You know that feeling you get right after someone has picked apart your best idea, or when that couple leaves your office who’s marriage is in more trouble than you are qualified to put back together? Maybe it was after last months board meeting when you realized bible school did not prepare you for THIS. Sure you preach and amazing sermon, teach a class, organize a program, make hospital calls like a champ and shake hands with a big smile.. but no one taught you that you might feel inadequate while staring at your diploma and credentials hanging on the wall, or that those feelings would last longer than you dare admit. Being a pastor is one of the hardest jobs around. Looking from the outside, people see a gifted spiritual leader. Yet on the inside, insecurities may lurk. It’s not uncommon for both pastors and ministers to have thoughts like: “If they knew my struggles, they wouldn’t ask me for help,” “What if I don’t know what to say to them?”
Moses had the same struggles. He stood before God at the burning bush, and at first he said “Here I am.” Yet as he got closer, he hid his face because he was afraid to look at God. When God said he was sending Moses to Pharaoh, Moses honestly spoke his fears to God. He said “Who am I that I should go…” “What shall I tell them?” and “What if they do not believe me or listen to me…” “I have never been eloquent.” “Please send someone else.” Does this sound like Moses had some insecurities? Does this sound like you?
We all wonder Who am I that I should go into the ministry? In our moments of facing the anxiety of God’s true plan, it’s normal to forget that He has already prepared us uniquely for this task.
When I opened my therapy practice, I had fears stronger than I had ever experienced before. I was hearing a constant stream of thoughts, “you’re normal, what do you have to offer?” “You’ll start this practice, and then have to close shop because you can’t live off the income.” “You are just a regular person; people won’t be drawn to you.” It was a constant barrage of negative thinking about my abilities as a therapist. Sometimes it was overwhelming. I wanted to quit. Thank goodness for God providing several sermons at the right moment to keep me going in this direction. Meanwhile, another part of me spoke up and said, “If Satan is fighting you this hard, you must be going in the right direction.
It wasn’t until online therapist groups started talking about Imposter Syndrome that it started to make sense. Imposter syndrome is a “pervasive feeling of self-doubt, insecurity, or fraudulence despite often overwhelming evidence to the contrary. It strikes smart, successful individuals.” Then I better understood why I had the constant stream of negative thinking unlike any I had ever experienced.
While writing this article, I was conversing with one of my many friends in ministry, Victor Rodriguez, who helped me put it into words. He said “People view you as this “mighty warrior” or “perfect” individual. But people don’t realize the type of pressure that puts on us. We are just regular people like them. The only difference is we have a special calling on our lives. Aside from that we are faulty, broken, and in need of our savior. That alone creates insecurities because we feel like we have to meet that “standard” in order to not let people down. On one hand it’s good because it keeps you in check; however, failing to reach the standard can be detrimental to our self-esteem. We realize that God looks at us in a different light, but it still causes insecurities.”
That sounds like me. Now what?
Know that feeling like a fraud is normal.
Successful people frequently deal with Imposter Syndrome both inside the church and out. It makes sense that Satan would use this as a tactic to try to keep spiritual leaders from moving forward in their calling. There is an element of shame and fear of being discovered, so sufferers keep silent.
Remind yourself of the things God has already done in your life
Look and see how God perfectly prepared you for this ministry. There were many stepping stones for you to get here. Remind yourself of the doors that God opened. Remember the struggles you’ve been through that have equipped you to help others in certain areas.
Look at how God has equipped you for this task
Moses forgot that God had prepared him since childhood. Moses was raised in the palace. He knew the ways of royalty, their culture, the protocol, and the ins and outs of presenting yourself before the Pharaoh and how to do that in the appropriate manner. This preparation made him uniquely capable of going before the pharaoh and having those difficult and confrontive conversations. Yet Moses questioned “who am I that I should go?”
The best way to move through the feelings of being an imposter is to seek out mentorship or support of others in the ministry community. Navigating unfamiliar water can be treacherous without a mentor. While vulnerability is difficult, most people respond with kindness and support. If they say “snap out of it,” they may not be the right person to confide in.
Sometimes it’s ok to not know what you are doing.
Anytime you are learning to navigate in new areas of ministry it’s going to be nerve racking. When I first began couples therapy I was more nervous than I’d ever been in my life. During first few sessions, I watched the clock CREEP and counted minute by minute how it passed. Meanwhile, I’m praying that I could make it 5 more minutes without sticking my foot in my mouth. Then, I was surprised they wanted to reschedule. And I kept being surprised for the next several months.
It’s ok to not know what you are doing. There is a learning curve associated with every new type of ministry. It’s going to feel nerve wracking. And that’s normal… very, very normal.
