I doubt I should tell you this . . .

A pastor deals with his inner fears.

Franke J. Zollman, D.Min., is pastor of the Seventh-day Adventist Hill Church in Mount Vernon, Ohio

I doubt that I should reveal to you what I'm about to tell. I've tried to hide it for years. In fact, that is the crux of the problem I doubt. I fight feelings of self-doubt.

Early in my ministry I went to my home town to preach. I was ready! I was pumped! The local boy, made good, had come home to wow the home folk. As I waited to get up to speak, the head elder wanted to introduce me. "Do I really need an introduction?" I thought. "We're so happy, today, to have little Frankie Zollman here to present the message of the hour." My balloon popped! My ego was shot! It might not have been that bad for me because preachers need humbling once in a while, but I suddenly felt wet behind the ears again! My problems with self-doubt don't stem from this episode, but the story is illustrative of the problem.

The nature of self-doubt

Many times, over many years, I have stood in the pulpit or sat as the chairman of the board and felt like "little Frankie Zollman." And the questions have haunted me as I've rehearsed them: "Who are you, little Frankie Zollman, to stand up in the pulpit and declare this is what that text means?" "Who are you, little Frankie Zollman, to say that this is the decision the church should make?" "Who are you, little Frankie Zollman . . . ?" The ques tions describe the doubt that gnaws at my ability to lead and make decisions. While self-distrust is generally healthy, frequent and extreme episodes of self-doubt can be crippling to one's leadership and effectiveness. They can be paralyzing for the decision maker.

Another way self-doubt exhibited itself in my early preaching ministry can be described as an "out of body" preaching experience. (This isn't supernatural, so read on.) This experience would occur as I was preaching in the pulpit and it seemed to me that I was also watching myself preach a spectator of my own sermon. While my lips were speaking the words of my sermon and my brain was most ly involved in the preaching, I was also worrying about how I looked, sounded, and if my audience (myself included) was sufficiently impressed. While all preachers want such feed back, preachers cannot become obsessed with how they look and sound to the detriment of the message. In fact, a preacher cannot concentrate on making himself or herself look good and at the same time concentrate on let ting God speak through him or her.

So, through the last 25 years, I have looked for ways to deal with the "little Frankie Zollman" syndrome in my own experience of self-doubt and have discovered these insights.

Meeting self doubt

Remember your call to ministry. I did not choose to be a minister. God chose me. Ministry is not my career or job. Ministry is my calling. Since it is by His ordination that I minister, it is by His authority that I lead. This realization has been the most beneficial and freeing to me. When the questions of self doubt arrive, "Who are you, little Frankie Zollman?" the answer is "I am a sinner saved by grace, but also the called of God." The bot tom line is simply this: I am a minister today because of God's call.

Realize your gifts. Scripture tells us that the Holy Spirit has given gifts to each Christian according to His will (1 Cor. 12:11). Since this is true, each of us have gifts to be recognized, realized, and used in ministry. It is important to understand and be able to specify the gifts the Spirit has given to us. To deny them is to deny the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives. As we recognize and realize those gifts, God will open further opportunities for ministry.

Cherish your call to your particular place in ministry. For those who are seeking God's will daily, life does not consist of coincidence. It is not an overstatement to say that we are God's man or God's woman of the hour for our particular church. To suggest less compromises the providence and power of God. If God has called you to pastor at city X, he has called your gifts.

I was once trying to decide if I should hold meetings in Mount Vernon, Ohio, that would theme on the subject of archaeology. Earlier, I had developed the material for a church in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. (There is a culture difference between the two localities!) It helped me realize that God would not have called me to Mount Vernon if he had not expected me to use the tools and gifts that He had given. Though I knew I needed to adapt the presentations, He knew them and the effect they might have much better than I did.

Advance planning. Confidence can be increased by good planning and preparation. Planning in advance, anticipating contingencies can short circuit the self-doubt syndrome.

Timely implementation. Planning is only the first step. Tasks must be implemented in a timely fashion without procrastination. When time is short and problems arise, so can self-doubt, and the spiral downward begins!

Counsel with a wide group of people. While the pastor may be "called of God" he or she is not the only "repository of wisdom." Counseling with an appropriate group of people who have varying points of view can give confidence as well as further insight.

Take care of yourself physically and emotionally. It is much easier to get caught in the self-doubt cycle when one is sick or discouraged. Keeping healthy includes living a life balanced between church, work, and leisure. Exercise and diet play an important part. A colleague or friend with whom to share thoughts is also helpful if they have the permission to challenge your thinking sometimes.

Recognize that God's measure of success is different from most of those around us. "The approval of the Master is not given because of the greatness of the work performed, but because of fidelity with which the work has been done. It is not the results we attain, but the motives from which we act, that weigh with God. When we recognize how God views our ministry, the self-doubt that arrives as we fear that we will not succeed, can melt away into faithful service."

Remember the source of your power. Early in my ministry I adopted Zechariah 4:6 (NIV) as a motto to help overcome self-doubt. "This is the word of the Lord to Zerubbabel: "Not by might nor by power, but by my Spirit," says the Lord Almighty.'" Recognizing the source of our power reminds us of our own inability but also assures us of God's super-ability. It also reminds us that our success is not based on our talents and gifts, but rather on God's ability to respond to our faithfulness thus making the outcome of our ministry God's "response-ability."

Combining these two texts sums it up well: "'. . . apart from me you can do nothing'" (John 15:5, NIV), and "I can do everything through him who gives me strength" (Philippians 4:13, NIV).

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Franke J. Zollman, D.Min., is pastor of the Seventh-day Adventist Hill Church in Mount Vernon, Ohio

July 2001

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