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When the Counselor is Anxious

Truth in Love 318

Josh Weidmann shares about his journey dealing with anxiety and how to address it biblically.

Jul 5, 2021

Dale Johnson: This week on the podcast, I am delighted to have with me a dear friend of mine, Josh Wiedmann. Josh is a pastor at Grace Chapel in Denver, Colorado. He’s one of our certified members, and I just have such a good time hanging out with Josh and talking to him about the things of God and ways that we struggled in the past, and ways that we can encourage one another. I thought those discussions between us have been so fun that I wanted you guys to sit in on one of those. 

One of the topics Josh that we have talked about extensively is this issue of anxiety. You’ve written a book about this, a book called The End of Anxiety, that came out in 2020 and a very insightful look at how we think about anxiety, how we deal with it biblically, being honest that we struggle with it is a good start and then being able to answer those things from Scripture. Today, I want us to take a little bit of a different angle. I want us to think about this. Our minds are always trying to gain information so that we can help those that we counsel, but it’s not unusual that we’re flawed as well. We are fleshly people. We live in this body of death. We struggle in the world, and we’re not trying to conform our counselees to us. We’re not the standard in this, right? We’re trying to conform our counselees to Christ because we need to be conformed to Him as well. It’s not unusual that we as counselors might experience some of these same types of thoughts and feelings as anxiety. I know we’ve talked about your story to some degree, and I want you to just share a little bit about your personal story of the way that you’ve encountered these bouts of anxiety and the way that you’ve seen parts of your heart exposed through this issue of anxiety. I’d love for you to just share a little bit about your personal story. Let our listeners get to know you a little bit.

Josh Weidmann: Thanks, Dale. Yeah, it’s been quite a journey of anxiety in my life. Things that I’ve dealt with on various occasions, whether it was my schooling, when I lived in Chicago at Moody Bible Institute, I worked at a church called Harvest Bible Chapel up in Chicago for a while that was some anxiety there, and some spiritual abuse situations there. Then I went on to take a pastoral role for 18 months where I had to close a church down because it was upside down—and I’m only 27 years old—but it’s upside-down financially, and I had to go on and say, “Listen, I don’t think we can keep going.” And then I took my first senior pastorate after that, which had a corrupt eldership I stepped into.

I just had gone through the wringer. Very early in ministry dealing with anxiety. I’m now at the 5th church, and I often say, I hope the final church that God calls me to serve, but that’s up to Him; it’s where I’d like to stay. It’s been six years now that I’ve been a senior pastor here, and some of my anxiety has been most flagrant while I’ve been here at this church. I mean, this church is a revitalization church, it was almost dead upon arrival, and we’re seeing God bring it back in just some amazing ways. The Spirit of the Lord is really moving and causing all sorts of new believers. We’re seeing a healthy counseling ministry, which is great, but it’s hard. I’ll just be honest with you, leading a church through revitalization is super hard. I have five kids going on six (I’m trying to take after you, Dale), so managing personal life and a little of ministry life.

Quick story. Last year I was really dealing with anxiety in such a way, or I guess it would have been almost two years ago now. I was dealing with anxiety in such a way that I had two different panic attacks, and it was a moment where panic literally had overtaken me. I’d counsel people on anxiety. I’d counsel people on panic, but I didn’t understand what it was until I faced it myself. And it was one day after some really, really, really hard ministry meetings on that day and the previous day. I remember the dates very clearly, August 30th and August 31st. I had these hard meetings. I wanted out of ministry. I wanted out of the church, and one night I literally felt like I was dying and in quicksand.

My wife’s trying to calm me down, and I just got up, and I started running, and I ran myself all the way to the hospital and checked myself in. I remember sitting at the check-in counter, and the lady said, “What’s wrong with you? What’s going on in your mind?” And I just said to her—I mean, she’s not even the nurse, right? She’s just the check-in lady—I said, “I don’t know. I trust Christ. I know He’s with me;” this is through sobbing and tears and gasping for air because I just ran, and I’m not a runner. I’m crying, and I’m running. And I’m gasping for air, and I said, “I know Christ is with me, but I’m scared to death.” I had just reached an ultimate level of burnout like I had never experienced, and it threw us into several months of, really, having to figure out, how do we get back to a place of health and not let this anxiety.

