As I Was Saying is a forum for a variety of perspectives to foster faith-related conversations among our readers with the goal of mutual learning, even in disagreement. Apart from articles written by editorial staff, these perspectives do not necessarily reflect the views of The Banner.
“I shouldn’t be here…” For the last three-plus years, this phrase has reverberated in my head more than once. At first, when I became an elder at my home church, New Hope, it was subtle. During the COVID lockdown, I was installed as an elder at a parking lot service. I stood distanced from the pastor and next to my lawn chair, listening to him read the form for installation. I affirmed “I do.” I felt the heat of the sun on my head – analogous to a laying on of hands that could not physically happen as my Pastor read the prayer for new office bearers. I was very sensitive to something that had never happened before in my small congregation: the installation of a woman as an elder at New Hope Church.
Then it happened again. I was nominated by my local classis to be a delegate to the Christian Reformed Church’s ecclesial board, the Council of Delegates. My first meeting was via Zoom in October 2020. In the pre-meetings, I met other council members for the first time. Again I wondered if I had no right to be in that “room” even if it was only by Zoom. The agenda was thick. I was a lay leader among a host of talented and well-thought-of pastors, theologians and ministry leaders. But I listened eagerly, soaking up the information of the chair, my fellow COD colleagues and senior staff members. I asked a few questions, some of which felt awkward and vaguely out of place.
Imposter syndrome is a nagging sense that others will find out that you’re not really capable/equipped to be here and when they do, they will ask you to leave. It is a sense that “you don’t belong here.” It undermines confidence and a person’s sense of legitimacy and belonging. I fully expected someone to make this “discovery” and tell me to go.
Something to stay for?
But as the Holy Spirit calls people to ministry, I too had a nagging sense that God may be uniquely calling me to stay. He had something for me to do. As an elder, in that early call, I was present for a very specific set of circumstances that no one else, male or female, could have responded to in the way I could. During my three-year elder term, that calling found unique expressions over and over again.
Then it happened on the Council of Delegates. As with my own church, I believed in the unique calling and I tried to do that work faithfully. I had a definite skill set, sometimes uncommon and sometimes not, to certain tasks of the Global Missions Committee. I remained open and curious, even though the nagging voice sometimes seemed to insist, “You do not belong here…”
I often found myself challenged directly. As a woman from a classis that doesn’t seat women as delegates, I was an unexpected anomaly. I sometimes found myself in the crosshairs, directly in the line of fire. But God always used others to encourage me to press on. Words of encouragement often came from unexpected places. One day there was a timely phone call out of nowhere from an acquaintance telling me God had told her to call me. She had no idea why she was calling me. I knew exactly why. And, of course, I spoke to God over and over again and God seemed to be nudging me to stay.
I’ve learned to rely more on God for my self-worth and hold things lightly, with less desperation. I’ve doubled down on practicing the spiritual disciplines of prayer, Bible reading and meditation. I draw on favorite Bible readings, reflections, insight and prayers of those who have gone before me. I am stretched, and I am sanctified by God’s work in and through me. I’ve grown to be with and to love people with whom I disagree. I’ve grown in knowledge of the work of God in His beloved church. I’ve grown in wisdom and humility. And I have been taught by others who deeply love the church and its people despite its foibles, stubbornness and reticence.
Where is God calling you to stay? During struggle we learn to follow, by God’s grace and mercy, and He will love us and minister to us in real and unexpected ways. We stay because God is working in us to become more like Him. We stay because we experience a unique calling that stretches us and grows us. We stay because that calling comes from God. Until He calls us elsewhere, we stay.
Ultimately, we do not stay for a social club; we do not stay for the collegiality of the like-minded. We do not stay to be a martyr for a cause. We do not stay when our staying becomes abusive or harmful to ourselves or others. But we stay because God makes us capable to do the work we’re called to do right here and now and God gives us the grace to do it. When the calling changes, we follow.
In Genesis 17:17, Abraham laughed when God said his wife Sarai would bear a child and he would be the father of a great nation of people. So, we sometimes laugh in the face of the sheer audacity of God’s calling for us. But where God is, He will lead and we follow.
For me, the journey is not without pain and I still get nagged by the voice that says, “You don’t belong here.” But then I remember Jesus never belonged here either. He too was called an imposter. He had a calling to do the work His heavenly Father set out for Him to do. He stayed. This is why I stay.
About the Author
Jill Feikema, a member of New Hope CRC, serves as a delegate to the CRCNA Council of Delegates. She chairs the Resonate Global Mission Committee and is VP of the U.S. Ministry Board. She and her husband run a plumbing business in Munster, Indiana.