Imposter Syndrome

A lot of people struggle with what’s often called imposter syndrome. They live with an incredible amount of insecurity and self-doubt. These folks will tell you, if they’re being honest, that they feel like they’re only pretending to be something that they really aren’t; that they’re unqualified for their job, unequal to the task. They’ll tell you that their professional accomplishments are little more than good luck, and they’re just waiting for someone to catch on, to see through their flimsy disguise.If that describes you, then you aren’t alone. Most of my colleagues in ministry have confessed some variant of this to me, as well as several church members from different professional fields; that they’re really just trying to fake it until the make it, that they don’t feel worthy of their office, and that they’re terrified someone is going to realize how incompetent they really are. There’s a disconnect between who they are and who everyone else expects them to be.

For me, personally, I experience it most powerfully in the company of other clergy. I spent two years in an ecumenical, University of Chicago sponsored clergy cohort, attending several weekend retreats for the duration of the program. It was a fantastic experience, and I genuinely liked my colleagues; but every time I left, I found myself in an existential funk. These other pastors aren’t like me, I’d think to myself as I drove back to the suburbs; they’re more confident, more charismatic, and they use words like “trinitarian,” and “ecclesiastical,” in regular conversation, even if they’re just talking about football. They smile a lot. Some of them even wear clergy collars.

If I’d been paying closer attention, though, I would have realized that they also struggle with their identity. There’s a Methodist pastor, a white woman in a Latino congregation, trying to earn their respect; a Catholic priest who’s fallen in love, and struggling with whether to remain celibate or leave the ministry; and a UCC preacher who also moonlights as a hip hop artist. He released an album, titled Lemonade, literally one week before Beyonce dropped a hit record with the exact same name. Man, I felt sorry for that guy. But all of them struggle with their identity; who am I? How can I hope to compete with Beyonce? And can I ever live up to the world’s expectations of me?

What do you see in the mirror? None of you are the messiah, probably; but you might be a mother, or a lawyer, or leader in your business. Maybe just a Christian, wondering if you’re good enough to call yourself one. And whatever you are, maybe you don’t perfectly fit the archetypal mold. But that doesn’t make you an imposter. It just makes you unique – shaped, not in the image of the world’s expectations of you, but in the image of God. Much like Jesus, you have gifts to share, and work to do that only you can do. And if you’re worried that people might find out that you aren’t perfect, well, then you might as well just tell them.

I don’t always wear a collar; and I may not be like other pastors. But we aren’t like other churches, are we? And I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Excerpt from sermon “Imposter Syndrome” by Rev. Seth Ethan Carey, March 10, 2019

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