By Doug Talley
One area COVID has rocked our world as pastors is in the area of self-confidence. When the lockdown struck, no one knew what to do. Things were changing so quickly that in a matter of hours we were making decisions and then retracting them after they had already been announced. And as we did, we felt kind of foolish. It was like we were wearing signs that said, “Lost and confused” or “Clueless.” The only thing that was predictable was that things were unpredictable.
One year after the pandemic hit, David Kinnaman of Barna fame reports that 29% of pastors have given serious consideration to quitting full-time ministry during the last year. That’s almost one-third. We’re not talking about one-third are thinking about changing churches. They are thinking about leaving the ministry.
Most, probably all, of us have days when we think about quitting the ministry. We aren’t necessarily giving it serious consideration. Rather, it’s something that pops in our minds when we are struggling emotionally. Granted, sometimes it looks pretty attractive. But usually we process the feelings and press on.
As I look back over my 43 years of full-time ministry, I’ve certainly had days when I dreamed of quitting. Some of those days are etched in my mind due to the trauma symptoms I was feeling. I still get queasy thinking about them. But I pressed through the wall of discouragement and frustration and have found times of significant fulfillment afterwards.
Recently Indiana Ministries hosted a webinar with Dave Ferguson of Community Christian Church in Naperville, IL. Many know him as the president of Exponential. Dave said something that I thought was profound. Basically, it was this. “During COVID we have all been trying to figure things out. No one knew what to do. We are making it up as we go. None of us were trained for this.”
Hearing those words from a high caliber leader like Dave Ferguson was encouraging to me. I felt like God was saying through him, “It’s okay when you are clueless and aren’t sure what to do. You don’t have all the answers, and I don’t expect you to. That’s not why I called you. There are times when you have to do your best and make it up as you go.”
I’m going to let you in on a secret: There are times when I really struggle with self-confidence and feeling inadequate. There are times when I feel like I’m in way over my head, and I become anxious about someone figuring out I have no idea what I am doing. The way I’ve tried to cover it up is to try to have everything figured out before I take the first step. But that still doesn’t make feelings of inadequacy go away.
God knows that I am that way. (So does Cindy). At times God indulges me, and at times – like this past year – He seizes opportunities to stretch and teach me. This past year there has been no figuring things out in advance.
Living out our faith and being effective in ministry involves balancing ourselves on the tight rope of having confidence in God and having confidence in ourselves. It’s not either/or. It is both. When I first started pastoring back in the 70s, I thought self-confidence was a sign of arrogance and that pastors just needed to be confident in God. Since then I’ve learned that a healthy dose of self-confidence is important especially when it is intertwined with confidence in God.
Sometimes our self-confidence tanks – like it has for most pastors this past year. During those times we don’t feel like God has much confidence in us either. Those are the times when we need the confidence our peers and mentors have in us to keeps us afloat.
Carey Nieuwhof recently said it like this in a post: Look to the confidence of others when you’ve lost confidence in yourself.
I suspect these words from Ecclesiastes 4 are familiar to you,
“It’s better to have a partner than go it alone.
Share the work, share the wealth.
And if one falls down, the other helps,
But if there’s no one to help, tough!
By yourself you’re unprotected.
With a friend you can face the worst.
Can you round up a third?
A three-stranded rope isn’t easily snapped.
Ecclesiastes 4:9-12 (MSG)
Solomon is talking about how tough life is when we try to go it alone, by ourselves, without at least one friend who has our backs. We need each other. The more strands (friends whom we can honestly confide in and depend on), the stronger the rope.
Several years ago I spent some time with Al Ells while he meddled in my life. One of the targets he wanted to address was my tendency to lack confidence in myself. Without saying so, I think he just got tired of it surfacing during our interactions. So he basically said to me, “I’ve been watching your life and interacting with you for 10 years. I know you. It is time to stop listening to the lie that sabotages your self-confidence.”
I cannot tell you how many times I’ve reflected on his words to me. I think what he was really saying to me was, “Doug, sure there are times when your self-confidence struggles. We all have family and culture of origin issues. Though there are times that you do not feel confident, I have confidence in you. So lean on my confidence in you when your confidence in yourself is insufficient.”
When the pandemic lockdown began, God played those words from Al in my head. I didn’t know what to do. There was no manual for navigating Indiana Ministries during a pandemic. But God believed in me. And Al believed in me. So, I needed to step out and try to figure this out as I went.
Here’s where I’m going with this article. We’ve all had a trying year. It has been unprecedented. Your experience and your training did not prepare you for it. But God has a call on your life. And He wants you to THRIVE as you fulfill that call – even during a worldwide pandemic.
To THRIVE you need ministry peers and mentors who know you, know your fears and anxieties, know your heart and your capacity. It is risky to let people look that deeply inside you and get to know you at that level. But there is an upside to taking that risk – it can get you through the most trying times in life and ministry that you will ever encounter.
God never intended you to do this ministry gig alone. He’s given you peers and mentors who are willing to pour into your life as you pour into theirs. Don’t let autonomy, insecurity, or feeling inadequate cause you to isolate yourself from others. You desperately need others! If ministry was a solo sport, God never would have promised, “…when two are three of you are together because of me, you can be sure that I’ll be there.” (Matthew 18:20 MSG)
We ALL need peer mentors and mentors. Every single one of us. Yet, according to a survey of pastors taken several years ago, 70% of pastors reported that they do not have someone they consider a close friend.
Quiz question: if you don’t have a close friend in ministry – a peer or mentor to pour into you and boost your confidence with hers or his – then how many strands does your rope have?
If you don’t have a ministry peer (or two) and a mentor, then perhaps finding them is one of the most important things you can do in 2021.
Recently, Indiana Ministries launched its second wave of peer mentoring groups that are part of a ministry designed to help pastors THRIVE. It is funded by a five-year Lilly Foundation Grant. The relationships developed in these cohorts have been a source of life for participants this past year. If you are interested in knowing more, contact Dr. Carl Addison, the Director of THRIVE, at firstname.lastname@example.org.
I want you to thrive in life and ministry! I pray that often for you.