One of my childhood dreams was to learn to fly. As a young 20-something, I began working in a job that afforded me enough extra income to start taking lessons toward the goal of obtaining a Private Pilot’s license. After 10 hours of dual instruction, I felt I was ready to have my instructor step out of the Piper 140 and let me take it around the patch all on my own. Little did I know my instructor was not as confident about my ability to pilot the aircraft as I was. I survived my first solo and returned safely to the runway at Reid-Hillview Aiport in San Jose, California with me and the airplane all in one piece.
Ten years after that first solo flight, I needed to reconnect with my flight instructor to have him fill in some entries for a missing logbook. At that time, I was pursuing my own flight instructor rating. After some research, I discovered that my instructor had become a Delta pilot. I contacted Delta headquarters and left my name and number. A few days later, I got a phone call. During our phone conversation, we laughed telling stories on each other. When referring to the day of my solo flight he said, “You were so cocky, I decided to let you go and see what would happen.” In the following years, I would have students of my own that I had to let go and see what would happen. Nobody died in the process, and several went on to gain advanced certification.
At some point, we have to be willing to let go of people and let them fly on their own. Our kids, friends or a developing ministry team member under our care all need to experience solo flight. Every relationship has a point where in order for the relationship to continue to grow and remain healthy, those who lead and train others will need to release the controls and step out of the cockpit.
When I pastored a local church, I loved letting go of young leaders and watching them run at the speed of their faith. I no longer needed to be in the cockpit of their calling even though I held the primary leadership position. My job was to give them the basics of our vision and make sure they understood the heart of our ministry then let them go flying with their calling within the broader vision and heart of our ministry.
At some point, if you choose to lead and train others, you will need to step out of the relational cockpit and let people fly on their own. Watching someone fly alone around the pattern that first time can be a moment of intense prayer, but once they make their first successful solo flight and safe landing, you will know you did your job.