Stage Fright

I was with 15,000 other people in Philips Arena for the Catalyst Conference in 2004. The place was packed with pastors, church leaders, business leaders and students. We were all hungry to learn from the best and brightest. Andy Stanley was there, Reggie Joiner, Erwin McManus, Chuck Colson, John Maxwell and many other amazing speakers. All of those guys are primarily speakers, but they’ve all written books too. One guy who was scheduled to teach twice on the main stage was Ted Dekker. He is a best-selling author, and at the time his books were selling better than anyone else’s.

I was excited to hear what he had to say about storytelling. I had my pen ready, my notebook out, and he approached the stage for his 45-minute presentation. He was scheduled to do a 2nd session later that week on that same stage.

Two minutes later he walked off the stage and we never saw him again. He got the worst case of stage fright I’ve ever seen.

He couldn’t finish a sentence. He couldn’t find his thoughts. He couldn’t make sense of his notes. He literally froze.

He’s sold more than 5 million books, but on that day he couldn’t make it 5 minutes on stage.

It made me think about what it’s like for some pastors. We’re expected to be good at everything! Speaking, leading, administration, planning, coaching… you name it. I had no idea what I was doing for my first few years of ministry, but I could speak, so I was in charge! I wasn’t the best leader available, but I was the best talker, so I was the man in command.

It makes me think that some people should just teach, and not lead. Some people should just lead, and not teach.

But when do you suck it up and try again? Should Ted give public speaking another shot? Maybe he already has. Should I try to learn to dance even though that has always ended horribly (in public and in private)? Should I face my fears and my weaknesses, or find my strengths and improve on those?

7 thoughts on “Stage Fright”

  1. Ryan,

    You have been blessed with many talents and use them well. Our prayer is that you continue to develop and use your strengths while keeping your spirit of humility.

    Dan and Terri

  2. Good post. As one who has spent the last 10+ years traveling the country and spending countless nights in front of hundreds of people, I am very familiar with stage fright. It’s something that I have struggled with countless times, even to the extreme where I needed to walk off stage for a moment. However, I have learned (with the wonderful help of my wife) to recognize this weakness I have, turn my eyes upon Him in those moments and press on. In essence, no matter what happens, I know that He knows my weakness, but even still chose ME to do this work at this time for His glory, empowered by His Holy Spirit.

    Couple things I wanted to add from scripture regarding the last statement above:

    “It makes me think that some people should just teach, and not lead. Some people should just lead, and not teach.”

    [Qualifications for Overseers]
    [3:1] The saying is trustworthy: If anyone aspires to the office of overseer, he desires a noble task. [2] Therefore an overseer must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, sober-minded, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, [3] not a drunkard, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money. [4] He must manage his own household well, with all dignity keeping his children submissive, [5] for if someone does not know how to manage his own household, how will he care for God’s church? [6] He must not be a recent convert, or he may become puffed up with conceit and fall into the condemnation of the devil. [7] Moreover, he must be well thought of by outsiders, so that he may not fall into disgrace, into a snare of the devil.
    (1 Timothy 3:1-7 ESV)

    * Notice it says in vs 2 ‘Able to teach’. It does NOT say that he is the sole teacher, or that he must be a speaker of great eloquence, but that he is ‘able to teach’. A pastor needs to be one who is able to communicate and expound the scriptures. He needs to be skilled enough in the Bible to teach it to others, either in a public or one-on-one setting. The ‘stage’ for that exposition varies, but the qualification does not. Since a pastor is essentially the overseer/leader, all pastors need to be able to teach. It’s a non-negotiable requirement for the office.

    David Guzik, Senior Pastor of Calvary Chapel Santa Barbara says:

    “”God has specific qualifications for leaders in the church. Leaders are not to be chosen at random, nor just because they volunteer, nor because they aspire to the position, nor even because they are “natural leaders.” Instead they should be chosen primarily on how they match the qualifications listed here.”

    [17] Let the elders who rule well be considered worthy of double honor, especially those who labor in preaching and teaching.
    (1 Timothy 5:17 ESV)

    * This passage is referring to providing for the pastor(s) & leaders needs (financially specifically). However it gives light into the importance and the rigors of that role. It says ‘especially those who labor in..’. One thing to notice is that it doesn’t say ALL labor in teaching, it simply says those that DO labor in teaching. So we can take away that all should be able to teach, however there are some who LABOR in preaching and teaching (and ruling well), and those are worthy of double honor.

    Just some thoughts. Not sure if it helps the conversation at all. Thanks for the post again Ryan.


  3. Rob, you made some great points! I should have been as articulate as you were when I made that comment about teaching and leading. Thank you for taking the time contribute.

  4. You made great points man! I just got done doing a small study on this, that’s why I had it on the front of my mind. I’m a pastor, but I certainly am not one who can jump up on stage every week and expound the scriptures in the same fashion as some of these other brothers! Teach, yes. Teach well? Eh… haha.

  5. Sadly most churches would read this and think we can’t hire 2 different people to teach and lead. We only have money for one. Part of this problem (and I totally agree that God doesn’t gift every man with every gift needed in pastoral ministry) is a lack of willing to build into congregation members. It’s a lot easier to put on a show sometimes.

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