If you’ve led anything, you’re likely familiar with the feeling.
You wonder whether you have what it takes.
Maybe you even wonder how you got this job/task/assignment/responsibility.
And you just don’t know if you can accomplish the responsibility you’ve been given.
I felt this again yesterday. I was getting up to preach (something I’ve done for over twenty-five years), and for some reason, my main thought 60 seconds before I was scheduled to begin was: “I don’t think I have anything helpful to say.”
You’d think after decades of senior leadership, those thoughts would disappear. And if you think that, you’d be wrong.
So much in leadership is a mental game—an important game. What you think ultimately determines what you do (or don’t do).
And if you think that’s just talk, I promise you that every day there are leaders who hold back, scale back and even quit entirely because they feel inadequate, when in fact, they were very much up to the call.
And that plays right into the enemy’s hands.
If you take yourself out, the enemy won’t have to. He’s already won.
Don’t get me wrong, sometimes you’re the right person in the wrong role. Sometimes you should back off and walk away.
But most days, for most people, that’s just not true. Far too many leaders quit moments before their critical breakthrough.
So what should you do when you feel inadequate as a leader?
Try asking yourself these 5 questions.
1. Are you tired?
You know what one of my problems was Sunday morning?
I was tired.
I had woken up at 3:30 a.m. on Sunday morning (which is even early for me). By the time the services rolled around, I was pretty much spent; it had been a full week, and I didn’t have a normal day off.
Your emotions tell you all kinds of things that aren’t true when you’re tired. And mine were telling me things that I knew objectively weren’t true.
I felt like just deciding not to preach that morning, or having the production crew play back the 9:00 service at 10:30. Had I let that thought train ride all the way, I might have just decided to stop preaching entirely. Maybe my time is done. Maybe I have nothing to add, ever.
Sure, I wasn’t even close to throwing in the towel, but get tired enough for long enough and you never know what you’ll do. In my seasons where my fatigue pushed me toward burnout, my mind has gone in many unhelpful directions.
Emotional decisions are terrible decisions.
If you’re tired, the cure is simple: Get some sleep. You’ll see and think better in the morning.
2. Are you unprepared?
Sometimes you may feel inadequate. But drill down a little deeper and you’ll realize you’re not inadequate, you’re just unprepared.
Sometimes you just didn’t study hard enough, prepare early enough or do enough background research. (I had done a lot of study for this message and had written it weeks in advance, so even that wasn’t rationally the reason I was struggling.)
Sure, all of us struggle with imposter symptom to some extent (Is this the day they figure out I don’t really know what I’m doing?), but almost no one is fully qualified for the work to which they’re called.
I still have recurring dreams/nightmares that I’m scheduled to give a sermon or a conference talk and show up completely unprepared, get hustled out on stage and have to wing it.
In reality, I prepare weeks ahead of time for virtually everything I am asked to do.
At least that levels the playing field.
But if you’re struggling with whether or not you’re adequate, ask yourself, are you well prepared? If not, prepare.
Life is unkind to the unprepared, so prepare.
3. What are other people thinking and saying?
How you feel is one thing.
But most leaders are not the best judges of how well they’re doing.
You will most likely think you’re doing better than you really are, or that you’re doing worse than you are.
Honest feedback will help you figure that out.
You get a much better perspective on the true state of things by learning how are other people feeling. What are they thinking?
What other people think about you can be incredibly grounding.
So, what great people do you have around you that could give you some perspective on how things are going?
4. Where do the metrics point?
In addition to what people tell you, there’s likely also some hard evidence that can give you feedback on how you’re really doing.
I have known scores of really talented people who think they’re doing far worse than they are. (Which is much better, by the way, than the moderately capable person who thinks they’re awesome).
I always encourage them to look at the metrics related to them and their work. They’re almost always positive.
These can include anything from:
- Attendance growth
- Number of people in groups or serving
- Staff turnover
- Financial health
- Performance reviews
If you’re in a season where those are up, you can simply move forward, reassured that you actually are making a difference.
The past is the future with the lights on.
But even if you’re in a season where the metrics are slumped or are down, that’s not necessarily fatal. Great leaders love great challenges.
It could easily be a case where you just have to throw your heart into the next season, which leads us to point 5.
5. Are you really relying on God?
I saved the best for last.
No matter how capable a leader you are, there should always be at least a moderate sense that the challenge ahead is beyond you.
The best use of your life is to take on challenges so big that if they succeed, only God can get the credit.
The challenge ahead of you should always be bigger than you. If it’s not, where do faith and trust come in?
There should always be the sense that you’re doing something bigger than you, in a cause that is far bigger than you: the kingdom of God.
That will also greatly improve your walk with God as you turn to him daily for strength.
That’s how I got through another Sunday, and honestly, much of what I do.
Never forget, God uses your availability even more than he uses your ability.
That’s good news for all of us. So hang in there.
Practical Help For Leaders of Small and Mid-sized Churches
Most small church leaders would love to reach more people. Yet 85% of all churches never see more than 200 people attend on a Sunday.
My new online course called Breaking 200 Without Breaking You tackles eight key issues that keep churches from passing the 200 barrier and beyond.
So whether your church is 50, 150 or 250 in attendance, the principles will help you gain the insight you need to break the barrier more than 85% of churches can’t break.
How Do Stay In It?
When you feel like you’re not up to the challenge, how do you keep yourself engaged in the mission?
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