In making decisions whether or not to take on a new project, adopt a new stance, or move forward in a new direction I like to discern whether it is an opportunity or a possibility.
There is a huge difference in the two. And, they can sometimes change throughout the process.
I remember once our church was approached with what we thought was a great opportunity to plant another church campus. An existing church building was going to be available for little or no money and 10 or 20 people were ready to launch with us. With no start-up costs it was reasonable to think we could successfully move quickly towards a decision. We had always been thinking and sensing of God that multi-site campuses were in our future, so this seemed to make sense – even something for which we had been praying.
We even felt God was opening a door of opportunity.
Shortly into the discussions the owner of the building decided he did not want to continue to discount the building for another church plant. He was considering other options with the building. If we rented it our cost would be several thousand dollars per month.
At that point – this was no longer an opportunity. It was now only a possibility.
It didn’t mean we shouldn’t do it, but it would now require further study, more prayer and more time for discernment. We realized in time this was not where God was leading us at the time.
You may still be wondering the difference in an opportunity and a possibility. The lines are certainly fuzzy, but I still think it’s worth discussing. I’ll share some of the ways I discern the two.
Characteristics of an Opportunity
- Defined as “an appropriate or favorable time or occasion” (Dictionary.com)
- Come with some defined realities
- Almost like being “in the right place at the right time”
- Hard to pass up, because they almost always come with some pre-arranged wins
- Make decision-making easier, because everything “makes sense”
- A clear “open door” for a fairly probable success
- Almost seems to be where God has been leading
- Quickly has almost unanimous support…a “no brainer”
Characteristics of a Possibility
- Defined as “the state or fact of being possible” (Dictionary.com)
- Filled with lots of hopes and dreams
- Have fewer assurances
- Could be great, but could equally fail
- Come with unique risks and require more preparation to insure success
- Need more thought, prayer and discernment
- Sometimes originates as one person’s “good idea” that came out of no where
- Has selected supported
Both opportunities and possibilities can be good. Plus, God could equally be in either one. I love risks and big wins are often scored with them, but leaders (and individuals) need to learn to recognize the difference between the two. Confusing a possibility for an opportunity often gets churches, organizations and people in trouble quickly.
I have heard too many people say, “This is such a great opportunity”, when mistakenly what they have is an attractive possibility. Confusing the two they may feel no prayer is needed, because the answer is clear, when really the opposite is truer.
Granted, God often leads us to the seemingly impossible. We are to walk by faith. Understanding the difference in these two, however, will give you a clearer picture of what is a stake, improve your ability to discern and pray, and help you make wiser decisions.
Next time you have a situation you’re considering ask yourself, Is this an opportunity or simply a possibility?” It may make all the difference in how you approach it and greatly determine your ability to be successful.