That’s a little bit of my story. There are many more things that I’ve put on the pages of the book. I will say this still, not to give a commercial, but I want to give something away. I’ll give a free copy of this book to any biblical counselor and any pastor that’s listening if they like to, they can just go to and ask for a free book. We have a place there under the pastor tab where I’m giving free books away to pastors and those in ministry. I’ve had several pastors write to me that have gotten a free book, and they said, “I just am so glad that somebody else finally said pastors deal with anxiety too, counselors deal with anxiety too.” So, I hope to be an encouragement. And you’re not alone if you’re out there and you’re dealing with this. You’re not alone. 

Dale Johnson: Yeah, that’s exactly right, and sometimes we act in the church as such a sanitary place when in reality it’s really where all the broken people hang out. I think if we could come to grips with that, that the need for the grace of Christ doesn’t end at our justification, right? Even as we’re ministering the grace of Christ, the beauty of that is the reason we minister it so passionately is we recognize how deeply we need it personally. I appreciate you sharing a lot of that story, and I guarantee you so many people who are listening right now have experienced and felt those types of moments. They’ve had an August 30th. They’ve had an August 31st moment in their life. Now, when we think about counselors dealing with something like this or people in ministry dealing with this issue of anxiety, maybe to the world, they would say, “Well, you people are supposed to have it together,” or maybe we even build that idea in the church that, “You people are supposed to have it together” kind of thing. But why is it that we see that counselors and those in ministry, pastors, for example, experience different bouts with anxiety and things like that. Why is that such a common thing?

Josh Weidmann: I’m going to start with a little bit of a story. I was counseling a gentleman who is a first responder. He was a police officer. He just got through the academy, and he was now serving in one of our worst areas in Denver, and he was a friend of someone that we had over. My wife and I were having, I guess you could say, a counseling conversation with them on the couch. It was very sweet. But he kept talking about how they trained him in the police academy on hyper-vigilance. And I said, “Tell me more about that,” and he said, “Well, I’ll just give you the book,” and he gave me this book about police officers in the hyper-vigilance that they face. I started doing more and more research and study on how police officers deal with this sense of always having to look over their shoulder. If you’ve ever gone to lunch with the police officer, most of the time, they don’t want their back to the door. They want to see the whole room. They live with a sense of hyper-vigilance all the time because of what they do, what their profession is. Well, what caught my attention is, I thought, “Well, that’s what pastors face. We often are caught in this place of hyper-vigilance.” The more that I read about it, the more I realized it was true in my life. I mean, even some of the studies on those who deal with hyper-vigilance in the police force, they’re saying there’s this sense of always being under attack or something’s always wrong around them. They’re constantly looking for it or attuned to it, and it actually will take them days to come down from a place of hyper-vigilance. For a police officer, those days of coming down from hyper-vigilance are the only days they have off and then their right back into it, and I thought, “Man, that’s the same thing for a pastor.”

We go through hyper-vigilance all the time. So for me, it can be even with my email, right? I will often say sometimes I open my inbox only to get slapped in the face every time because there’s always somebody who’s mad about something, right? Or let’s just talk about not people being mad at you, just people’s brokenness. There’s always some request, some phone call, some emergency in people’s lives that we minister to that puts us in a place of hyper-vigilance. That we are constantly spinning really high and really hot in our mind, and we’re maybe not trusting the Lord as much as we should and not realizing these are His sheep, not our sheep, right? And so, I had to realize what was wrong in hyper-vigilance in my own life, and I think a lot of my anxiety was coming from that. And then I had to go to the Lord and say, okay, Lord, I do believe that these are your sheep. I’m just an under-shepherd, you are the shepherd. I had to start dealing with my moments of hyper-vigilance through prayer and Bible reading and trusting the flock of God and the problems of the flock of God back to the true shepherd. 

Dale Johnson: Yeah, so good. If you think about the gifts and skills that people have who are in ministry, it makes us somewhat susceptible because we are compassionate people, we do care about the brokenness of other people, that hyper-vigilance sort of makes us more aware. And in counseling and ministry, often you’re dealing with problems. It’s easy to get a critical spirit because you’re always dealing with problems. We have to be cautious and careful. Make sure that we’re being fed. I found this so important to my own life personally is, you know, we are pouring out all the time in ministry, is making sure that we too are shepherded and that we have people who are shepherding our hearts in the church. Who are ministering the Word of God, who are checking up on us, who are unafraid to speak very strong in our lives and speaking the truth in love to our life, and I think that’s such a critical piece of the puzzle. I think that’s an interesting point—us being hyper-vigilant sort of always waiting on the next ball to drop, and that does sort of put us on edge and somewhat rigid maybe at times. Now, as you think about your personal story that there are ways that you’ve dealt with it. I’m sure you deal with anxiety to some degree now. But certainly not the same degree that you did at one time. As you’ve worked through some very deep struggles with anxiety, what are some of the ways that you personally dealt with it? Your wife Molly and so on. 

