Stepping Up | How to Handle Promotion


Promotion is coming but are you ready?
And how will you respond when it arrives?

A promotion seems like something you’d want. Until you get it. Then you realize that it’s uncomfortable and challenging. Your old position suddenly looks very cosy and inviting… why would you want to leave what you know? Even when you’re ready for it, even when it’s very definitely God-ordained, promotion is a stretch.

My clunky metaphor for promotion

I’ve just sold my car. I loved that car. It had a few dings and scratches, it was a bit noisy once you hit 50mph and everything started to rattle. But I didn’t have to think about driving it. It was second nature to me – like driving a comfy old shoe. But I’ve been promoted, you see, to the Audi Estate, which used to be my husband’s car.

The Audi Estate scares me because it’s an expensive car and it doesn’t have any dings or scratches on it. I’m not used to driving it and it’s long, so very long – parking is quite the challenge. At first when Dave suggested I take the Audi and sell my old car, I didn’t want to. I wanted to stick with what I knew. I didn’t want to risk the new. But I decided to step up and go for it. And, yes, I still pray a lot when I’m driving it and hold my breath when parking. But wow, it’s so smooth and quiet to drive. There’s power steering and power braking and IT HAS HEATED SEATS. It’s lovely (if terrifying).

The best of news, the worst of news

It doesn’t matter what sphere you’re in – work, church, ministry, a club or hobby – it’s always more comfortable to stick with what you know. To sit in the background, follow the leader and figure out ways that you’d do everything better if you were in charge.

Well here’s the best of news and the worst of news – now you’re in charge. You’re being promoted. Yes, it’s one of those seasons of movement in the Kingdom and fresh promotions are lurking around every corner. So will you stay with your dinged up old position or will you risk the parking dilemmas of the new role for the excitement of a warmed seat?

"God likes to promote us to an area of our potential giftedness but where we lack experience."

Some of you will be promoted very much against your wishes and will just want to curl up in a little ball at the thought of it. Some of you who want to be promoted to position A (MegaPastor) will be promoted to position B (Children’s Pastor). Or vice versa.

Gifted but not experienced

It seems to me that God likes to promote us to an area of our potential giftedness but where we lack experience. Often He asks us to step up to a place that presses all our insecurity buttons: “I can’t talk in front of people!” “I can’t make decisions like that!” “I can’t do this!”

There’s a new Saturday night TV show that’s just started in the UK, called Splash. In it our British Olympic diving star, the chiselled Tom Daley, coaches celebrities to attempt professional dives. They can choose to dive from the 3 meter board, the 5 meter board or the terrifying 10 meter board. Then the public votes on which dive they think was the best.

Now any dive off the 10 meter board is impressive just because you’ve got to have nerves of steel even to walk to the edge. It’s high. I feel slightly faint just thinking about walking to the edge and looking down. And diving from that height, well if you don’t do it right it’s like diving into concrete. It’s dangerous.

Watching a pro like Tom Daley diving off the 10 meter board is inspiring. He makes it look effortless, elegant and beautiful. He makes you want to be able to do it. But when you’re up on the edge of the board on your hands and knees trying not to faint and crying for mummy, the thing you aspired to has become rather terrifying. That’s what promotion is like.

So what do you do? Back down? Or risk life, limb and looking ridiculous and go for it? Either way you’re in a tight spot. (Promotion. I’m not exactly selling it to you am I?)

Higher and higher

During my time at the School of Ministry in Toronto, I felt like I was constantly being moved up to higher and higher diving boards. The first time I was asked to speak at the church as a student I just about collapsed at the thought. It was hideous. The honor of being selected to speak was just a giant freak-me-out-ride. Who was I to speak at the world-famous Toronto Airport Christian Fellowship? I felt like a fraud. It was awful.

"Unworthiness and humility are not the same thing."

But of course, those who chose me to do it and God Himself could see something in me that I couldn’t. If you’d told me then that I’d end up speaking and teaching all round the world, to pastors and leaders – and loving it – I’d have fainted, or run away and burned my swimming costume (are you following the diving analogy? If not that will seem like a very strange comment).

