5 Imitation Selves That Distract You From Who God Created You to Be
By Will Mancini
I had finally completed my second four-year degree, a master of theology in pastoral leadership, and I was hungry to get started in a full-time ministry position in a church.
By that, I meant “preach,” but I knew I had to “pay my dues” to earn the right to pulpit time.
So I was ready to endure ministry grunt-work on the way to fulfilling my dream of becoming a legendary communicator.
There was no doubt I was going to be the next John Ortberg, by the way. If you don’t know that name, he was the teaching pastor at America’s largest church during my seminary days—Willow Creek Community Church in Greater Chicago.
He preached like a sage on stage. His eloquence flowed with casual and relatable ease and the perfect dash of humor. It was obviously just my style.
So as seminary was winding up, I looked only for pastoral positions in churches that religiously followed the Willow Creek way of “doing church.”
Clear Creek Community Church in Greater Houston fit the bill perfectly. Unfortunately for my tastes, the only position that Senior Pastor Bruce Wesley had open was children’s pastor.
I did NOT torture myself learning Greek and Hebrew for this, I thought. But I saw the role as my path to the platform, so I took the job.
The good news was that Clear Creek was growing by leaps and bounds and would be hiring a teaching pastor soon. I vividly remember the day that Bruce was going to promote me to John Ortberg—I mean, Teaching Pastor.
I strolled into his office and took my seat, eager for my job review. After ten minutes of small talk, Bruce dropped a bomb. “We are going to look outside the church to hire a teaching pastor,” he revealed.
Shock. Disbelief. Betrayal.
Clearly Bruce had failed to consider God’s plan for my life. While my face revealed utter disappointment, my mind was rehearsing my immediate resignation.
I was ready to pack my entire life into a U-Haul and abandon Bruce and everyone else at Clear Creek Community Church.
But I didn’t. Little did I know it would become the best day of my career, because I learned the importance of a new kind of courage—the courage to know myself.
It’s a logical place to begin, is it not? The problem is that most people are not fully aware of their greatest abilities and deepest passions.
When it comes to our limitations, we prefer blind spots to brutal facts. When it comes to our strengths, we position the abilities we like over the strengths we live.
Ben Franklin once said there are three hard things: diamonds, steel, and knowing oneself. Physicist Richard Feynman wrote, “The first principle is that you must not fool yourself, and you are the easiest person to fool.”
Many kinds of distractions make it easy for us to fool ourselves and keep us from grasping our true self. First there’s the expectation of others, or “the Me Others Want Me to Be.”
From birth, people praise us for doing some things and disapprove of us for doing others. Our self-awareness can be hopelessly and undetectably obscured by deep layers of people-pleasing.
Then there’s the imitation of success, or “the Me that’s Sexiest to See.” Every field of human endeavor has its rock stars and its assumed metrics of achievement.
When we think we’re looking in the mirror of self-awareness, we might be looking out the window at a statue on a pedestal.
Third is the captivation of money, or “the Me I’m Paid to Be.” Some people convince themselves that they are made to do certain work because they can make a lot of money doing it.
Others don’t care about the size of the paycheck but demand that it be steady. Self-awareness becomes masked by the allure of gain or fear of loss.
A fourth distraction is the preoccupation with busyness, or “the Me I’m Too Busy Not to Be.”
On the assumption that more is better or that the world will collapse if we don’t hold it up, we pack our lives and race from one thing to the next without time to reflect on what we ought to be doing.
Self-awareness is crushed under the load of opportunities and responsibilities.
Last but not least is the projection of self. While all of the distractions I have described here have swayed me at one time or another, the projection of self had an especially strong influence around the time of my unforgettable meeting with Bruce.
In those days I would have been described well by something Parker Palmer wrote: “There is a great gulf between the way my ego wants to identify me, with its protective masks and self-serving fictions, and my true self.”
Picture a projector in my heart that’s running virtually all the time, casting its image on the surface that you see and hear when you encounter me.
It isn’t the real me; it’s “the Me I Want to Be.” It shines so bright that not only does it keep you from seeing the real me—it keeps me from seeing it too.
When I was a young pastor, a counselor named Bill kept telling me that I wasn’t okay with myself. At the time I just could not see what he was talking about.
After a while I grumbled to a friend how the whole counseling exercise seemed like a total waste of time, and with one sentence from him the scales fell off my eyes.
“Will,” he said, “you are 100 percent okay with yourself: the self you are trying to project.”
There it was; it was so obvious. I was okay with my affinity for the teaching pastor career in a growing church.
I was okay with the image of an up-and-coming, go-getting, charismatic ministry dynamo. I was okay with being the head of an idyllic household.
But the Me I Wanted to Be was holding me back from seeing the Me God Made Me to Be.
The day I sat down with Bruce, he told me I was a leader first and a teacher second—I was a solid-B communicator but an A-plus leader.
He was correct in his evaluation, but I couldn’t see it yet, because I was operating out of a self-projection that needed to be confronted.
Bruce’s declaration that I would not be the next John Ortberg was brutal. It sent me into a tailspin for months. But it was also beautiful—or, as I like to call it, “bruti-ful”—because he was helping me to see who God made me to be.
It still stands as the worst meeting I have ever had with a boss. But it started the adventure of a lifetime.
WILL MANCINI (@willmancini) is the founder of Auxano, an organization that partners with ministry leaders and churches to assist in visionary planning. He’s the author of several books including Younique: Designing the Life that God Dreamed for You, from which this article was excerpted by permission from B&H Publishing Group.