By Jeff Iorg
“Is the timing right for the change?”
This may be the most vexing question for many leaders who often see solutions a long time before others even start thinking about the problems. Visionary insight—the ability to see a preferred future—can feel like a leadership curse because of the angst and impatience it produces within leaders.
Clear vision of future possibilities makes it hard to wait for the right time to initiate major change. Right timing, however, is essential in determining the receptivity among followers for making a major change, as well as the pace at which God wants everyone to move forward.
During my first on-site interview for my pastorate in Missouri, one thing became clear: the church needed to relocate. Their building was a small, dated facility on a gravel road about a mile from the intersection of two four-lane thoroughfares.
It was obvious the church needed to be at that intersection, not a mile from it. At least it was obvious to me!
For about three years, we did various things to accommodate growth. We converted trailers into classrooms and started a second Sunday morning worship service. When the idea for relocating was first proposed, it was rejected outright—even derided.
After another year, when the idea was again proposed, there was some tepid, tentative affirmation. We set a study process in motion, God intervened, and the results validated the decision.
The church has been meeting for more than 25 years in its new location about 50 yards from the aforementioned major intersection. In this case, while my conviction about what needed to happen was right, my timing was wrong.
Calvin Miller summarized what happens when there is incongruity between vision and timing when making a major change.
- The wrong decision at the wrong time = Disaster
- The wrong decision at the right time = Mistake
- The right decision at the wrong time = Rejection
- The right decision at the right time = Success
Making the right decision at the right time is essential to successfully implementing major change. Learning to have relaxed concern about pressing problems is hard. Forcing change too quickly leads to fractured relationships and ruptured organizations.
Conversely, moving too slowly can mean lost opportunities to experience God’s best. Deftly adjusting the pace of change to remain in step with God’s timing is a hallmark of leadership competency.
God’s timing is always perfect; interfacing with his timing and timetable is our problem. The Bible describes the timing of Jesus’ arrival as “when the fullness of time had come” (Galatians 4:4, ESV).
The word translated “fullness” also means “ripeness,” meaning Jesus came at just the right time. The word could be used to describe a pregnant woman just before giving birth. When the circumstances were just right, ripe with opportunity, Jesus was born.
While he has stood crucified “from the creation of the world” (Revelation 13:8, NIV), he intersected human history at the prime time for fulfilling God’s perfect plan. God’s timing is always perfect.
Leaders must learn to stay in step with God’s timing. For many years, relocating our seminary had been discussed and even strategized. Multiple strategic plans, dating back to the 1980’s, outlined possible steps to making it happen. Every attempt prior to 2014 had been thwarted.
As we look back, we now see how the timing for the relocation was optimal—based on the coalescing of both internal and external circumstances.
In 2014, the seminary had a veteran president with a proven track record of trustworthy leadership, an outstanding administrative team well-suited to the unique challenges of relocation, a forward-thinking faculty committed to the school’s mission, educational delivery systems (regional campus system and online program) largely impervious to negative impact from the relocation, and board members with the wisdom and expertise to keep everyone accountable to a reasonable relocation plan.
Externally, real estate and investment markets were favorable, denominational support was strong, and outside distractions were minimal. While previous generations pondered the idea of relocation, it was only possible in God’s timing when a myriad of circumstances largely outside our control came together at the right time.
Another timing issue related to major change is being ready to move forward—often quickly and decisively—when opportunity presents itself. A church-planting pastor led his church to the brink of purchasing their first facility.
Their leadership team was unified, but at the last minute the pastor made a public about-face and backed away from the decision. His leadership team lost confidence in him for what they perceived as cowardice in a critical moment. Within a short time, the church disbanded.
In another instance, a church refused to enlarge their facilities when presented with a golden opportunity to do so. Despite their leaders’ best efforts, the congregation refused to seize the day and press forward.
In both of these cases, unbeknownst to the persons making the final decision, individuals were prepared to make very large gifts to sustain the changes. And, in both cases, the donors diverted those funds to other projects outside their churches.
When it is time to move forward, move forward! Failure to do so can be catastrophic as ministries lose momentum, followers lose confidence in leaders, and resources are diverted to other projects.
JEFF IORG (@Jeff_Iorg) is the president of Gateway Baptist Theological Seminary and the author of Leading Major Change in Your Ministry, from which this article was excerpted and adapted with permission from B&H Publishing Group.