Leading the Church When You Doubt Yourself

When the disciples gathered on the mountain in Galilee right before Jesus ascended, some of them doubted. The source and degree of this doubt are left unknown. Their response in the doubt is critically important. They worshiped. Then Jesus came near. The lesson is simple: Worship through doubt, and Jesus will come near.

The disciples were also called to be leaders in what became the church. The doubters had to lead. Did the doubting worshipers become doubtless leaders? Or did the doubting worshipers learn to lead through the doubt? I’ll stake my claim on the latter.

You will doubt yourself as a leader. Doubt is an inescapable reality—a universal experience. Everyone doubts. Leaders doubt. To avoid this reality is to lead from a place of denial. And denial never produces good decisions. Leaders must recognize doubt for what it is. Pastors especially must be open to the fact they will have doubts. The only response is to worship through the doubt.

The problem is you don’t get to put leadership decisions on hold while you process doubt. To do so is to place your priorities above those of others, and convenience is not an option with leadership. True servant leaders keep leading even as they doubt. Not only do you worship through doubt, but you must also serve through doubt.

How do you lead others when you doubt yourself?

Seek encouragement from friends and family. Those who have the gift of encouragement are often the ones who help pull others through doubt. When doubting yourself, lean on the gifts of others, especially those who encourage.

Challenge yourself with something new. A new challenge can give you the confidence to push through the doubt of your current mess. Start a new exercise routine. Read a book in a new field of study. Begin a project you’ve been meaning to start. The freshness of something new can bring clarity to the doubt that has festered for a while.

Don’t make decisions out of fear. Doubt does not always lead to fear, but the two are often found together. Rarely does a decision from fear produce good results. When doubt degrades into fear, put the decisions on hold for a moment.

Rely on prayer warriors. Doubt can become an island. Get off the island by asking others to pray for you. Prayer is the lifeline. Leaders work hard to hide doubt for fear of being perceived as incapable. Uncover your doubt to gifted prayer warriors, and they will cover you with the confidence of prayer.

Trust collective discernment. Ask other trusted leaders to give their insight if you doubt yourself. Self-imposed isolation is never the solution to doubt. Set several intentional meetings with others—one-on-one and in groups—and ask lots of questions. The pattern of answers may reveal the remedy to your doubt.

Serve your way to confidence. Pray for others and let them know. Text encouraging messages. Write hand-written thank you notes. Volunteer for menial tasks. Take out the garbage and unclog toilets. God honors those who seek the last place rather than clawing for the first place. Doubt is resolved in the weeds of service. The solution to doubt is often found on the lowest rung, not the highest.

Every leader will struggle with doubt. However, leadership does not go on hold during this struggle. You can lead others even when you doubt yourself.

Posted on October 12, 2022

As President of Church Answers, Sam Rainer wears many hats. From podcast co-host to full-time Pastor at West Bradenton Baptist Church, Sam’s heart for ministry and revitalization are evident in all he does.
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  • William A. Secrest says on

    I believe that the real question that needs to be asked is how do you lead a church where sharing doubt is not acceptable. We recently hired a church consulting company to begin working with our church. When I acknowledged in a ministry meeting (business meeting) that I was not sure how this process was going to work I was attacked for it in the next deacons meeting. We teach that vulnerability is wonderful as long as you are not a leader. Pastors are supposed to have immediate answers to everything and when we don’t we are considered poor leaders. Love what you wrote and I agree totally. The thought that first came to my mind when I read this was whether or not those around you know of your doubt or do you jus work through it without them being aware of it.

  • Larry Webb says on

    I am not a Pastor. I am a leader. This article is so very real. You state the reality that everyone has doubts. But, what you do while you have those doubts is important. You worship. Wow, that is so insightful. Thanks for this very thought provoking article.