On Monday I wended my way to Honiton, Devon for the Westcountry Reformed Minister's Fraternal. I drove to Gillingham, Dorset and met up with my old friend Mike Heather, pastor of Gillingham Baptist Church. It was Mike's turn to drive on from Gillingham so we jumped in his car and spent the hour's drive talking away about church and family stuff.
The speaker for the day was Geoff Thomas, pastor of Alfred Place Baptist Church Aberystwyth. Geoff is a larger than life character with decades of experience in the ministry so I was looking forward to what he had to say. His theme was "Anxiety in the Ministry", based on Philippians 4:6. Here's an brief sketch of his message,
I. Four things that we must not worry about
We are not to worry about food and drink or obsess over dieting. Neither are we to worry about clothing and appearance. The Lord knows that we need food, drink and clothing (Matthew 6:25ff), so there's no need to be anxious about such things. Ministers of the Gospel should not be neurotic about the trivial things in life. We have more important things to think about.
2) Things we can't control
Worrying wastes energy, but changes nothing. The short cannot worry themselves taller (Matthew 6:27). We should not worry about length of life, future financial security etc. Being consumed with worry about things we can't control diverts us from the work of the Ministry.
3) Problems that have not arisen yet
"Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof." (Matthew 6:34). What's the point in worrying about possible gloomy scenarios in the church? God will give grace to help in time of need.
4) About things that God has promised to take care of
"Be anxious for nothing" (Philippians 4:6). If God has promised to take care of something, then we must believe him. Not to do so is to excersize little faith and is a sinful failure to trust God's Word.
II. How should we deal with our worries?
1) Make a present of worry
Give your worries to God in prayer (Philippians 4:6).
2) Be thankful
"with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God."
3) Leave your worries with God
Take your burden to the Lord and leave it there. No point in presenting our anxieties to God and them taking them back. Once a present has been given away, it no longer belongs to us - it is now God's "worry" not ours.
III. God peace banishes our worries
The promise is, "and the peace of God will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus." (Philippians 4:7). God is a God of peace. His being is peace all the way down with no nagging neuroses. When we have given our worries to God, his peace will garrison our hearts like sentries on duty who stand guard to fend off the foe. Jesus has promised rest and peace to all who come to him.
In that little outline I can't hope to convey the spirit of Geoff's lively and intensely pastoral message. You just had to be there! In the discussion that followed the talk, we reflected on the difference between legitimate concern and anxiety. And at how we can minister to people whose lives are dominated by sometimes irrational worry and anxiety. One thing that impressed me in the discussion was Geoff's restless determination to keep growing as a minister. He has been the Pastor of Alfred Place Baptist Church for over 40 years, but he wants to continue to develop as a pastor and preacher. Geoff said that he is still eager to learn from the best practice of preachers he admires, like Stuart Olyott. He also tries to keep abreast of the issues that ministers have to face in the contemporary world. I suppose that's the way to exercise a long-term, fruitful ministry. To keep going we have to keep growing. I hope Geoff Thomas is still going strong come September 2010 because I booked him for Penknap Providence Church's 200th anniversary service!