It’s fourth down on the 4-yard line and the team is down by 7 points with seconds to go. The clock is running down—so the coach calls the team’s final timeout in this very critical moment. This is the coach’s opportunity to put the overwhelming pressure of the moment on hold to speak into the situation and guide the players. 

Coaches call timeouts at critical moments in the game—just as leaders must call timeouts at critical moments in ministry. Sports Illustrated writer, Michael Pina, outlined the crucial nature of timeouts:

“Players need to rest. Strategy must be explained and altered. Substitution patterns should be adhered to. Miniature sideline classrooms are essential. They remain the primary way a coach can impress himself upon the action.”

Jesus modeled the use of timeouts many times in his ministry. For instance, after the apostles returned from their first ministry tour, Mark describes how Jesus said, “Let’s go off by ourselves to a quiet place and rest awhile.” He said this because there were so many people coming and going that Jesus and his apostles didn’t even have time to eat. So, they left by boat for a quiet place, where they could be alone.” (Mark 6:30-32 NLT) 

Like a critical moment in a football game, Dr. Skip Lewis has described several moments in church staff and elder meetings where he needed to call a timeout to address hurt feelings or disagreement that was being ignored or swept under the carpet. And just like one of the purposes that Pina offered, ministry leaders can use a timeout in those situations as a “miniature sideline classroom” to develop every team member in the room. offers the five following moments when effective coaches must call timeouts:

  1. Stop the momentum of the other team (and the crowd).
  2. Change your game strategy.
  3. Draw up a specific play.
  4. Give your players a rest without substituting.
  5. Fire up your team.

Similarly, effective ministry leaders must call timeouts to:

  1. Stop the momentum of a negative, counter-productive situation.
  2. Change strategies when “we’ve always done it this way” is no longer working.
  3. Draw up a specific ministry plan to respond to a crisis.
  4. Give team members a moment of grace to recover from disagreement in a meeting.
  5. Fire up your ministry team when vision and energy are faltering.

Next time you encounter a critical moment in your ministry, remember that you’re the coach—and you may need to call a timeout to instruct and motivate your team!

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Tim Ryan

Tim Ryan

Executive Pastor at West Shore Free Church
Jesus captured Tim's heart at age 17 through the Father’s faithful love and the Spirit's relentless pursuit. Since then, God has opened many doors of rewarding ministry through short-term mission trips and ministry to children, students and men. Tim loves travel, adventure and the outdoors—especially hiking, camping and anything on the water. Tim and Amy are celebrating over 25 years of marriage and are currently launching their four girls into adult life. They have been actively involved at West Shore Free Church since 2002 and Tim has been on staff since 2014.

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