Josh Weidmann: Yeah, people will say, “Hey, you wrote a book on anxiety. Does that mean you don’t have anxiety anymore? Is it all over for you?” No, I still deal with it. I will say, as I continue to mature in Christ and as I continue to apply the truth of Scripture in the ways that I can handle anxiety, it is much more under wraps, and I do believe that we can have some real victory in areas of worry, fear, doubt, and panic in our life when we really apply the truth of Scripture. I am doing a lot better, and there are moments where it still comes up. I think, to be honest with you, we all deal with a little bit of anxiety all the time. I think every person deals with it. There is good anxiety. Anxiety makes us get stuff done, right? “I got to get that done, or I’m gonna in trouble,” right? So we all deal with that a little bit. But how do we manage in a way that still glorifies the Lord? I think one thing I point out, too, is I needed other people around me when dealing with anxiety. I needed camaraderie, and anxiety tells you the exact opposite. I will often talk about anxiety, like personifying it saying lies to you all the time as the father of lies. Anxiety tells you to go be alone; anxiety tells you to try some self-help gospel kind of things, do things in your own strength. Anxiety is telling you the opposite of what God’s telling you.

Well, one of the things I do realize early on is I had to be with other people and that panic attack that I mentioned in August, I actually was laying in my bed, the next day my parents came and picked up the kids, they took them away for the day. It was just Molly and I were listening to worship music, and I heard the front door open, and you have to understand. There are parts of my life that are pretty private. I don’t just have people walk in. But this man, his name is Jason, he’s a faithful friend of mine. He just walked into my house. My wife had texted him saying, “Josh had a really hard night. Can you please pray?” He didn’t just pray, he came over that morning in what was probably nothing more than his pajamas and a baseball hat, and he literally laid on one side of the bed, and my wife was on the other, and they grabbed my arms, and they prayed, and we cried and wept and Jason still to this day is one of my closest friends and comrades. He is in the battle with me. He’s doing ministry all the time as well. I think other pastors, other biblical counselors, I’ve learned the power of saying to others that are in the same type of work that we are in, “Hey, I’m really struggling right now, or I’m hurting right now, or I need a little bit more prayer right now than normal. Will you please commit to pray for me?” So camaraderie is important. Scripture memory—not just prescribing biblical homework, counselors, but let’s make sure we do it ourselves and really memorizing Scripture, worship, things like that have been really helpful for me.

Dale Johnson: Yeah, and I don’t think we have to hide behind our weakness. Paul says he glories in his weakness because it’s at that place that it’s known that Christ is the reason that anything good gets done, and I think we need to embrace it. We need to be unafraid to embrace that as ministers, as biblical counselors as well. Now, you didn’t just stay in that bed. I mean, you’re up now talking to me podcasting and all of that, you’ve written a book, and so the Lord has done a good work in your heart moving you back toward health. This was a journey that the Lord was using your wife Molly in this process and several other people; what were some of the ways that the Lord, even as you were in ministry, moved you back toward health?

Josh Weidmann: One thing that I’ve learned personally, but I think it applies to our counselees as well, is that anxiety (and I’ll even throw in depression), anxiety and depression take time. What I mean by that is, as Christians, as we follow Christ, we must slow down a little bit and take time to deal with what is happening in our hearts when we’re feeling these overwhelming emotions. We had to take time. We took several months off from the majority of my duties. I was still preaching every single week. There were two main years that I’ve really dealt with this over the last six years, but the first year that I really dealt with anxiety, I had to preach every week, but I was absent from a lot of things at the church, like meetings and some of the things with our staff. I just told them “Guys, I need almost like a pseudo-sabbatical. I need just a little bit of break from some of the grind so that I can just be with my wife, be in biblical counseling.” We put ourselves in biblical counseling with a great counselor. So I had to just realize, this takes time. I can’t go with the same rate of speed that my life did before. Slowing down is important.

