Less than six months into my first pastorate, I felt completely in over my head. I truly started believing I had no business being the pastor of this church. There were no moral or ethical issues, just an internal sense of my being unprepared. The church was doing well, but I was struggling. It was only by the grace of God, the goodness of those people and the support of my wife that we enjoyed five good ministry years in that setting.
Most leaders live their lives on the spectrum of the “imposter syndrome.” An article by Melody Wilding states, “In a 2014 study, imposter syndrome was found to be the top fear of executives worldwide. Sixty percent of executives say it negatively impacted their ability to lead confidently. Even the world’s most brilliant thinkers confess to feeling like frauds sometimes.”
If you are not familiar with impostor syndrome, it can be summed by the internal voice that tells a leader that he or she does not deserve to be in their place of service and that others may soon reach this same conclusion. For the Christian leader, the impostor syndrome is overcome by God’s call on our life and His work of shaping us to fit the assignments He gives. The surrendered follower of Jesus, affirmed by biblical qualifications of leadership and the affirmation of God’s people, knows that God is the giver of ministry assignments.
One thing a leader can do to confront this battle is to continue to grow as a leader. Consider these five leadership development practices:
1. Read leadership books. In a recent interview with Southern Seminary Leadership Professor Dr. Justin Irving, I asked what books he recommended for those who want to grow in leadership. He listed three: Designed to Lead by Eric Geiger, The Conviction to Lead by Albert Mohler and Managing Leadership Anxiety by Steve Cuss. There are thousands of helpful leadership books available to today’s readers. Consider reading one and talking through its concepts with a friend.
2. Read or listen to biographies of leaders. I have always benefited by hearing the candid stories of other leaders. One of the easiest ways to do that is by reading biographies. Disciple-maker Waylon Moore said each Christian needs three people in their life: a partner, a pupil and a pacesetter. A pacesetter is one who is living for Jesus in a way that challenges and inspires you to be more faithful. One way to access great leadership pacesetters is through Christian biography.
3. Attend leadership conferences. Today with the plethora of online — as well as in-person — offerings, the aspiring leader has a wide range of conferences available to him or her. Some of these are free, others have a minimal cost and some are more expensive. The leader who wants to grow can do an online search and soon discover leadership development training available for him or her.
4. Spend time with other leaders. The old and oft-cited proverb reminds us that “iron sharpens iron,” (Proverbs 27:17). Proverbs 13:20 teaches that those who spend time with wise people will become wise. Every seasoned leader is honored when a younger leader asks for time to learn from the experiences of another. Find someone you admire as a leader then invite them to lunch, offer to pay and be armed with a list of questions to help you grow. The relationship that may emerge could be life changing.
5. Read your Bible and pray. The Bible is not a leadership handbook — but with a Bible in hand and an open heart — the faithful devotee will discover examples of godly leaders as well as faithless ones. One is to be avoided and the other is to be followed. The greatest leader of all is our Lord Jesus Christ who took a handful of disciples, invested heavily in them and turned the world upside down through their lives.
Whatever approach you take to grow as a leader, do not allow yourself to be held back by the impostor syndrome. If God has saved you and called you to a ministry assignment, be faithful to grow into the role he has placed you. You can do it, and your life and leadership can make a difference.