior to the two-day SBC annual meeting in Anaheim. Photo by Camille Grochowski

ANAHEIM, Calif. – Whether current events have Southern Baptists on edge or on the edge of their seats, one thing is clear – many church leaders are wrestling with anxiety on a regular basis.

Dealing with angst was the topic of an episode of “The Glass House” podcast recorded live at a breakfast hosted by Lifeway Christian Resources at the 2022 Southern Baptist Convention Annual Meeting Tuesday (June 14). The podcast was recorded before an estimated 700 breakfast attendees and featured Lifeway President and CEO Ben Mandrell, his wife, Lynley, and special guest Steve Cuss, leadership coach, author and former trauma and hospice chaplain.

Cuss began by discussing the power found in taking short moments of pause when panic sets in. He alluded to examples from the Gospels when Jesus brought a calming presence to tense situations.

“The most anxious person in any room has the most power unless there’s a calming leader present,” Cuss said. He provided attendees a framework for spotting anxiety at work in and around them, beginning with evaluating the “space inside me,” and how we often catch and shoulder the anxiety others are holding on to.

“Pastors are so mission focused, they’re often not aware of themselves,” Cuss said, adding that in the rush to address others’ anxiety, leaders tend to ignore their own pulse, allowing the concerns and complaints of church members, guests and even social media personalities to negatively affect them.

“It only takes 30 seconds to take inventory of yourself,” Cuss said, encouraging leaders to first determine if the anxiety they’re feeling is being generated from within or if it’s coming from outside sources. “Ask yourself, ‘What’s going on in a group before I walk into it?’” he said.

Anxiety among pastors

The Mandrells shared that they sent text messages to about a dozen pastors and their wives asking them to share what they felt nervous about heading into the SBC meeting. Answers ranged from “Why do I feel angry at everyone right now?” to issues surrounding sustainability, such as “Will the Sexual Abuse Task Force report cause more people in my church to leave? The pain of people leaving is real and seems to be happening in Southern Baptist churches all over the country.”

Cuss acknowledged the current climate in the SBC represents not just a person who is on edge but a system that is anxious and marked by polarization. To help leaders process fears and anxiety, he presented a tool that focuses of five actions:

  1. Keep your anxiety from spilling over to others.
  2. Keep yourself from catching the anxiety of others.
  3. Stay emotionally connected to yourself and them.
  4. Stay connected to your vision and values.
  5. Align your values with reality.

Cuss shared that this process is an ongoing effort. “The problem with anxiety is that we want to graduate from it,” Cuss said. He encouraged leaders to persevere, cautioning them against the rushed tendency to shrink others’ pain down as a way for us to control it.

“Intense and angry people want you to match their intensity,” he said. “Watch your listening posture. Listen to learn rather than to defend and don’t move too quickly.” He reminded listeners that someone’s behavior doesn’t give permission to respond in a way that’s not loving to others.

In concluding the breakfast and podcast, the Mandrells and Cuss transitioned from the problem to the Problem Solver. He referenced a location where many in the room regularly experience anxiety: the pulpit.

“When I approach the pulpit, I remember I’m entering the presence of where God’s already at work,” he said. “It’s not on me.”

The full episode of “The Glass House” podcast that was recorded at the Lifeway breakfast will appear soon BenMandrell.com.

Aaron Wilson is a writer for Lifeway Christian Resources.

Lifeway’s “The Glass House” podcast is a space where ministry leaders shed light on the challenges they often don’t feel permission to talk about. Listeners who work in the trenches of church life feel seen and gain tools to navigate ministry and life. Those who live outside this “glass house” better understand what it’s like to dwell there.