Now, I tried really hard to never neglect the call or neglect the sheep in front of me, but I would do my best to either get them other help where they could have it or say, “Sure we can meet, but you just have to understand. These are kind of the parameters of what I can give at the moment.” I thought of it a lot this way. It’s like a cup, right? My cup was pretty empty when you’re dealing with anxiety or worry or your cup’s really empty. We could try to pretend that we have more to pour out, but I didn’t have a lot to pour out, and I’m not just talking spiritually, I mean, even physically, even when I was tired. I wasn’t always sleeping well. I wasn’t eating, so I was losing weight very quickly. I wasn’t physically in a place to give more than I had. And I think that was important. Really, my wife Molly was good at saying, “You just don’t have everything you want to give.” She would often say that the Spirit is willing, but your flesh is weak, my friend, and just slow down. So we did. We slowed down. We spent more time in the Word. We spent more time listening to Scripture, memorizing Scripture, and even writing and reading personal study to basically counsel myself so that I could continue to grow through the season.

That’s one thing I really want to say. It may sound so simple, but I say that to any pastor or counselor that’s listening, that might be dealing with this or you find yourself dealing with this in the future, it’s okay to slow down. Give yourself permission to slow down. I had to go to my elders and say, “Listen, I gotta slow down. I gotta stop. I got to pull back from some things. I need to get myself healthy.” I actually had even asked for them if I could go on sabbatical, a real sabbatical, like, “Can I just be done for a while?” I just go away for a few months. My elders were gracious to actually say, “We think that would be worse for you, but we want you to stay here, we want you to still preach, but do only what you can.” I look back at that, Dale. And I say they were right. I had to trust other godly men and women in my life. Our elders are all males, but my mom was one voice that was very loud in my life. These people were so encouraging to me to say just slow down, just take this in and really search what is the Lord trying to develop in you through this suffering.

Dale Johnson: So important. One of the key things that could be missed in what you just said is the heart of humility. Even as pastors, we need to be under the authority or submit ourselves mutually to other elders to hear what they have to say. They love us. They want to care for us and that’s such an important relationship to have. One final thing and I want you to just give some brief advice. There are lots of people who are hearing what you’re saying, they’re identifying exactly with what you’re saying, they know it, they know experientially what you’re talking about. What advice would you give those people who are struggling deeply with anxiety? Maybe they’re feeling burnout in ministry as counselors or as pastors. What are some pieces of advice that you would give them? 

Josh Weidmann: Well, I would say, first and foremost, use this as an opportunity to develop a deeper trust in the Lord that you have to trust Him to be able to minister for Him. That’s what the Lord did in my time alone with Him or my time in biblical counseling. He developed in me a greater trust. I want to use this verse to answer your question, Dale. Romans 15:13 says, may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing. That’s just the first half, but it says, may fill you with joy and peace in believing. That phrase in believing. This idea of growing in my belief, growing in my trust of the Lord is the very thing by which I was able to experience a greater feeling of hope, a feeling of joy, and a feeling of peace. The second half of this verse is so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope. I will tell you that right now, I’m experiencing a season of abounding in hope. My counseling is sweet. My pulpit ministry is sweet. My friendships with others are so sweet. And all of this is the power of the Holy Spirit working in my life, but I needed to just simply work on my believing so that my joy, my peace, and my hope could continue to grow in the Holy Spirit. So, counselor and pastor, I’d say to you, work on the believing. We know this. We’ve preached sermons on this. We trust that God’s working in progressive sanctification to make us more like Christ. But are you stopping enough to really work on your own soul or to allow the Holy Spirit work on your own soul so that you may abound in hope? Remember that it takes time, that takes discipline but keep your eyes fixed on the prize, the upward calling that we have in Jesus Christ. 

Dale Johnson: I may add to that, just invite other mature believers to hold your arms up. We need help at times, and I know you’ve mentioned as a part of your story, you invited some other people who were wise in moments to really help you, and I think that’s a key and critical piece learning to slow down getting back to the basics of believing. Believing not just intellectually knowing something right, pastors and ministers know those things but believing in how do we flesh this out? Knowing who God is and living this out in the way we shepherd our people and the way we trust in these things personally because that’s what gives us passion to minister well to other people anyway, and being able to give ourselves permission to slow down. What an important thing, Josh. This has been a really important conversation, and there are going to be thousands of people who listen to this, and so many of those people will be able to identify, and I pray it’s been an encouragement to them. So, thank you for being willing. First of all, to share the story. Thanks for writing the book, The End of Anxiety, and continuing to minister through weakness. 

Josh Weidmann: Thank you. Thanks, Dale.