Embracing Insecurity

Years ago I was hired as the first youth pastor at a growing church. I’d worked with young people for years in camps, sports, and other settings, but never been a youth pastor. I was somewhat intimidated by the role, but eager to take it on and determined to do well. For two years I worked diligently both in my role with the teens and in trying to understand what a great youth pastor was. I set myself to being the best youth pastor I could, and read volumes of books, ministry journals, articles, and attended conferences to learn how to excel. I wanted to be a great youth pastor. Two years into the role the church was considering letting me go. And they were probably right. Faced with the reality that my effort to be a great youth pastor was failing I gave up on that standard and began approaching my work simply as myself. Instead of trying to mimic what I perceived to be the way a truly great youth pastor would do things, I just did what I could do while being a flawed but deliberately improving guy who cared deeply about both the mission of our church and the young people and their families I was entrusted to serve. I figured if I was going to get fired I at least wanted to know it was for being myself. I embraced my insecurities and stopped pretending to be a great youth pastor. I was just Chris. It could have gone either way from that point. It was very possible that me being me was going to make it abundantly clear that I was the wrong person for the role. Instead, things got better. I was able to work with that church for 7 years, 6 as youth pastor, and many of the relationships begun during those years continue to enrich my life ten years later. I see several leaders each year who are struggling, and often failing, in new roles as they try to be a great Executive Director, Principal, Pastor, President, Manager, or whatever. In many cases they may be trying to perform as what they perceive a better leader would be like because they are insecure in their ability to succeed. It’s a recipe for difficulty. In almost every case it leads to striving for control, alienating the people who could help, playing politics, false optimism, and a somewhat desperate scrambling for ideas and supporters. What it never brings is health for the leader or the organization. It’s often perceived as arrogance, but in reality it’s often a fear of being discovered as inadequate. I know all too well the sense of being overwhelmed at new roles and responsibilities. Effective leaders are constantly seeking to learn and improve, and no one gets a free pass from growth. But those of us who are able to be ourselves in the midst of it all, even with our insecurities, find much greater stability and the freedom to ask for the help every leader needs to thrive. Yes, being yourself may prove that you’re in the wrong role. But pretending you’re someone you’re not will get you to the same place eventually, with a lot more pain for both yourself and those you are supposed to be serving. How have you learned to lead as yourself?