I tried to teach my friend how to water-ski. As with most sports, a novice needs to understand some basic things if he is to stand any chance of early success. For example, I’ve been golfing for more than 40 years and I still sometimes forget to keep my head down. There is just no way to hit a golf ball well if you’re trying to watch where it’s going while you’re swinging the club—just no way.
With water-skiing there are two mistakes a novice typically makes: (1) trying to pull himself up as he is coming out of the water, and (2) giving up too early.
Daryl Reed, pastor of DC Regional Christian Church in Maryland, is a big guy. Big guys are harder to get out of the water, so the best advice I could stress to him was to keep trying . . . persevere—I knew he wouldn’t need to worry about the first common mistake if he broke rule number two by giving up too early. So I gave him a few basic instructions and emphasized what I thought was the most important piece of wisdom—JUST HOLD ON.
Well, I’m beginning to learn some people are more literal thinkers than I am. As you probably have already guessed, this didn’t work out as I planned. I hit the gas, and he immediately flipped over in front of his skis. I don’t know whether his skis were too low in the water, or whether he did the splits, or whether he just never got the concept, but it was over.
You can’t get up on skis if they are dragging along behind you.
But I had told him, “Just hold on!” I’ve never seen such a sight. Picture the splash of water off of Daryl’s big, black, bald head following at exactly 75 feet behind this boat with other members of the 2014 North American Christian Convention Executive Committee laughing hysterically while trying to coerce Daryl to “JUST LET GO!”
If I had a video camera, I would have a million hits on YouTube.
I had to actually stop the boat before he drowned in literal obedience to my command.
It’s what makes Daryl a great minister.
I’ve just celebrated my 24th anniversary with the church I serve. It was a small, troubled church on the edge of extinction when we arrived. Denise and I made no long-term commitment to the place. I figured I would get my feet wet and wait for Dave Stone to flame out so I could be Bob Russell’s understudy.
Well, I got my feet wet all right—and stepped on, and bloodied.
Twenty-four years later, I feel a little bit like Daryl. I wish I could tell you it was because of my own faithfulness and Daryl-like determination that I have stayed this long. The truth is, every time I really wanted to leave, I just couldn’t find any place to go. I’m just being honest. I tried to let go of the rope many times. I recently ran across a letter I sent to my mentor, Ben Merold, eight years into my time at Parkview, asking if he knew of anything that was open. Eight years!
But here is what I know about letting go.
Maybe you should. If your skis are behind you, let go. I don’t know how to answer this for you. I thought my skis were too far gone so many times at this church. I still can’t understand how God did the miraculous in this situation, but I know he did. And he may do the same for you, but as my favorite leadership axiom states, “If the horse is dead—dismount.” Again, I have no idea how to answer this for you. Some people let go too early and some people drown.
However, if you sense God has you there for a reason, JUST HOLD ON. Most of the churches and organizations that end up doing the most for Jesus are led by one leader for a long time. I could give you a file folder of stories of endurance and patience from leaders who knew that God had called them to a ministry, and even if it took 120 years of preaching with no converts—they were sure a flood was coming. And like me, when it happened, it was an unbelievable work of God.
Listening to God
Henry Blackaby sums up our job as leaders really well in his book Spiritual Leadership:
God does not ask leaders to dream big dreams for him or to solve the problems that confront them. He asks leaders to walk with him so intimately, when he reveals what is on his agenda, they will immediately adjust their lives to his will and the results will bring glory to God.
Listen. Wait. If God isn’t moving you—there just might be a reason.
Even if the skis are behind you—God can do his thing. Some barefoot skiers actually start out being pulled backwards and wrong side up, and then they flip around when the time is right. Personally I think they are all crazy, but it can happen. With God, all things are possible.
I definitely would like to tell you the joys of long-term ministry far outweigh the advantages of bouncing from place to place, looking for greener pastures. There aren’t many people who have been at this church longer than the Harlows. We didn’t start this church, but it is our church.
And 24 years and thousands of Jesus followers later, I can tell you it feels great to have held on while the water was splashing in my face and I felt like my arms were going to be pulled out of their sockets. Every time I hear a story of one more changed life, I thank God he kept me here. Ask Joseph, Moses, and David. Ask Bob Russell, Dick Alexander, and Ben Merold (twice). Ask Bill Hybels, Rick Warren, and Billy Graham—or hey—ask Jesus whether the benefits of long-term ministry are worth it.
And just hold on.
Tim Harlow serves as senior pastor with Parkview Christian Church, Orland Park, Illinois.