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The confidence gap

Nicola Hulks on your confidence ... and God's plans

Five steps to see yourself as God sees you

Could a lack of confidence be keeping you from your God-given potential? Nicola Hulks explores what happens when we find ourselves in the gap between where our confidence ends and God’s plans for us begin, and what we can do to get out of it

 

When I first felt the call from God to ordained ministry I was 25 years old and, like our biblical mother Sarah, I laughed.

I was too young, too average, too female to be a leader. It took a very supportive group of friends and family as my constant cheerleaders, and me giving myself a good metaphorical shake by the collar, to realise that I was in danger of missing my potential.

And if current research is anything to go by, then I am not alone.

Nearly half of the women in a recent survey of working life admitted to levels of self-doubt that they considered hindered them at work. Several research studies have highlighted that the number one reason for women failing to advance into roles they are very much qualified for, is lack of confidence to apply. This phenomenon has been well documented in church life too, with the main reason given by women for not considering senior posts being lack of confidence.

In her book The Seven Deadly Sins of Women in Leadership, former leader of the Baptist Union in the UK, Kate Coleman, considers lack of confidence to be one of the major challenges to women fulfilling their God-given potential.

“Most women attribute their failure to lack of ability and credit their successes to good luck, while men do the exact opposite,” Kate writes. And Rosie Ward, leadership expert and author of Growing Women Leaders, calls confidence “the bedrock of success”.

The effects of low confidence in our lives can be widespread. Lack of confidence can lead to a crippling fear of failure. This, in turn, can lead us to avoid situations that we perceive to be risky and into procrastination when it comes to new tasks. When we lack confidence, we are much more likely to seek our self-image in what we perceive others think of us rather than what God thinks of us. Most worryingly of all, low confidence has been attributed to women failing to use their God-given gifts to their full potential for their own good and that of others. Kate writes: “Lack of confidence affects not just ourselves but also those who depend on us.”

The unique gifts of women for a wide range of ministries and leadership roles is becoming increasingly well documented. Rosie Ward highlights women’s particularly strong abilities in leading collaboratively – a skill that is very much in demand in both secular and church spheres. Research has found that women tend to be more inclusive and relational in their approaches to leadership. Though there is still debate over whether these are social or genetic differences, this style of leadership has been highlighted as extremely valuable for creating unity, a key factor in building strong and effective teams. Research into church growth has found that the leaders of growing churches are most likely to be young, female and willing to stay in post for 10 years.

The gifts of women are increasingly recognised and our work is bringing much fruit, but if you are one of the 50% of women who feel low confidence is holding you back then what can you do about it? Lynda Field, one of the UK’s most highly recommended confidence coaches, claims that confidence is learned rather than inherited. This means that practical techniques really can help us bridge the confidence gap and step into the future God has for us.

Step 1 – Be inspired

Whether it’s biblical heroines like Hannah, Mary or Esther or women from history like Catherine Booth, having role models to inspire you as you take new leaps of faith towards God is a must.

Perhaps there is someone in your life that you have always looked up to? A woman who has started a new ministry in church or a friend in the office who always seems brimming with life? Read more about your distant heroines and ask your real-life ones for coffee. You might be surprised by what you learn and you will soon be full of new and exciting ideas and possibilities.

Step 2 – Listen to what God says

We all fall prey to limiting self-perceptions and no more so than when we lose connection with God and his view of us. Low self-confidence has been directly linked to our ‘self talk’ or what we say to ourselves in our minds.

Kate Coleman suggests putting negative thoughts under the microscope. What evidence is there that this thought about yourself is really true? Whose view is this – yours, someone else’s, or God’s?

Lynda Field explains that our ‘self talk’ quickly manifests itself into reality. If we tell ourselves we aren’t capable, then we are much less likely to do a task well, or even attempt it in the first place, and vice versa. Adjusting your ‘self talk’ to more positive statements can have a big effect on how you feel day to day.

Knowing ourselves and seeing ourselves as God sees us is a constant challenge, but God’s gifts to us are exactly that – gifts.

Kate writes: “I now understand that my sense of confidence has less to do with me and more to do with what I believe God is capable of doing with what he has given me.”

Step 3 – Compile a Confidence File

We all have down days when it feels like the world is on our shoulders and every task is an impossible mountain to be climbed. Perhaps we have noticed a new opportunity, but that old companion self-doubt creeps back in and we question if we should really go for it. This is where having collated a ‘Confidence File’ comes in extremely handy.

The next time you are sent a thank-you card for a job done well, pop it into the file. If you receive a glowing reference, or pass a course and gain a new qualification then add that too. Before long you will have a bank of memories to remind you that you are more capable than you give yourself credit for and will gain the confidence to keep trying new things.

Step 4 – Take the risk

Building confidence is cyclical. The more you try, the more you will become aware of your own gifts and abilities and so the more confident you will feel next time an opportunity arises. Taking some time to prayerfully allow ourselves to consider all the possibilities in our lives can be time very well spent. Allow yourself to dream big. What would you do if time, money and confidence were no object? Take these things to God and see what he might do with them.

If that dream keeps nagging at the back of your mind, it might be time to take this step. Research into the behaviour of female clergy has found that 80% are waiting for a personal approach before they apply for a senior role, with only 16% willing to respond to an open advertisement. If you feel God is calling you to a new role or task then the evidence is stark – she who dares wins!

Two years since I first nervously considered my calling, I am now in my first term of studying for full-time ordained ministry in the Church of England. Every step along the journey requires all the techniques outlined above and some very healthy doses of prayer.

As Kate Coleman writes: “The reality is we may never ‘feel’ as confident as we may wish to be ... we need to step back and imagine ourselves as God sees us ... we should discover what we are created to do and just do it!”

With time, reflection and seeking both God’s perception of us and his plans for us, who knows what he might have in store? How might God be desiring to use the combination of gifts and abilities he has uniquely planted in you? Be inspired, know yourself and take the risk!

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