by Dale Sellers
I’ve documented on many occasions how my impatience has led me to make mistakes in my ministry. It’s most likely due to my personality that I’ve often tried to force things to happen when they’re not unfolding at the pace that I desire. However, God is teaching me how to actively wait for opportunities to evolve instead of just plowing through.
I realize that the phrase actively waiting is an oxymoron, but it perfectly sums up the point of what I want to talk to you about today. And since it’s football season, I’d love to give you a game-day analogy to explain what I mean. If you study the ebb and flow of any football game, then you’ll most likely see the idea of actively waiting on display. It happens when the opposing team’s defense recognizes a specific pass play. At that moment, the quarterback (if he’s wise) will heave the football out of bounds to avoid it being intercepted or having his receivers blown up by the opposition.
All successful quarterbacks know that forcing the original play usually ends in negative results in a situation like this.
The quarterback’s decision to throw the ball out of bounds is an excellent strategy because, even though it means the offense may have to punt the ball away, the team still gets to control what they do next instead of turning the ball over. All successful quarterbacks know that forcing the original play usually ends in negative results in a situation like this.
This is a perfect example of choosing to put your plans on hold while still actively playing the game. Actively waiting isn’t a timeout. It isn’t the end of a quarter or halftime. It’s simply deciding to try a different play because you can see the consequences that you and your team are about to suffer. In other words, you might need to scrap the current play in order to give another play the chance to be successful. Forcing the current plan can lead to disaster. Continuing to do what you’ve always done can, too. It would be unthinkable for a quarterback to put the game at risk just so he can do a play that he knows isn’t going to work.
A Bad Leadership Decision
The current season of ministry certainly calls for active waiting. Leading amid so much change can tempt us to act out of desperation or to try to force an issue. You know as well as I do that we don’t get to take a timeout as we lead our ministries. The pressure never really subsides as we navigate current conditions while simultaneously attempting to guide everyone to firmer footing.
This underlying pressure often led me to try to take matters into my own hands despite God calling me to practice patience and trust in His plan. If you know me at all, you know how much I’ve struggled with being patient. I mean, it just takes so much time!
There’s a phrase that’s been around for a long time which sounds spiritual but, in reality, is not. It goes like this:
When God closes a door, He opens a window, but it’s up to you to find it.
There are two problems with this statement. First, it’s not a Biblical reference. And second, it’s not even very wise. When facing a closed door, we’d be much better off embracing the wisdom found in Hebrews 6:9-12 (NKJV):
“But, beloved, we are confident of better things concerning you, yes, things that accompany salvation, though we speak in this manner. For God is not unjust to forget your work and labor of love which you have shown toward His name, in that you have ministered to the saints, and do minister. And we desire that each one of you show the same diligence to the full assurance of hope until the end, that you do not become sluggish, but imitate those who through faith and patience inherit the promises.”
There’s the answer—imitate those who, through faith and patience, inherit the promises. We can’t allow deep-sounding statements or misguided advice to cause us to ignore the Word. Jesus wants us to wait patiently in faith. He sees the end from the beginning, so if He closes a door for you, then you can rest assured that He has a reason for it.
Let me share three dilemmas you may face as you recognize that Jesus has closed a door. Each of these examples comes from personal experience.
Dilemma #1 – Looking For Something Other Than A Door
Here’s where a phrase like “when God closes a door, He opens a window, but it’s up to you to find it” can lead to problems. At times in my ministry, when God asked me to actively wait, I found that my impatience was accelerated by the fact that my congregation was looking to me for leadership.
I didn’t want to be embarrassed by a door closing in front of me, especially if it was a door I’d chosen to lead us through. But I was missing the point. The door wasn’t necessarily shut because my plan was bad. The timing was just off!
Maybe you’ve experienced this, too. You were confident that Jesus directed you to add a new element to your ministry or to implement a new outreach program to connect with the community, but then He shut the door. And that left you frantically looking for an open window. Take it from me; looking for an escape from impatience could blow up a good directive from the Lord.
ACTION STEP: Be intentional in trusting Him to show you the proper timing in implementing good ideas.
Dilemma #2 – Repeatedly Slamming Into The Closed Door
This situation often arises in older congregations that have experienced some level of successful impact in the past. Leadership is so difficult when we must help people rejoice over past success while embracing a new paradigm. I’m sure you’ve heard it said that success can lead to failure more quickly than failure does.
My friend Karl Vaters offers some helpful advice for dealing with this issue. He says that, in many cases, a stalled-out church began as a ministry to address problems that weren’t being addressed. However, there aren’t a lot of folks around today who were there in the beginning or who remember why it started in the first place. So, it’s crucial to look back at the founding priorities of when the church began.
ACTION STEP: Research and remind your congregation of their reason for starting.
Dilemma #3 – Walking Into A Glass Door
I can’t think of an illustration that describes me better than this! I’m a visionary leader by nature. I can also assess situations and problems through intuition. However, my personality is a primary contributor to my impatience.
It’s so hard for me to actively wait when I see where we need to improve as a ministry or when I recognize a problem or situation that needs to be addressed. Timing affects this, too, but the real problem boils down to the need for letting things develop.
Let’s go back to the football illustration for a moment. In today’s game strategy, both the offense and the defense constantly check in and out of plays. A team seldom runs the first play they’ve called because the quarterback might see a better play that needs to be used and check out of the initial play. However, savvy defensive coordinators will often check the check! In a sense, football has become an active chess match.
Many times, we know we’ve heard clearly from the Lord of His plan for the church we are leading. Then, out of nowhere, He shuts the door.
Leading in ministry can be like this, too. Many times, we know we’ve heard clearly from the Lord of His plan for the church we are leading. Then, out of nowhere, He shuts the door. And, unfortunately, the door He closed is solid glass which allows us to see how impactful the plan or idea would be if only He would turn us loose.
As a leader, when this happens, slamming into a glass door that you didn’t see can hurt the most! Knowing where to go but having to actively wait for it takes an incredible amount of leadership maturity. When this happens, remember that He sees what you don’t see. He knows what’s coming in the days ahead that could make your awesome new idea fail, so trust His timing.
ACTION STEP: Don’t give up when you have to actively wait for a great idea to materialize.
When God closes a door, try to avoid the dilemmas I’ve mentioned today. Choose to actively wait until He opens another door. We must pursue Him instead of looking for a way out. He’s made it abundantly clear in His Word that He will finish what He’s started. There’s no need to panic or seek an alternative escape. I’m discovering the amazing purpose and peace that can be found by just hanging out with Him in the waiting.
Be sure to stop by our 95Network.org/online store to find helpful resources designed to encourage and strengthen your ministry leadership.