Imposter syndrome comes to every youth and children’s leader at some point. You’re looking over your notes before getting up to speak, or you find yourself standing in the midst of a room full of children, or you’re sitting one-to-one with a crying young person and it suddenly hits. You’re overwhelmed by a realisation of your own flaws and shortcomings, or suddenly reminded of some besetting sin. You know it to be true, and you’re paralysed by it: you are not worthy to lead these young people.
I could reassure you at this point. I could tell you that you’re probably doing a much better job than you think, and that God has given you everything you need to lead children and young people. I could tell you that, just as with Hanks, Watson and Sandberg, the evidence surely begs to differ. I could recite that much-loved Christian poster about Jacob walking with a limp, David being an adulterer and Moses being a murderer. Yet the truth is, it wouldn’t cure your imposter syndrome. Deep down, we all still question our own integrity as leaders, and can’t fail to spot the dissonance between the life we live and the character of the God we follow.
"There’s a reason for our imposter syndrome. It’s this: we’re not worthy to lead children and young people"
And there’s a reason why you sometimes feel like you’re not worthy to lead young people. There’s a reason for our imposter syndrome. It’s this: we’re not worthy to lead young people.
Bear with me; I’m going somewhere with this. The truth is that we’re not - on our own - up to the task of leading children and young people into a life of faith. Paul tells us that "all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God" (Romans 3:23), so the lifestyle we model to young people is never going to measure up to the example of Jesus. How can it? The Greek word ‘Christian’ literally meant ‘little Christ’, but as his followers we’re pale imitations of the man himself. We don’t have even half of his skills or character. In comparison to Jesus, we’re not worthy. So when we feel like we’re not good enough to lead people into his presence, we’re at least half right.
Fortunately, God doesn’t compare us to Jesus. And he doesn’t require us to be worthy of the job of introducing young people to him. He has a role for us in his rescue plan for the world and he doesn’t need us to be perfect in order to fulfil it. Instead, he actually uses our flawedness, our imperfection, to demonstrate his own love and power to the world. In 1 Corinthians 1:27, Paul writes: "God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong."
God’s role for us is not to show off how brilliant we are, but how amazing he is. He’s indescribably perfect, unfathomably loving, sensationally powerful and utterly, unrelentingly committed to pursuing and saving humanity even when it has largely rejected him. The incredible mystery we carry around is not our genius as charismatic, awesome Christian leaders, but "Christ in you, the hope of glory" (Colossians 1:27).
So while we’re not worth following or imitating, Christ in us is. While we’ll inevitably mess up, let young people down and fail to always be consistent, Christ who is in us won’t. You’re not worthy, but Christ in you makes you worthy.
That doesn’t mean we should simply ignore those feelings of self-doubt. They’re a vital reminder that we cannot do this job well if we’re doing it on our own steam. If we get up to speak, try to lead a children’s group or youth meeting, or even just sit one-to-one with a crying teenager and we’re not inviting God to use and work through us, we’re relying on our own flawed skills and character to get the job done, and we’ve every right to feel like imposters. If you simply ask God to use you as he will, however, those children and young people aren’t just meeting broken old you, but Christ in you, the hope of glory.