Imposter Syndrome, Evangelism, and Apologetics

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Someone asked in a Facebook apologetics group, “Does anyone else here who runs an Apologetics page ever suffer from imposter syndrome?” It’s a fair question. I think there’s a fair answer, too.

If you’re copying other people’s material and not giving them credit, then you’re plagiarizing, and that’s next-of-kin to being an imposter. If you’re writing but you don’t believe what you’re saying, that makes you an imposter, too. Those, plus one more I’ll save for the end, are the only conditions I can think of where the word applies.

Otherwise, relax and keep writing!

That Feeling That You Ought To Be More Than You Are

The sense of being an imposter probably comes from feeling like you’re making yourself out to be more than you are. The feeling could be real — you’re plagiarizing or lying about your faith — but more often I think it comes from the sense that you ought to be more than you are, in order to be writing on apologetics.

For those who feel that way, I say, cast it aside.

Speak Up — In Evangelism, Too!

And I would say exactly the same thing to anyone who wants to share their faith anywhere. You don’t have to be more than you are to be qualified to talk about Jesus. Just don’t make yourself out to be more than you are.

So speak up! Speak what truth you know. Tell your story — you’re qualified for that! If you borrow ideas from someone else, say so, even if you don’t remember where the ideas came from. Don’t pretend you’re more holy or righteous you are, either, for your own salvation also required Jesus’ death on the cross for you.

Here’s a clue, too, that applies especially in face-to-face encounters. Someone asks you a question, and you know there’s an answer because you’ve read it somewhere, but you have no idea how to speak it. Don’t follow the usual advice, saying, “I don’t know, but I’ll be glad to go look it up for you.” Instead, say (if it’s true, naturally), “I’ve read up on that in the past, and I’m satisfied there’s a solid answer to your question, but I don’t know it well enough to explain it or teach it. I’d have to go re-read it and remind myself. Would you like me to do that and get back to you?

You can do that in writing, too, although then you might do the research first, and then write the answer.

Too Much Superstar Syndrome in Apologetics

Back to the apologetics page. There’s too much superstar in this field, and we need to reject that. I know the feeling. I’ve done some legitimately good writing and speaking, but in my weak moments I still look at the stars in our field, and I think, “I’d sure like to be like them.” The truth is, I need to be like God intended me to be, not like anyone else.

That’s true now. It was also true when I was just getting started. I look at my early writing, and I see some of it was good, some of it embarrasses me. More to the point, a lot of it was completely derivative. I was parroting other people’s material. I credited them, but still it wasn’t mine, it was theirs. Even on a blog called “Thinking Christian” I had no claim to being an original thinker.

Be a Learner and a Source of Truth

Was I then an imposter? No. I was, first of all, a learner. I was learning how to write and how to think. Commenters were especially helpful in that, particularly the ones who disagreed with me. I was also learning how to interact online, especially how to disagree. Sometimes I had to practice the hard discipline of admitting I was wrong, which was another important learning process.

Second, I was another source of truth for people who needed it. That’s what every apologist is. All it takes is a word of truth fitly spoken, no matter where you got it from, and an audience to hear it, no matter how small. You’re participating in the ministry of evangelism and/or discipleship that Jesus called us to in Matthew 28:18-20.

But Don’t Preach Un-Lived Truth

But I did say there was one more condition that could make you an imposter. It’s the huge error Christian leaders have warned preachers against: preaching un-lived truth. What I mean there is, saying Christ is great enough to follow, but not caring whether you follow him yourself. Do that, and you’re asking for trouble. God has a way of persuading people not to do that.

That doesn’t mean you need to be a spiritual giant to speak for Christ. Instead it means orienting your life in the direction of following Jesus, growing toward maturity in him. Why even write if you don’t believe in him enough to pursue life in him?

Don’t Let Imposter Syndrome Silence You

Bottom line: Don’t let the superstar syndrome keep you from speaking. Don’t be dissuaded by the fact you’re not a spiritual giant. Don’t be ashamed to share others’ material; just credit them. If someone challenges you and you find out you don’t know as much as you thought you knew, acknowledge it, and use it as an opportunity to go study and learn.

Image Credit(s): Blake Silva.

2 Responses

  1. Thanks for this, Tom. You’ve made me rethink some things in my life and in my writing.

    Blessings!

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