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.

C Michael Patton
C Michael Patton

C. Michael Patton is the primary contributor to the Parchment and Pen/Credo Blog. He has been in ministry for nearly twenty years as a pastor, author, speaker, and blogger. Find him on Patreon Th.M. Dallas Theological Seminary (2001), president of Credo House Ministries and Credo Courses, author of Now that I'm a Christian (Crossway, 2014) Increase My Faith (Credo House, 2011), and The Theology Program (Reclaiming the Mind Ministries, 2001-2006), host of Theology Unplugged, and primary blogger here at Parchment and Pen. But, most importantly, husband to a beautiful wife and father to four awesome children. Michael is available for speaking engagements. Join his Patreon and support his ministry

    20 replies to "Why I am Not Fit for Ministry"

    • Kyle

      What in inspiration! God has really used your testimony to show me God’s leading in my life. this evening I was wondering about these exact thoughts as I finish a bachelor in theology degree and work part-time as a pastor. I often wonder, what if people know how sinful I really am… Thanks for the encouragement. Blessings!

    • Matthew

      Thank you!! From the depth of my weary soul… THANK YOU!

    • Susan

      …and THIS right before you are going to preach from Chuck Swindoll’s pulpit?! It that what brought this on? (or is this a vintage post?)
      Anyway, I hope and pray that it will go well for you next Sunday (!?)

      Funny, Dan Wallace told me once that he has that same ‘fear of being found out’. You guys are great!

    • Omar Lopex

      Extremely inspiring Michael.. Just what I needed to read right now sir…

    • Oun

      Every every time I listen to a living energizing sermon to read pages of books or articles, I feel grateful and humbled, just as I awed by those bygone musicians when I listen to such beautiful pieces of music.

      Now, the word I heard ‘millstone’ (the famous word in G-Mt) I heard from an elder at an early morning gathering, struck me with a thought which I have never had on that Gospel verses. It dawned to me this is meant to be addressed to none other than those who are in power, yes, pastors, priests, and professors, who, unknowingly on blindly, mislead the sheep.

      Seeing so many peddlers of God’s Word abounding in the world, on TV, on the Web, in books, etc., it is an awesome job to carry out for those who tremble before the Lord. I’m spared of such.

      May the blessing of the Lord be with you – keep your mouth and hand well guarded.

    • Steve

      Dear Michael, thanks for sharing your anxieties, worries and fears on “being found out.” I was ordained in 1983 (and with a very sordid and sinful past). I have NEVER felt qualified or worthy to serve our Lord. But somehow He has given me the grace to keep-on-keeping-on. I’m glad to know its not just the two of us who struggle with such nagging inward demons. Thanks for being willing to open your heart–for by doing so, you open up the heart’s of multitudes. [And by the way, I read your blog EVERY day]. I love what you share. Blessings my brother in Christ, Steve

    • Undergroundpewster

      Well said.

    • Clarence

      When I was in part time ministry I felt the same way. It even drove me out of any ministry altogether. When talking to my pastor about it, he too said he felt unworthy of being in his position, and he’s a really good pastor. I think that if we take ministry seriously (as we should) we feel the need to live up to some theoretical ideal. Many can “act” the part, but it’s an act. All of us are more sinful inside than we let the outside world know about. But can we let the Lord lead and shape us into something He can use? I think that’s a better criteria for ministry than how well you can fool yourself with trying to internally live up to the “act.”

    • Bill

      Michael – great post. Thanks for sharing your tough times – I am amazed at your ability to articulate what lies below for many of us. Being in part time ministry only, and realizing that I’m not going to be leading worship or preaching keeps a lot of that fear from rising up. But there are opportunities being presented to me currently to step out much more and this speaks to the present on-going debate raging in my head.

    • Don Maurer

      Jeremiah was but a youth… Moses could not speak… Paul was chief of sinners… Isaiah had unclean lips. Peter denied the Lord 3 times, but was restored to ministry.

      Should we feel frail, too sinful, to unclean? Certainly! Without knowledge of our inadequacy, we would think the gospel is our message to be proclaimed by our wisdom. But we speak not the wisdom of this world, but the gospel is the power of God unto Salvation.