Have an expectation of initial failure
When we bought our first boat, I was trying to learn to drive it onto the trailer. Mind you, I had no previous boating experience at that point. My new brother-in-law and his friend were watching. It was nerve wracking as they watched my first attempts. So embarrassing! I gave up trying because they could see every mistake I made and so I decided I’d learn another day when no one was watching. They were kind and encouraged me that it was a learnable skill and that I would be able to do it with practice. While I felt like a failure that day, I have carried their words with me whenever I try new things.
You don’t have to know what you are doing. If you make mistakes, own up to them and say to people things like: “It’s my first time doing this.” “I’ll get the hang of this soon, will you bear with me?” We’re all going to make mistakes when trying new things, and that’s ok. Most people will go with the flow. When we are authentic about our failures, it tends to draw people towards us. Isn’t that what we want? In fact, they often reach out to help if it’s within their power.
Make friends with failure. Failure gives us information. Not information about our worth, but information about what does and doesn’t work in our situation. Every great success has a series of missteps before the final product.
Even if you finished the learning curve…
Expect to have feelings of being an imposter from time to time. My pastor is usually transparent with our congregation. He has admitted that the few seconds walking from the pew to the pulpit are the hardest of all and that is when he has a strong sense of worthlessness and “who am I?” questions. This is after decades of ministry. Extend the same grace to yourself that you do to others when you have this feeling.
Remember Satan wants us out of the game
Satan is the father of lies. Be prepared, he’s going to whisper insecurity in your ear your entire ministry career. He wants to defeat us. If he can’t, he wants to make it more challenging. When we are insecure, we tend to speak up less. Thus we make less impact on those around us. When we stand and fight his lies instead of cowering to them, then we’ve got a fighting chance at spreading the good news!
Walk out your calling
When you hear Satan whispering anxiety and insecurity in your ears, try this exercise. Tune into that part of you that knows God called you for this moment. God planted something inside you deep down in your core. Identify what it is. Find your core word. For example, mine is “emotional healing.” My friends have core words like: Freedom, Joy, Generosity … Identifying your core word can center you in the times of adversity. It can steer you. Get very, very clear on what God has called you to do because it directs your path.
Out of our core word, ministry is birthed. My ministry looks like therapy but has the education of social work. But the core is much deeper. I feel deep inside me that I was created for emotional healing and support, and that has been with me since my teens, even before I knew what career path I would take.
When does it stop?
Do you think Moses’ struggle with imposter syndrome magically stopped after he left the burning bush? No, absolutely not! The biblical evidence proves in the beginning Aaron spoke more often to Pharaoh and the Israelites than Moses.
Let’s examine the dynamics in the relationship between Pharaoh, Moses and Aaron. It wasn’t an easy task for Moses to continue to confront Pharaoh. He cried to the Lord, “Why Lord, why have you brought trouble on this people?” after Pharaoh’s treatment of the Israelites became more harsh. Moses questioned God “why would Pharaoh listen to me?” (Ex 6:30). Moses and Aaron spoke to Pharaoh numerous times with seemingly little effect. Pharaoh’s heart was hardened. Yet, Moses continued to return to the palace to advocate for the Israelites’ freedom. Moses was fully in tune with God, and God kept providing direction about what to say and when to say it. Just think about how hard it is to go back and confront someone over and over, especially when their heart is continually stubborn and hard. Most of us would give up.
As you read those chapters, it’s as if Moses voice gets stronger and Aaron speaks less frequently. By the time of Passover, Moses summoned the elders to give the instructions for the first Passover; he spoke to them without the assistance of Aaron.
I see how the personal journey Moses was on, this continual confronting of Pharaoh, multiple meetings with Israelite elders, and even the Israelites becoming angry with him- all these served the purpose of making Moses more confident. What if Moses hadn’t experienced those things? Would he have been as prepared to lead the Israelites through the journey in the wilderness? Especially with all their complaining? No, I don’t think he would have been prepared. Remember, before all this happened, Moses was afraid to speak. I think God used these encounters with Pharaoh to strengthen Moses’ ability to speak out as a leader. And God still uses the same technique today as we travel our own personal journeys and when we say “who am I that I should go?”
I’m not sure imposter syndrome ever entirely goes away. My own fraudulent feelings still rise up and speak on a regular basis. My pastor faces his at least on a weekly basis. I know we are not alone. You are not alone.
There is a truth to remember, and I place my trust in this “My grace is sufficient for you, for my strength is made perfect in weakness” II Cor. 12:9. God faithfully spoke to Moses providing assurance and direction to lead His people. God is always faithful and continually does the same for his children today.