Comfort Zone


When I think, my bed will comfort me and my couch will ease my complaint, Even then you frighten me with dreams and terrify me with visions.  Job 7:12-14

We all have one.  A comfort zone is a state where we feel comfortable, protected, secure and at ease.  We don’t like to get out of our comfort zone.  It’s…….well, it’s un-comfortable.  Getting outside the comfort zone means we put ourselves in an unfamiliar environment that we don’t want to be in, or are having to do something that makes us uneasy.  But, as someone once said, Jesus came to comfort the afflicted, and afflict the comfortable.

Jesus wants us out of our comfort zone where everything is second nature to us and we don’t have to stretch.  When we are in a comfort zone or our element, we can just run on cruise control because we are dealing with something that is known to us.

But the world beckons outside our comfort zone.  As Roy Bennet says: “If you always do what is easy and choose the path of least resistance, you never step outside your comfort zone. Great things don’t come from comfort zones.” I agree with him.

My comfort zone was always on the intellectual side of things – figuring out how things worked in law, for example – learning a complex tax code and contemplating how to help my clients navigate around it to their economic advantage.  Some of you might think that’s goofy, but I liked it.  It was stimulating and, over time, I became more proficient at it.

On the other hand, there were many things I did not like to do.  I hated the thought of having to stand up before people and do any public speaking.  That might have been why I gravitated to a “transactional practice” because it meant that I didn’t have to make arguments in court in front of others.

If called upon to speak to a group, my hands would break into a cold sweat and my stomach would turn into knots. Totally out of my comfort zone. And I shunned leadership positions, preferring to work in the background to achieve my goals and needs, letting others take the leadership position and supporting them.  I was very comfortable in the background.

Then my life got turned upside down when at age 38, I became a Christian.  It changed my world – not immediately, but within months.  I started attending a bible study which I loved – I soaked up scripture just as I had the tax code.  It was fascinating and all new to me.  The second year of the bible study, I was asked to be a leader of 15 men.  I took a big gulp and said yes. I was petrified – first because I wasn’t a bible expert, and secondly because I never had done this before.

Within a short time, I helped organize and set up a church in Raleigh with others and ended up on the Elder Board.  We had over 500 people at our very first service. That put the size of our new church plant in the top 10% of all churches in the United States.  My learning experience was straight up. No curve to my experience – just jump out of the boat and start swimming.  Upon later reflection, I realized that Jesus had kicked me out of the boat. It wasn’t just a gentle push.

In my legal career, the small law firm I had helped start in 1978 merged with a large international firm based in San Francisco in 1985. I was selected by my partners to be the manager of our Raleigh office and put on a 5-person management committee (called ExCom) which was responsible for the oversight of 17 offices and 550 lawyers. A leadership position to which I was drafted by my partners.

I remember sitting on a plane headed to one of our monthly Ex-Com management meetings in San Francisco and wondering how this had possibly happened to me.  I mean this was something I had intentionally avoided for most of my life.  I was out of my comfort zone, for sure.

I retired from 45 years of law practice at the end of 2013, and one of the things that appealed to me was being more involved with the MentorLInk ministry.  I didn’t know what that looked like when I discussed it with my close friends before retiring.  It was just a desire to do more because I would have more time on my hands.

Two years ago while at our regular lunch with my friends Stacy Rinehart and Ralph Ennis, we were going over upcoming travel schedules to get an idea of what lay ahead.  Stacy mentioned that he was going to do a MentorLink training in Kenya.  Without much forethought, I wondered out loud that I might be interesting to be involved on such a trip.

The next thing I knew, I was on a plane to Nairobi, Kenya.  Stacy took a different airline so arrived around 9 pm by myself in Nairobi after 22 hours in an airplane.  We stayed at a hotel near the airport. Because of a scheduling conflict, Stacy had asked me to speak at a church in Nairobi, and Bishop Patrick Maithya picked me up the next morning at 9 am and I was still adjusting to the 8-hour time change.

We drove to his church and on the way, Patrick turned to me and said: “Brother Bill, in Kenya when we worship, we dance when we sing.”  I responded that I was looking forward to that experience, and he continued: “If you will, just move your feet a little, and everyone will understand.”  Wow!  No pressure there. Having two left feet wouldn’t matter.

My apprehension of speaking to a church in a foreign country quickly disappeared.  I delivered my message which had simultaneous translation, a first for me.  In America, we take for granted that our audiences speak the same language.  Considering that, just a few years ago, I would have been petrified to speak to any audience, much less one in a foreign country, I found the experience encouraging.

In America, the Church has become a comfort zone where we can exercise our faith, often with total anonymity. Very few churches urge people to go on a short-term mission trips or even be involved in missions.  I am grateful that my church here is an exception.

The value of a mission trip is not what is accomplished abroad (although that is important). It is what is accomplished in the heart and mind of the participant.  I have yet to meet anyone with foreign mission experience who wasn’t changed in some subtle but profound way.

One area where comfort zones become moats to ministry is the area of mentoring. I am a strong advocate of mentoring (in case you hadn’t noticed), because I firmly believe it is our obligation to pass on our faith lives to the next generation. It’s a biblical imperative which has gotten little lip service in the world or the church, to the detriment of the next generation of leaders.

I recently have formed a friendship with Steve Morrow, a man who discovered MentorLink on his own and has become involved in facilitating some of our institute sessions with others.  He was drawn to our emphasis on learning from the inside out and our methodology of teaching. He just retired and is contemplating what the next steps in life are for him.

During our last conversation, I challenged him to do two new things he had not done before.  The first was to find a younger man to mentor.  Kind of a “get out of the stands and get on the sidelines to coach others” admonition.  I want him to have hands-on experience of investing in another’s life.  It will change him, although I can’t say how at this point.

The second thing I suggested was for him to join me on trip to Togo next May.  One picture is worth a thousand words.  The experience is life changing in so many ways, but, as you can imagine, it takes a little courage to get out of our comfort zone.

So, what’s your comfort zone?  What will it take to get you out of it?   What is it that you have never stretched for?  Has anyone encouraged you?  Have you felt a nudging of the Holy Spirit to do something out of your comfort zone?

What about going on a mission trip? Facilitate a class?  Become a mentor to someone you don’t know anything about?  Join in their life experiences and provide support and Godly counsel of your life experiences?

There’s an infinite number of things that you can do, but if you are stuck in your comfort zone, nothing will happen.  My challenge to you is to consider doing something you’ve never done before for the Kingdom.  Big or small.  Doesn’t matter.  You’ll find that if you are in God’s will, you will not be un-comfortable.

Bill Mann

MENTOR TAKEAWAY:  Don’t shy away from starting a relationship with someone you don’t know.  I have only known  one of the men I have mentored before we started meeting together. Most were referred to me.

FURTHER STUDY:  Read The Light in the Heart by Roy T. Bennett, a writer who encourages people to nurture their minds with positive thoughts of generosity, kindness, peace, empathy, compassion, humility, love and joy.

WORSHIP:  Join Michael W. Smith singing Open the Eyes of My Heart:

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