Letting Go of Artificial Timelines in Ministry
Three things I learned about trusting God’s plan
When I was 33 years old, I thought I was so far behind schedule — behind where I should be in life and ministry. I believe there was at least one specific reason I felt that way: The senior pastor of the church I started attending when I was 19 was only 28 years old. I’m not sure how, but that created an artificial timeline in my soul.
I was a youth pastor for 10 years and loved every minute of it, but when I hit 32, the artificial timeline clock started ticking. It told me I was running out of time and I needed to plant a church or become a senior pastor. Tick, tick, tick … time was running out because I was four years past 28 and thought I should have been leading a church of my own.
That bogus clock forced me to make some bad decisions and pursue half-baked plans. I justified them in my mind, convincing myself that God was in it all. By the time I was 34, I was struggling spiritually and briefly crashed emotionally while attempting to beat the clock.
My expectation of where I thought I should be versus where I actually found myself led to a crisis of the soul. For two years, I wandered in a kind of wilderness — isolated and out of ministry (and struggling with the loss of my identity since ministry was all I knew up to that point in my life).
I give you the summary of my early adult Christian life because 14 years later, at age 48, God blew up my artificial timeline and is now redeeming the time I thought I had lost. I recently completed my first year as a lead pastor, and I am thankful that it didn’t happen sooner. Yes, you read that correctly. God’s timing has been perfect in my preparation.
I learned three valuable lessons in my 30s and 40s that have been so critical to God giving me success and helping me embrace His timeline and process instead of my own.
If you look to Him and trust His timing, God will help you with all the missing and broken pieces of your heart.
Ministry is a marathon, not a sprint. There are plenty of stories of churches experiencing exponential growth and quickly blowing past numerical barriers. These testimonies inspire us and excite us, but we must not overlook the importance of enduring when ministry is hard — and it will be hard at times. As Paul told Timothy, “You therefore must endure hardship as a good soldier of Jesus Christ” (2 Timothy 2:3, NKJV).
Comparison leads to compromise. By “compromise,” I don’t mean some unthinkable sin. I’m talking about accepting standards that are lower than God’s best for your life in an effort to hurry God’s process. Especially in an era of social media — which constantly showcases what seems to be other people’s extravagant success — we can become tempted to take shortcuts to arrive at the “successful place” faster, only to discover what we’re pursuing is nothing more than smoke and mirrors. It really doesn’t take much to appear successful to others on the outside, but trading off God’s best for the applause of people will get you an earthly reward, not an eternal one. The Message puts it this way: “Be especially careful when you are trying to be good so that you don’t make a performance out of it. It might be good theater, but the God who made you won’t be applauding” (Matthew 6:1).
The heart is the matter. Jeremiah told us the heart is hopelessly dark and deceitful, a puzzle that no one can figure out (Jeremiah 17:9). If you look to Him and trust His timing, God will help you with all the missing and broken pieces of your heart. I feared and avoided conflict for many years. It wasn’t until I dealt with that deep-rooted fear and learned that there is such a thing as healthy conflict that I experienced a newfound freedom in my leadership ability. As it turned out, I needed that lesson in my first year of leading a church through transition. Ignoring issues of the heart puts limitations on our leadership. No wonder Proverbs 4:23 says, “Keep your heart with all diligence, for out of it spring the issues of life.”
When we deal with the artificial timeline we’ve set and discover God’s timing, we can embrace His process and understand that He is developing us for the ideal purpose, place and position! Don’t allow your timeline to rob you of God’s perfect timing.