The unexpected detours in our lives can actually be providential distractions, if we are sensitive to the moment.
In 2015, when I was battling stage four lymphoma, I told my family, “It’s a ministry we didn’t ask for, but it’s a ministry nonetheless.” As we made our regular trips to M.D. Anderson for chemotherapy and continued to travel for ministry, God opened up a whole new avenue of ministry to people who may have otherwise not heard or received the Gospel.
I also remember when Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans in 2005, sending a quarter million people into Houston—most of them with virtually no belongings or resources. It was a disaster with the magnitude of which our nation had never experienced. Yet by the end of it all, our network of relationships had collaborated to provide $30 million in aid throughout the entire Gulf Coast. We had not considered ourselves a disaster response organization prior to that, but because we availed ourselves of an opportunity God set in front of us, we have since responded to numerous major disasters in our country, as well as some international crises, and have received recognition for our efforts in the area of relief and response.
Both of these are examples of something that was not planned, but they were opportunities we responded to. Dr. Roger Parrott, President of Belhaven University, calls this “Opportunity Leadership.” In his current book by the same name, he admonishes leaders with a startling suggestion: Stop planning and start seeing results!
“Planning doesn’t work!” he says, but noting this applies only to long range planning. “I’m not talking about operational planning. At the university, we plan very well when it comes to what we know God has given us to do: we’re going to teach English, we’re going to run a football team, we’re going to have a premier Dance Program. We plan that very well, because God’s already given it to us. But we don’t plan what’s next. We don’t plan where God’s going to take us.”
He continues: “The assumption that we need to be dependent on long-range planning is holding Christians back from God’s very best. And we can see over and over again, in our own lives, how the most significant things came from opportunities, not things we had planned.”
Belhaven today is one of the fastest growing and most innovative colleges in the nation. The school serves 5,000 students, including an online campus in China, and was named one of “America’s Best Colleges to Work For” by the Chronicle of Higher Education. Dr. Parrott, who was named one of “The 10 Most Visionary Education Leaders of 2021” by Education magazine, did not always adhere to his current leadership philosophy.
“I was a traditional planner. I had the five-year plans and the 10-year plans. But leading for 20 years now without a plan is the most significant decision I ever made. It’s the most freeing decision I’ve ever made. And it’s the most trusting decision I’ve ever made, because we are 100% dependent on God to provide the next direction for this institution.”
One of my spiritual sons from 40 years ago, Randall Flynn with Dance Ad Deum, is a frequent guest instructor in Belhaven’s Dance Program. In fact, Belhaven is the only Christian university accredited in all four areas of the Arts and one of only 36 schools in the entire country with that distinction. That, Dr. Parrott says, is a prime example of letting God lead by opportunity.
“We didn’t sit around conference tables and draw up a plan on how to become the best Arts Program in the Christian world. No, God opened one door after another after another, and we just faithfully walked through them.”
In our institutional ways of thinking, we often feel like we have to measure things. But how do we measure the transformation of a person’s life? Or the times we offer hope to a person going through a difficult time? It’s the difference between institutional Christianity versus relational Christianity. In the story of the Good Samaritan, the priest and the Levite were on their way to do something in service for the Lord, yet they missed a moment of opportunity that was relational! The Samaritan seized the opportunity and became part of Scripture in a story that is told all over the world.
In his book David and Goliath, Malcolm Gladwell says David did what was unconventional. There are times we have to go against what we’ve learned in the past and bring it into the context of where we are now so we can take advantage of the moment. It takes courage for leaders to go against the grain and do what they know is right, rather than just going along with the flow. But if we’re going to change the culture, we can’t keep doing the things we’ve been doing. We need new wineskins. And we have to understand that God is up to things in a new paradigm. His truth never changes, but in the context of the world in which we are living today, we need to get God’s wisdom and discernment to enable us to reach more people than ever before.
“You’ve got to be willing to adjust and change as life comes,” Dr. Parrott says. “If you’re just stuck on your one plan and you only know one way to do things, you don’t have the flexibility or the stability to bring about the change.
“When we let go of our plans, it’s amazing the good things that can happen to us.”
Hear more from Dr. Roger Parrott on Opportunity Leadership by listening HERE!
Dr. Doug Stringer is founder and president of Somebody Cares America/International. As an America of Asian descent, Doug is considered a bridge-builder of reconciliation amongst various ethnic and religious groups. He is a sought-after international speaker, addressing topics such as persevering leadership, reconciliation, community transformation, revival, and more. He is host of “A Word in Season with Doug Stringer & Friends,” with new programs posted weekly on the Charisma Podcast Network.