3 Ways to Push Someone Out of Their Comfort Zone

As a leader, you know the feeling.

It’s that feeling when you know you need to sit down and get real with a team member. Maybe the team member has been underperforming, or maybe they’re just stuck in neutral and seemingly unable to grow in their position and take the next step.

You might not want to have that conversation. You might even dread it. But you know it’s your job to push your team past their comfort zones to new heights – to levels of thinking they weren’t aware they were capable of. As a hospitable leader, that responsibility just comes with the territory.

Few leaders in the Bible do this better than Paul. And Timothy – Paul’s longtime protege – was the recipient of this tough, yet hospitable, leadership from his mentor.

Timothy wasn’t some wide-eyed “rookie” when Paul began writing quite bluntly to his friend. Though Timothy was 19 when he began traveling with Paul, he was around 30 years old – having been a part of Paul’s leadership team for 11 years – when Paul gave him a very difficult assignment.

Together, they had helped build churches in Thessalonica, Corinth, and Philippi. Timothy collaborated with Paul to write six letters that we know of, all of which are now part of the New Testament. Timothy had been around a while and repeatedly faced new experiences and challenges.

But when Paul asked him to stay in Ephesus in AD 64, Timothy felt unprepared. He was tasked with the responsibility of fighting false teaching that had become part of the Christian church and threatened its survival.

From what we know of Timothy, he was naturally timid, given to anxiety, and could be pushed around. He was intimidated by the older leaders and fearful in new places. But Paul knew what Timothy was capable of. He knew the right buttons to push to make Timothy the leader he was destined to be.

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How did Paul push Timothy out of his comfort zone?

1) Addressed Timothy’s weak points.

Paul wasn’t afraid to be blunt with Timothy, to call out his deficiencies. He says “For the Spirit God gave us does not make us timid, but gives us power, love and self-discipline.” The Expositor’s Greek Testament phrases it a little more harshly: “Your weak point is a deficiency in moral courage.” For Timothy, reading that had to sting a little.

Paul put Timothy in a position, as a leader of the Christian church in Ephesus, because he knew Timothy would grow from the experience. And, more importantly, he knew Timothy would grow closer to God’s call for his life in the process.

Strong leaders aren’t afraid to put people in uncomfortable spots, even when they know there will be pushback.

2) Challenged Timothy firmly with love.

Paul loved Timothy a lot. He called him a beloved and faithful son. So like any good dad (or leader), Paul wasn’t scared to get in Timothy’s face.

Timothy wanted out of Ephesus. He didn’t like it there. He was uncomfortable, pushed beyond what he believed he could do. But Paul told him to stay there and do what he’d been assigned. He told him to not be intimidated and give in to his natural weaknesses but to remember the gifts God gave him and who God called him to be.

Like any great mentor, Paul saw more in his protege than Timothy saw in himself. Hospitable leaders challenge people to go beyond their comfort zones and then encourage them like crazy once they are there.

3) Helped Timothy dream big.

Paul didn’t just challenge his friend for Timothy’s sake. He challenged him because he knew the church in Ephesus was vital to the growth of Christianity.

While Timothy was sidetracked by his insecurities, Paul wanted him to see the bigger picture – that this whole deal wasn’t just about them, it was about everyone. It was about God’s plan for the world.

History tells us that Timothy eventually stayed in Ephesus and became the first bishop of the Christian church. And it appears that, sadly, he was martyred there around 30 years after Paul’s death.

Paul never saw his close friend again, but he likely died proud. Because he knew Timothy was in the right place at the right time, even though it took a strong nudge or two to get there and stay there.

Paul dreamed more for Timothy than Timothy dreamed for himself. He knew the Ephesus assignment would bring out the best in his protege. And we have so much to learn from how he handled this situation.

He pushed Timothy, not because he was the “boss.” He pushed Timothy because he wanted the best for his friend, and he knew God had something greater in store for Timothy’s life.

Eventually, Timothy became one of the early church’s most influential leaders – all because his leader was willing to push him beyond his comfort level.

So the next time you face one of those difficult conversations, remember Paul and Timothy. Remember, it’s not about your discomfort getting real with a team member or their discomfort hearing your message. It’s all about pushing them to see beyond themselves and their own limitations.

Paul did an amazing job at this, and we’d be smart as leaders to follow his example.

To hospitable leadership!      

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Becky Scholten