Several times a year I get invited to speak various places ranging from local churches to high school chapels to conferences to youth retreats. I enjoy speaking and view these invitations as real opportunities, but with these opportunities come temptations. Each of the five temptations I list below is something I struggle with, often times all at once. I am not positive all speakers wrestle with these, but I know human nature well enough to guess they do in one way or another.
Swing for the fences. That’s what my ego says. Crush it. Leave them dazzled and dazed. But here’s the thing: I am not a very dazzling speaker, and neither are most speakers. To continue the metaphor, I am a singles and doubles hitter (and so are most speakers). If I try to hit a homer I will swing and miss as often as not. I need to resist this temptation and simply do what I am capable of as well as I can do it. I need to be faithful, to be clear, to be truthful. I need to put a good swing on it and make solid contact – that’s what God gave me the ability to do. Maybe God will carry the ball over the fence, but I should not swing for that.
They are students, so be relevant and cool. They are pastors, so be knowledgeable. They are artists so be creative. It’s one thing, a good thing, to be conscientious about whom I speak to, but I cannot let that change who I am. Within reason, I can change my language or my jokes or my terminology to connect with an audience. But connecting and reflecting aren’t the same. I am not my audience. If I lose myself, my style, and my gifts trying to reflect them I will lose them too.
Sometimes I get to share the stage with impressive people – authors, pastors, artists – which means they’re in the audience when I get up to speak. It is incredibly tempting to keep an eye on their head nods and note-taking for affirmation. As if they matter more than the listener in the sixth row. It is incredibly tempting to gauge the “success” of a message by the adulation of stage-mates rather than the faithfulness and clarity of the message itself. And it is incredibly tempting to feel proud or validated simply because my name appeared in the same speaker lineup as theirs. None of this has any bearing on the words, the truth, the benefit of a message I give, and to be caught up in it is to aim at the wrong target.
The imposter syndrome is something most speakers, authors, performers, or artists wrestle with at some level. I do all the time. It is the fear that I will be “found out” – that we were invited by mistake, and if they really knew who I was or what I was (and wasn’t) capable of they would be horrified. I’m not talented enough. I’m too inexperienced. I’m too sinful. I simply don’t belong, especially not alongside all these super gifted, godly people.
This fear will deflate a speaker and a message. It will steal vitality and hope. And it will heighten the first three temptations to gargantuan size because I feel the need to make up for my lack of belonging. The reality is, I was invited for a reason – something I wrote or said gave them reason to believe I could help this audience. God put me on that stage in front of those people, so I simply need to go serve, to speak as well as I can in the time I am given. If He wants me there then it is not a mistake.
Just as tempting as it is to feel like an imposter it may be more tempting to feel legitimate – like I am a bona fide speaker. I do belong alongside these talented people. This audience needs me. These event planners made a grand choice by inviting me.
The moment I stop being a little surprised and thankful for being invited to speak is the moment I should stop accepting invitations. It means I think I belong, like I deserve to be asked, like I have something to offer. It means that I have begun seeing myself as a half step above my audience as if I live on a stage and they live below. This temptation is real. Pride is insidious, even in ministry. No one is worthy of the stage; God has given some the ability and opportunity to speak from it. And when we are done we should step down and re-take our place on the ground where we belong.