the shape of leadership

Losing Your Identity

As ministers, we run the risk of forgetting who we are

Chris Colvin on July 11, 2019

I have a friend who carefully observes body language. My friend says he can tell a lot about someone simply from mannerisms and expressions. So I asked him to analyze me.

“I can’t get a read on you,” my friend said. “Which makes sense because you’re a pastor. Most pastors I know have to put on a mask in public.”

In some ways, I had to admit, he was right. I often feel the pressure to act a certain way around people. Maybe it’s just wearing a smile when I don’t really feel happy. But it can be as bad as denying the way God designed me in favor of what I think people expect of me.

If you’re honest, you’ve probably done the same. There have likely been times you’ve put on the mask. It’s not likely for selfish or sinful reasons. Instead, you’re afraid of offending someone. So you put up a good front by being whatever people expect you to be. You believe it’s important to put on a show so people will feel accepted or receptive.

It is a good motive, but it yields poor results. When you hide who you really are, you can lose a small part of your true identity.

We also run the risk of losing our identity when we think finding success means performing a part. We see another pastor with a larger church or a minister with a greater following and try to pattern ourselves after that person. We may begin to copy everything about that minister, sometimes unconsciously. We try to sound like, act like, and even preach like him or her.

But that copycat mentality will ultimately leave us empty. When we try to be someone else, we are actually giving up on how God created us. He called us and equipped us to represent Jesus, not duplicate another person’s ministry. Losing our identity will actually hamper our effectiveness as ministers.

What Do You Have to Lose?

God designed every person uniquely, and He has a specific plan for each one. This is evident in the Book of Jeremiah. Even before Jeremiah was born, God had destined him for ministry and designed him to be a prophet (Jeremiah 1:5). But Jeremiah argued with God about it. He tried to swap out his identity because of his own insecurities.

To regain our identity, we must first understand how God designed us. But what does that really mean? Here are three ways you are uniquely shaped:

Personality. How you interact with other people is important in ministry. You spend a lot of time interacting with church members, staff and the unsaved. The pressure to have an outgoing personality can override your desire to be yourself.

Losing your personality can be as simple as pretending everything is fine, even with your closest friends and family members, when you’re hurting inside. It’s acting in a way that is not true to your identity.

More than ever, people are looking for an authentic faith from authentic people.

God knows the type of people with whom you will come in contact. And He built you to deal with emotions in a unique way. When you deny your own personality type, you hamstring the effectiveness God sees in you.

Preferences. Opinions matter in ministry — just not all opinions. There are some preferences you keep to yourself, and that’s OK. Which sports teams you follow may not make a difference to those to whom you minister. But there are other preferences you may try to hide that could affect those around you.

It takes wisdom to know when to speak out and when to stay silent about politics or societal issues. However, speaking in a way that is not authentically your own can actually damage your overall witness.

Gifts. God gives each of us specific gifts, and places us together within the greater body of Christ with a purpose in mind (1 Corinthians 12:4-11). So it is our uniqueness — not our sameness — that qualifies us for our role in God’s kingdom.

Still, it’s tempting to try to duplicate the success found elsewhere by copying how someone else does ministry. Rather than leaning in to your unique gift set, you opt to imitate another person’s skill set or duplicate another ministry’s systems.

When you lose touch with your identity, you put on a false front and end up forfeiting your unique usefulness. It’s not just about feeling yourself. It’s about being who God has designed you to be, in a specific place, for a specific time, to a specific people.

Recapturing Identity

There is no cure-all. You didn’t lose your identity overnight, and you can’t get it back with one quick trick. However, there is one key to maintaining or reclaiming identity over time: authenticity.

Most of us think of this in terms of integrity — being the same person in private that we profess to be in public. In a way, authenticity is the reverse of that. Think of it as portraying in public the type of person you are in private. Living an authentic life means you boldly allow your identity to come through in every aspect of your ministry.

There can be a lot of hesitation when it comes to authenticity. In ministry, we often want to keep up our guard. We may be concerned that if people reject us, they will also reject our message. After all, didn’t Paul become all things to all people (1 Corinthians 9:22)?

Paul presented the gospel in a way that resonated with all kinds of people, but he was not the type of person to put up a false front.

When you are true to your identity, you will quickly find there are people just waiting for someone with whom they can identify. Your example will also motivate them to live authentically and find their place in the Church. It only heightens the sincerity of the gospel when we are not ashamed of who we are in Christ.

It may seem more simple just to put on a good face for the world, especially when we erroneously believe that’s what everyone wants. But more than ever, people are looking for an authentic faith from authentic people. Finding and keeping our identity can be a powerful testimony if we allow it to be.

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