When I was just 15 years old, two youth leaders at my church named Bill and Dave saw potential in me. They called me a “leader” and created opportunities for me to experiment, to make mistakes, and most of all, to learn and grow. They were door openers. I decided to ask some women leaders who it was who opened a door for them, because I knew they would likely have a name of a man or woman who took a gamble on them, who saw something in them, and who placed their hand on a door and nudged it open. Here’s what I heard:
Shelly: A worship pastor named Christy opened the door for me to first host and do meditations. It was my lead pastor, Jeff, who also opened a door for me…and continues to do so.
Stefenie: It was my children’s ministry director Jay, when I was 19. He threw a book at me on a Sunday morning and said, “Hey, you’re a leader…read this.” I’d never been called a leader before.
Kati: It was my youth leader, Sue, who looked me right in the eye when I was 16 years old and said, “I think God wants you to go into ministry.”
Heather: I was serving as a volunteer when we hired a new youth pastor, Scott, who saw the Kingdom good God might do through me. So Scott spent lots of time investing in me.
And finally, my good friend Melissa, who was invited as a rookie 26-year-old by her pastor, Eddie, to join the church’s senior staff team as Executive Pastor. Here’s what Melissa wrote about this bold move:
Melissa: The perceived age and gender “barriers” Eddie was willing to push through were, at the time, a demonstration of remarkable conviction and courage. I began supervising a large staff with people more than twice my age and who had served on staff longer than I had been alive. In hindsight, 7 years later, this move makes a lot of sense and has been catalytic for our church. At the time, it seemed to many to be downright risky! I often ask myself if I’d hire a 26-year-old woman for my job. If she was the right one, I hope I would! Seems pretty crazy to me, even though I’m the one living it out.
What power there is in an open door! For minorities—whether defined by gender, race, or age—a person with a hand on the doorknob is the game changer. And in most churches and companies, that means a white male. I want to be quick to say I have nothing against white males—I’ve been happily married to one for 35 years! But I can see how people who hold the power, who make the decisions, can decide to play it safe and hire only people just like them…or they can intentionally seek out potential in the less obvious person, and speak words that ennoble and envision that individual to imagine taking on a new role.
If you are a seasoned leader with the authority to assign key volunteer or staff roles, I challenge you to get your hand on the doorknob for someone who might be the surprising choice…but who has potential, with coaching and opportunity, to flourish. Here’s what I know to be true about the most effective door openers:
- They have eyes to see potential.
- They begin offering the unlikely candidate some junior level opportunities to lead and catch them doing something right. They also give constructive feedback along the way.
- They speak words of belief into that person—words that are specific and full of vision and imagination.
- They show grace when the new leader makes mistakes, not acting shocked or surprised, leveraging the situation for learning.
- They are a champion for the new leader to others who hold power, advocating along the way and persuading others to get behind the rookie.
I have two young daughters, ages 25 and 22. I see enormous potential in both of them (of course, I’m a bit biased). As they both seek to contribute, to lead, and to carve out their own path, I hope and pray there will be men and women with their hand on a doorknob, taking a chance on them, inviting them to a grand adventure.
Are you ready to open the door for someone else?