The Imposter Syndrome and Pastoral Ministry

“You’re a fraud.”

“Everyone’s going to find out…eventually.”

“Just stop, it’s not worth it.”

“What difference do you think you’re actually going to make?”

If you feel like I’ve just read your mind, welcome to the club! You’re officially a member of Imposter Syndrome Anonymous. In fact, since you’ve had these thoughts for a while, you might as well become a lifetime charter member. There’s just one catch—you can’t cancel your membership. It’s kind of like Hotel California: “You can check out any time you like, but you can never leave!”

In 1978, researchers Pauline Rose Clance and Suzanne Imes coined the phrase—the Imposter Phenomenon—and captured the essence of this very thing that seems to be progressively troubling so many of us. And with our lives increasingly being lived online, along with our follower counts displayed in a showcase for the world to see, this topic is of particular importance. After all, what’s healthier than comparing ourselves to one another in all of our filtered glory?

Although Clance and Imes initially researched how Imposter Syndrome affected high achieving women in a pre-internet and pre-social media world, 40+ years later it’s become quite apparent that this syndrome now affects everyone.

After all, when was the last time you found yourself in a room and felt like you didn’t belong—even though you had the academic credentials, degrees, experience, or whatever else you needed to get in? Or, have you ever wondered when people were going to find out and discover the real you? The you underneath the surface that you’ve hidden away? The you underneath that mask that you parade around with—pretending to be someone you’re not?

If so, then congratulations and welcome to Hotel California.

Where does the Imposter Syndrome come from?

According to the research, it’s often unintentionally or unconsciously nurtured from a young age in one of two ways. Maybe you had a sibling that your parents liked better. Your parents might’ve not verbalized it that way, but that sibling always seemed to get more praise and attention than you ever did. And when you would come home with a great report card, first place in an athletic competition, or some other achievement that you were proud of, your parents never seemed impressed—or at least that’s the vibe you felt.

That’s the first way the Imposter Syndrome would take root and begin developing from an early age.

But let’s say you had parents you could never disappoint. No matter what you did, you could do no wrong. Even if you came home with a bad grade on a test, your parents were always encouraging. You just couldn’t fail or displease your parents. If so, then the Imposter Syndrome took root in you heart, soul, and mind because—at a deeper level—you knew that you weren’t as perfect as your parents said you were. And even though your parents said it was okay, you were often disappointed in yourself.

As a result, you grew up with a sense of cognitive dissonance where there was a huge gap between your perception of yourself and your parent’s perception of you, inevitably resulting in the Imposter Syndrome.

How does the Imposter Syndrome affect pastoral ministry?

While the following points can easily be applied to those outside of vocational pastoral ministry, I want to specifically address how the Imposter Syndrome is directly affecting the state of pastors today.

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Source: Christianity Today

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