I live with the fear that someone will discover that I am not fit for ministry. Wait, I am getting ahead of myself . . .
January 2000. I have just been hired as an intern at Stonebriar Community Church. I still have a year left at Dallas Theological Seminary, but my excitement is far beyond anything I could have ever imagined six years ago when I began to think about ministry. My life had not been one of a minister in preparation by any means. It was a fun, selfish, sinful, and “I’ll-deal-with-you-later-Lord” type life . You can read about it here. However, now things were different. The constant adrenaline that the idea of full-time service for the Lord was enough to keep my mind off my past failures. Watching Braveheart in 1995 seventeen times at the theater fueled my motivation. I thought to myself If I could just give my life for something bigger than myself like William Wallace did then contentment would be found in sacrifice. This was the road I was on. Excited, motivated, hopeful, and ready to change lives, I was now working for Chuck Swindoll, my hero.
The internship at Stonebriar Community Church for small groups turned into an internship for missions and outreach. This was good. I was going to set the example of one who was passionate for God. I was going to catch the eye of those around me. They were going to look at me and say to themselves Now that is what a young minister should be like. Maybe even Chuck Swindoll would call me into his office and commend my passions and service. Maybe Chuck would become my mentor.
I graduated in 2001 with a Th.M. from Dallas Theological Seminary. That is a theological masters—yes masters. From their standpoint I was a jedi of theology. Would others take notice? They would have to. Not only this, but I won awards for service and teaching from the seminary and graduated at the top of my class. I was ordained into the ministry by the elders of Stonebriar Community Church in May of 2001. Chuck preached a sermon that was devoted just to me (well, there were three others who were ordained, but he was looking at me most of the time). Chuck and the elders laid their hands on me as I was on my knees whispering prayers, words of encouragement, and warnings in my ear.
Now, I was totally prepared and confirmed for ministry. I am on full-time pastoral staff at Stonebriar Community Church. My past was under my feet and I was turning my foot on it like a discarded cigarette.
Sitting in my office not long after this I was preparing a lesson while dreaming about what The Theology Program could become when I got a phone call that would put me in my place.
“David wants to meet with you.” These were the words of my administrative assistant Lynn.
“He says that you two should go to lunch to talk.”
David Chavanne was the senior associate pastor. He was just below Chuck on the totem pole. Now you would think from what I have said so far that I would pridefully strut to this lunch date expecting nothing but the best. But this was not the case. The only feeling I had that moment was one of overwhelming fear, shame, and sadness. The first thought that came to my mind was They have found me out. The thoughts went on. The gig is up; Time to pack my bags and move on; I should have known better than to think this was the Lord’s will. What was I thinking? Who did I think I was fooling? I am not fit for ministry. With these thoughts, that day I came to realize that I was not quite so sure of my calling as I led others and myself to believe. My subconscious insecurity was now part of my ministry and my life.
Now, what you must know is that there was not anything in particular that I thought they found out about. There was no secret sin that I was hiding about which I believed was the reason for the meeting. It was just me. They found out about me. They knew I was a fraud, and this phone call brought this fact to my own conscious. Whether they had seen my past or my present, they would realize that they had made a mistake in ordaining and hiring me.
Off I went to meet David with plans to accept the collective wisdom of the elders and begin to think more seriously about what God really wanted me to do. I imagined that the elders had a troublesome meeting and David was sent to dish out the bad news with as much sensitivity as he could.
I don’t even remember what the meeting was about, but it was not about their discovery of the real Michael Patton as I had supposed. It was either about some administrative issues or simply a “let’s get to know each other” type of meeting. I was “safe”—for now.
The feelings of secret anxiety that this surfaced that day have been with me ever since. Over the next few years, every time that one of my superiors in the ministry would call a meeting or invite me to lunch, the same thoughts would resurface. Have they found me out this time? Well, either way, it is just a matter of time.
Laying in my bed one night I began to think about what I will do when someone actually does find me out. As I thought about all the alternatives, I came to an important discovery about my passions—they were real. Even if I feel totally inadequate to serve and represent the Lord, this is what I would do. Whether I work at a bank, return to the fitness industry, or find a new career all-together, I would find a way to minister. Those were my thoughts. In my mind I was already planning how to continue in the ministry, spreading the magnificent message of the majesty of God and His mercy, no matter where I was at. I told the Lord that night that I don’t care what I do, I will serve and love You.
Over the next few years I began to talk to other ministers about my phobia and insecurity. To my surprise, most of those in ministry, whether they had just started or been there for years, expressed the exact same feelings. While I thought I was coming to them to confess my fears, I found this fear was common for all those who serve the Lord. We all have a deep sense of inadequacy. As I would talk about this with other ministers, I came to a deeper understanding of the grace of God. Is it that radical? Yes, I think it is. Radical enough to use you even though He has already found you out—even though you are inadequate and not fit for ministry.
Am I inadequate for ministry? Yes. So are you. We all are. If you have the “I’m not fit for ministry” syndrome, you are in good company. In fact, I have come to fear those who don’t have this syndrome. We know ourselves better than anyone. We know who we really are. We are intimately acquainted with our past failures and present struggles. These are not pretty. We are often selfish and many times prideful. We will let people down. We doubt and are scared, and we are not really as smart as we think. Laments are the norm rather than praise. In short, we are sinful.
If we are self-reflective, we will constantly be questioning our legitimacy. When we are at out best—when we are the most fit for ministry—we turn to God’s grace to supply us with confidence. He is our adequacy. Our commitment to Him is always mediated through our sinfulness. I am learning to live with “I’m not fit for ministry” syndrome. I think Paul did the same when he referred to himself in the present tense as the “chief of sinners.”
1 Timothy 1:15 15: “This is a faithful saying, and worthy of all acceptation, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners; of whom I am chief.”
Paul learned to live with this syndrome relying on God’s grace. Chuck Swindoll once said during a sermon, “If you really knew the person sitting next to you, you would not sit next to them and if you really knew me, you would not listen to me.” I think this is true for all of us.
May God’s grace be our confidence as we grow in a body of sin and inadequacy.