Encouragement for Self-Doubting Leaders

This piece I wrote several years ago was published in the Youthworker Journal. Hope you find it encouraging. -JB

“You’ll remember, friends, that when I first came to you to let you in on God’s master stroke, I didn’t try to impress you with polished speeches and the latest philosophy. I deliberately kept it plain and simple: first Jesus and who he is; then Jesus and what he did—Jesus crucified. I was unsure of how to go about this, and felt totally inadequate—I was scared to death, if you want the truth of it—and so nothing I said could have impressed you or anyone else. But the Message came through anyway. God’s Spirit and God’s power did it, which made it clear that your life of faith is a response to God’s power, not to some fancy mental or emotional footwork by me or anyone else” (1 Cor. 2:1-5, The Message).

The Bible is filled with many freaked-out, tongue-tied messengers commissioned with bring God’s Word into risky situations. Moses stammered when he spoke, but was told to go to Pharaoh anyway. Jeremiah thought he was too young and inexperienced, but that didn’t get him off the hook. Paul had a reputation for being impressive in writing, but awkward in person.

Pastors and speakers who have the privilege of sharing God’s message with others each week can gain reassurance from passages that remind us that even the great Apostle Paul had many moments of uncertainty and self-doubt. Do you find it encouraging to know that even Paul “felt totally inadequate” and “scared to death” at times? I certainly do.

Do you speak, preach or teach regularly to groups? Do you go through deep valleys of uncontrollable self-doubt and feelings of inadequacy in ministry? Do you sweat each time you step in front of your congregation or youth group? This can be a weight that sinks your ministry under the waters of despair, or it can be the thing that drives you to become more dependent on God’s power in your ministry and preaching.

Paul’s greatest legacy was his utter dependence on God to be his “strength in weakness.” He believed with every bone in his body that the effectiveness of his ministry (preaching the gospel) depended on God’s power, not his own.

Sharing the message of the gospel is not a task reserved solely for pastors and preachers. We all are called to “give a reason for the hope that lies within us” and share this hope with others “with gentleness and respect.” So, what pointers can we glean from Paul’s words as we strive to become more God-dependent, God-empowered messengers of the Kingdom?

• Don’t try to impress your hearers (v. 1). You’re not an entertainer; you’re a messenger entrusted with a life-changing Word to share.

• Keep it simple (v. 2). Dressing up the truth to make it more appealing, funny or cute can lead people to grab onto the wrong thing. Keep it simple.

• Keep Jesus at the center (v. 2). Make sure everything comes back to Jesus insofar as possible: “First Jesus and who he is; then Jesus and what he did.”

• Be real, be vulnerable (v. 3). Paul is not afraid to tell his flock of his personal doubts, fears and struggles. We shouldn’t either. Sincerity and an appropriate level of vulnerability earns you credibility with your audience.

• Depend on God (vv. 4-5). Always. Your message is only effective if the Holy Spirit works through it. “Let go and let God.”

This is hitting home for me right now as I labor to be a faithful and effective messenger of God’s Word. I thank God for choosing people such as Paul, and inspiring his writings and placing them in the Holy Scripture to encourage ordinary people like me who also are “unsure of how to go about this, and feel totally inadequate.”

It’s a good thing it’s really not about us.

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