      2 Cor4:7-10 (NAS) “We have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the exceeding greatness of the power may be of God, and not from ourselves; We are pressed on every side, yet not straitened; perplexed, yet not unto despair; pursued, yet not forsaken; smitten down, yet not destroyed; always bearing about in the body the dying of Jesus, that the life also of Jesus may be manifested in our body.”

      How dare we ever think that we are worthy to be messengers of such a sovereign and glorious God? We proclaim the Word of God, because of the value of the message, not because of the value of the messenger. We proclaim the Gospel because a sovereign and glorious God has commanded us to. We are unworthy servants under obligation.

    • Leslie Jebaraj


      I’d echo much of what Susan wrote, except for the Dan Wallace comment!

      All the best for the Sunday sermon. Would Stonebriar have a online repeat of your sermon? Thanks!

    • JasonJ

      I found this post to be extremely helpful as I have felt like this often. On top of that, past unsaved friends and family seem to fuel the feelings. I usually just look at it as continued lessons in humility, but that doesn’t make it ‘feel’ any better.

      It’s good to know I’m not the only one.

    • Zach

      Awesome and very true! We just have to also not let the pendelum swing so far the other way and become stagnant in our faith. I have known lots of Christians who have become paralyzed in their faith a few times because of fear.

    • Ken McMillian

      I’m not sure it is possible to feel totally adequate in ministry. During my fourteen years in vocational ministry I often found myself focusing on the external, and not near enough on the eternal. Instead of engaging the daily rigors of ministry on my knees before an all knowing, all powerful God, I tended to fight the battles and make the plans in my our own strength using words and logic.

      Paraphrasing Oswald Chambers, if we in ministry would focus more on developing our personal relationship with God, yielding to His will and purpose, we might ultimately see more redemption, and subsequently more progress in all areas of our ministry. I’m currently reading a book entitled “Confessions of a Pray Slacker” that has strongly challenged me in this area of my life.

    • SD Jones

      Only in the past couple months have I begun to think that maybe this won’t be my last Sunday in the pulpit, that I will be found out and tossed into the raging river of secular work again. Sometimes, I sit across from people who are telling me some amazing difficulty they are experiencing – cancer discovered, affairs being had, negotiating arguments in the family – and think to myself, “God could certainly have found someone who might know what to say in this particular situation. Why am I the one who is here for this?” Apparently, the Holy Spirit knows better than I do, because more often than not Christ’s solid rock feels very much like sinking sand. Thank you for this.

    • Jeremy

      Thank you Michael for your transperancy. I find your humble thoughts empowering and inspirational. Maybe if more ministers and I dare say scholars revealed more of their human side the church would be a bit more relevant to the world around them. I think it is natural for us to compare ourselves to others and when it seems like everyone else but us has it all together, it becomes disheartening. The truth of the matter is we are all imperfect and have insecurities and that is why we need the body of Christ. As one who looks for opportunities to be a mentor to young men I find it has been a very powerful connection and bond of trust for me to be able to relate to their weaknesses and to be honest. To say, “Me too brother but let’s fight as a team.” Often we Christians can observe Atlas pushing that rock up the hill alone, offer a pat on the back (maybe a ‘God bless you’) and keep walking. Let’s bare these bolders together and not secretly alone. God bless you !

    • Mark

      Hello Michael,

      It’s probably good that you feel inadequate for ministry because it helps you resist the temptations of the devil.

      But from my perspective, you are exceedingly fit for ministry.

      Thank you for your continued service. God bless you.

    • JJ

      I remember a story told by Prof Howard Hendricks… a young pastor was concerned that he was not worthy. “Prof, I really fear that I am just a worm.”

      Son, I don’t want you to worry about that. Just TAKE THAT BY FAITH!

      We are all worms in that we are steeped in sin. No, that is no reason to continue in it willfully. But the fact that the fall has affected every area of my life and being should not surprise me. I should know from my own life. I should know from Scripture.

      I didn’t go into full time ministry after Seminary because I was convinced that no one in ministry would be so prideful, arrogant, heartless. But, the problem with thinking this way is that it is focused inwardly, upon ourselves.

      Yes, we are worms. But we are also saints who need to minister to the needs of others in our lives. To the Glory of God in Christ Jesus.

    • […] Michael Patton on fears of being unfit for ministry. […]

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