Unworthiness and humility are not the same

The Humility Society once gave me a membership T-shirt with the word "humble" written on it. But then they asked for it back, because I wore it.*

Unworthiness and humility are not the same thing. When you’re first promoted in the Kingdom it’s very easy to hide behind unworthiness by dressing it up as humility. But refusing to step out onto the platform that’s been given to you (your new high level diving board) isn’t being humble, it’s being afraid.

Ask yourself, “Do I want to be good at this?”

I’m not saying you should take every role or opportunity that’s offered to you as though it were your duty to step up. You’ve got to hear from God yourself that He wants you to green-light a new role. Passion is the way forward into new roles, not duty, because people who love what they do outperform those who just act out of duty, every day of the week. However, you might not know your passion or it may be covered up by intimidation.

"Don’t refuse the gift or opportunity God has given you because it makes you feel really uncomfortable."

Sometimes you’re being promoted in a totally different direction to the one you expected. When given the opporunity to take on a new area of responsibility that you feel ill-equipped for, one question to ask yourself is, “Do I want to be good at this?” If you’re terrified at the thought of leading worship for the first time, but actually it is something you’d love to be gifted in… then give it a whirl, I say.

I guess what I’m saying is don’t refuse the gift or opportunity God has given you because it makes you feel really uncomfortable. If it’s God, it will most probably make you feel uncomforatble. It’s tricky as a sweet-mannered young thing (clearly I’m not talking about myself here) to suddenly be thrust into the spotlight of leading worship where everyone is staring at YOU. They’re supposed to be focused on Jesus, but they’re all looking at you to make something happen. It’s unnerving.

And then if you’re gifted and anointed and people start treating you differently - that really freaks you out: “Stop noticing me, it’s not about me. Argh, I’m scared of getting proud. I don’t know how to handle the expectation, I want to run away.”

Part of the promotion process is learning that being looked at is part of being a leader. It’s scary, yes, and for those who’d rather fade into the background it’s uncomfortable. But stepping up to being seen and being heard is an essential part of the role. It’s stepping out of your comfort zone for the good of others. Keeping your talent buried is not doing anybody any good, even if it feels safer because you won’t have to worry about things going to your head. (Check out Luke 19 for "The Parable of the Talents".)

Fake it till you make it

Here’s some advice from Dr Phil that won’t sound at all holy but I think is still very sound advice: Fake it till you make it. If you don’t feel confident, just act confident and soon enough the confidence will follow along behind. No one wants to see a cringing, snivelling wreck clinging to the 3 meter diving board saying, “I don’t know why I’m here.” If you feel God’s put you there, then man up. Stand tall in your tiny Speedo even if you are dying a million deaths inside. Walk proudly to the edge and do your very best bellyflop.

"If you don’t step up, how are you going to perfect your technique?"

Those with eyes to see will discern the latent diving talent and excuse the amateur mistakes. Those who don’t have a clue why YOU are up there, will at least be impressed with the way you flung yourself off with scant care for life or limb.

Willingness to step up wins over perfect technique

Back to the Splash TV show. This week there was a chiselled, toned celebrity male who dived off the 5 meter board with an impressive double somersault. Then there was the massively overweight comedian who threw himself off the 10 meter board. His dive over-rotated madly and he smacked his back on the water in a very inelegant way. But it didn’t matter. He went off the 10 meter board. He looked like a flying turkey, but man did we all cheer. And he got the most votes. Willingness to step up wins over perfect technique. And if you don’t step up, how are you going to perfect your technique? Learn by doing, that’s how Jesus taught His disciples. (Check out "Jesus sends out the 72" in Luke 10.)

So that’s my peptalk on how to handle promotion. Stash your “I’m unworthy” T-shirt down the back of the sofa and walk boldly to the edge of your new platform… at work or at school or at church. And be that flying turkey.

(I don’t recommend you lead worship in your Speedos though. The analogy will definitely become lost in the congregation. Also, you might get arrested.)

*Thanks to Kev Marshall for this excellent joke.