“Still don’t know what I was waitin’ for

And my time was runnin’ wild

A million dead end streets and

Every time I thought I’d got it made

It seemed the taste was not so sweet

So I turned myself to face me

But I’ve never caught a glimpse

How the others must see the faker

I’m much too fast to take that test”

David Bowie – Changes

I became a follower of Jesus at sixteen. Alone. My family did not have a faith. So, when you walk into church at sixteen without parents there is a social disconnect. They look at you and are glad you are there but can’t quite scrutinize why. You walk in and feel very much like an imposter. You don’t know the music, the code language, the dress code, or much of anything. Happy families surround you. You are a trophy, but you are not really adopted. You are an honored guest maybe, a visitor to offer hospitality to, but everyone knows silently and secretly that you don’t belong. You are the elephant in the room.

At age twenty I attended bible college for the first time. I had been volunteering in youth ministry ever since graduating high school and this was going to help. But as I sat in the very first lecture and heard all those new-fangled Greek words that I didn’t understand I felt like there was a hidden spotlight on my ignorance. And I knew in my bones I shouldn’t be there. I was an imposter. Outgunned by vocabulary and outside my pay grade in every conceivable way.

At twenty-five I attended seminary. All around me were Type A quarterbacks and prom kings. (Back in the day we had little wisdom about women doing ministry.) People who could out-think me, out-preach me, out-lead me, out…everything me. What’s the last guy in the NFL draft called? Mr. Irrelevant.

One day I was walking in the park near the seminary and stumbled upon an adult magazine left on the ground. I glanced at it for more than a moment till breaking away, running back to the seminary. And there on the edge of the property, I froze. Terrified that I had been revealed as the imposter, waiting for the lightning to hit me as I touched holy ground. Who was I? The latest navy seal washout, the last kid picked for the team, the pauper playing the prince.

At thirty, I sat at the conference table of a mid-sized church for the first time. There I was with eight other pastors for the first time. “I’m going to be discovered,” ran through my mind a thousand times. I was sure I was going to be out-ed sooner or later, found out that I was the imposter, incompetent, irrelevant, immoral…

I thought I would outgrow this feeling, but it keeps showing up. When I get invited to the VFW or am standing at the country club, in the green room at some conference with the celebrity pastor, most of the time when the mechanic is trying to tell me what’s wrong with my car. I shouldn’t be here. I’m not enough.

I just nod. Nod and wave, boys. Nod and wave. Why, because I’m a poser. I fake it, and I’m never gonna make it.

I knew I was an imposter because I looked at (insert pastor here) and I’d never achieve that. And I still knew I was an imposter when they got caught, put on leave, ditched their faith, ran full bore into heresy, were forced to retire for all sorts of sordid things.

I didn’t see yet that we are all imposters. Not hypocrites necessarily, but imposters.

IMPOSTER SYNDROME

Imposter Syndrome can be defined as a collection of feelings of inadequacy that persist despite evident success. ‘Imposters’ suffer from chronic emotive self-doubt and a sense of intellectual fraudulence that override any feelings of success or external proof of their competence.

It’s a movie troupe where there is an imposter whose greatest fear is being found out.

It’s also true. It’s the haunting of our autobiographies day after day.

To call oneself a Christian is to be an imposter. For none can carry that mantle. So, what do we do when we are terrified after it all goes wrong…or worse…all goes right. What reassurance is there for those of us on this road?

At least I’m not alone.

At least we’re not alone.

 

Jerry says…I’m too young.

Sarah says…I’m too old.

 

Moses says…I can’t talk.

Peter says to Moses…’Hold my beer.’ (I talk like a sailor.)

It’s always the wrong person at the wrong place at the wrong time. Except when it’s not. Except when “maybe YOU were here for such a time as this.” Maybe sovereignty and providence didn’t short circuit when you were selected.

Stop pretending.

It’s not like there are heroes in the Bible…there are none. To achieve hero status you must have a cultish following who endorse everything you do and say. You must be perceived perfection. But the biblical narrative goes way out of its way to cut Abraham, Noah, David, Jonah, Peter, etc. down to size. This may not be a surprise to you but it sure was to me. It took a while to realize the only hero in the text was God. That all these ‘saints’ were fairly sordid after you study and sort them out. Luther too. Bonhoeffer too. Calvin too. Zwingli too.

And we are with them in this carnival of grace. Poser and imposters stumbling forward trudging through it as best we can. The only thing funnier than our recruitment resume is the grace that holds us together. You are not enough – never have been and never will be.

The testament of your failure is the trophy case of grace. The anthem of your inadequacies is the acceptance you have secured in the Son. We are at best trophies of what He has done, but never of what we have done. Filthy rags aren’t just about a resume inadequate for salvation, they also are the reality of our experimental and experienced sanctification. Our sole security is our savior. We say it, but it’s not till we confront and feel it, that it makes a difference.

Jerry…It’s not about you, it’s about HIM.

Sarah…Laugh at yourself, it’s good for you.

Moses…It ain’t about the sermon, it’s about the Spirit that infuses it.

Peter…It isn’t about your failures, it’s about His redemptions 7 x 70 x 70.

I am an imposter. I’m trying to do an incarnational impersonation of improvised Jesus stuff. Sometimes it’s funny. Sometimes it’s profound. Sometimes I’m brilliant. Sometimes the captain obvious stupidity in me accidentally burns it all down to the ground. It’s all over the map.

Jesus says to the imposter Peter, ‘After you cluster it all up, go restore your brothers.’

That’s me (maybe you). Peter, overpromising and under-delivering. Unclean lips. Sitting with the Jews and ignoring the Gentile believers at the love feast. Getting called out by Paul in front of everybody (at least he didn’t call me Satan like Jesus did). Peter, a man in progress and process. Peter the poser. Peter the imposter. Three steps forward, two steps back. And that’s ok.

It’s all God has ever had to work with. It’s no surprise.

But I will tell you this. When you finally tip the scales it will be different. When you tip the scales and see God’s grace as bigger than your impostering you will start to feel better. And the more you push the scales to see only Christ and no longer look at yourself, you will find a peace and joy you have thus far only imagined was possible. Push yourself to the periphery Peter, focus on Jesus, and you will indeed…walk on the waves.

Dear imposter:

It’s not about you,

It’s about Him.

Amen.

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David Sherwood
Dave's been a pastor for 33 years. He's planted a micro-church [mosaic]; worked for a megachurch [lifechurch]; started an intentional community house, ran a music club, and taught at a seminary. He fails at everything all the time and is restored by God every day. He lives for God's glory and his salvation story involves getting drunk one night and reading a stolen copy of "mere christianity" till dawn. You wouldn't be impressed by him in any way, but His God is extraordinary and overshadows his flaws with His glory.
David Sherwood

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2 Comments

  1. Avatar Neal F Brower on February 12, 2020 at 12:43 pm

    Thank you for this Dave. I have described myself in the same way. Here is my concern:
    Your opening describes the accepted, respected, and still intentionally pursued system of “leadership-oriented” ch**ch systems. As long as it exists, imposters we will be. I know that I can be, and encourage my friends to be free from the imposter complex, but the system inevitably produces it. I’m wondering if a new definition those called out isn’t required before any of us will be able to escape. And those of us in positions of influence/encouragement are left to cooperate, tacitly approve, and implicitly promote what is not and has never been the way of Jesus.

  2. Avatar Ed Cole on February 12, 2020 at 11:54 am

    Thanks for writing a beautiful and relatable reminder that Jesus is our only hope. So glad you took the time to remind broken people to lift our eyes to Him!

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