In our interview with Steven Furtick, lead pastor of Elevation Church in North Carolina, we talked about his upcoming book (Un)Qualified—asking why he chose to write on this topic now and how it is possible that he feels unqualified with the success he has had.
1. You lead one of the country’s fastest growing churches with more than 20,000 attendees and you’ve now written your fourth book. Why are you addressing the topic of feeling unqualified now?
I’m writing on this now because it doesn’t matter if you're preaching to a group of 10 sweaty middle schoolers at a youth group lock-in or if you’re preaching to an arena of people at a church leadership conference – the feeling of being unqualified and inadequate is something you can’t ever really outrun. At one point or another, we all feel ridiculously unqualified for what God has called us to do. That‘s okay. Actually, to be used by God, it’s essential. God loves to work with unqualified people.
2. Why is it that we often misunderstand what it means to be qualified?
I think it goes back to our earliest form of qualification – grade school. Pass, fail. A-plus, C-minus, F. These letters mean something to us. They were our first measurement of success, and this whole business of judging and assessing and qualifying is deeply ingrained in our culture and psyche. We constantly analyze and summarize each other. We develop our own secret, subjective ways of determining whether people measure up, and we do the same to ourselves. The problem is we will never be perfect enough or fail proof enough to be at peace with ourselves on this basis of qualification alone.
3. You preach every week in front of large crowds, how is it possible that you question your ability to fulfill your calling?
I question it because I know me. I think we all secretly fight feelings of inadequacy, insufficiency, and incompetence. We fear we are not enough – whatever that means in our particular situations. I heard once that most people, particularly men, go through life wondering how long it will be before everyone realizes they’re a fraud. Not in the sense that they’re insincere, but just that they have no idea what they’re doing. I relate to that more than I can explain.
4. You make the statement, “God can’t bless who you pretend to be.” What do you mean by that?
It was a thought that hit me while I was preparing a series of sermons on Jacob. I mean, Jacob was a con, a liar and a manipulator – you know, the model citizen for Sunday school stories – and yet God chose him to be one of the pillars of our faith and one of the fathers of the nation of Israel. He was simultaneously one of the most important figures in scripture and one of the most screwed up.
I was reading the scene in the Bible where Jacob dressed up like his brother Esau to get blessed by his father Isaac. And it worked. Kind of. He spent the next twenty-one years on the run – from his family, his homeland, and ultimately, himself.
It wasn’t until Jacob admitted his true identity while wrestling at the Jabbok that God was able to bless Jacob the way he wanted to. And that’s when God changed his name, on the basis of his true identity, not his persona or construct.
And as I’m sitting there studying this, I realized that we’re all like Jacob. We find ourselves pretending to be someone we’re not. We’re thinking if we manipulate our image just right, it will bring the accomplishments or acceptance we’re so desperate to receive. We think our weaknesses are the problem and faking it till we make it is the answer. But God sees it so differently. He longs to bless us. The real us, with all our ups and downs. The version of us that limps and loses, but refuses to lie about it. Once we come to him in that way, His truth begins to set us free to become who we really are.
5. You ask readers to fill in the blank to the statement “I am ____. What word or phrase do you use to fill in that blank and why?
Oh man. It depends on the day or even the minute, honestly. I know the answer I’m supposed to say is “I am chosen” or “I am loved” or something super pastoral, but the reality is I’m schizophrenic when it comes to the word I fill in the blank with. The words I find myself saying cover the whole spectrum too: I am unqualified. I am stupid. I am strong. I am driven. Screwed up. Loyal. Stuck. Hurting. Overwhelmed. Blessed. Capable. Disappointed. Hopeful. Jaded. Content. So many of my words circle around my weaknesses, but at the same time, I know God has equipped me, and remembering that helps shift my thinking. Making that choice, moment to moment, is what the book is all about!
6. What is your recommendation for someone who is struggling to come to terms with his or her weaknesses and ability to change?
The more I study the Bible the more convinced I am that we need a fuller understanding – not just of God – but of ourselves. And we need to give less weight to our opinion of our weaknesses and problems. Don’t give up. Keep showing up. I truly believe the key to change isn’t always doing something new, but often in doing the right things over and over again. Change isn’t something that happens overnight. There are the exceptions, sure. But for the rest of us, change is a long, messy process. But if we don’t show up every day, and decide that today is going to build on the success we had yesterday, and so on, then our change will never last. And at the same time, when it comes to maturing us, God has His own timetable, and the Christian walk isn’t really about a finish line. Faith can’t be reduced to a goal or an achievement. It‘s an ongoing relationship with Jesus. It‘s a progression of growing and changing, of embracing and replacing, of listening to God‘s voice and living out who he says we are. It‘s a process, and it will last the rest of our lives.
7. What patterns do you see in the Bible of God using those who don’t outwardly appear to be qualified for what he has asked them to do?
Well, just think about how many of our Bible heroes were tortured souls with marked pasts that would label them unqualified by our standards. You’ve probably heard a version of this before: Noah was a drunk. Moses was a coward and a murderer. David was an adulterer. Paul was chief proponent in the killing of many Christians. Yet, these are some of the men God used. Don’t even get me started on Rahab!
Look, God has a habit of picking people who have been passed over. It’s just proof that God’s qualification system is totally different than ours. The very people we’re so quick to discount and disqualify are often the earthen vessels in whom God pours the greatest measure of His glory.
You can order your copy of (Un)Qualified from Family Christian today!