The Leader and Risk

by Jeff Faull 

As a leader you have probably all heard these oft quoted risk numbers:

  • Do NOT ride in automobiles: they cause 20% of all fatal accidents.
  • Do NOT stay home: 17% of all accidents occur in the home.
  • Do NOT walk on the streets or sidewalks: 14% of all accidents happen to pedestrians.
  • Do NOT travel by air, rail or water: 6% of all accidents happen on these.
  • ONLY … 001% of all deaths occur in worship services in church, and these are related to previous physical disorders. Hence, the safest place in the world for you to be is church!

Some risks were more obvious than others. Scripture refers to Barnabas and Paul as men who have risked their lives for the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.” And it’s not just the Apostles who lived boldly. Epaphroditus is described similarly: “Welcome him in the Lord with great joy, and honor men like him, because he almost died for the work of Christ, risking his life to make up for the help you could not give me.” Paul said Aquila and Prisca risked their own necks for him. This is a reoccurring theme in the New Testament. The original church exploded and continued in growth and maturity in an atmosphere and culture of peril and persecution.

Fast forward two millennia to the contemporary church, especially in America. Our inclination to remove all risk in our insulated and padded church bubbles stands in stark contrast to our spiritual predecessors and even our spiritual contemporaries in other locations. Our safety-conscious, risk-averse, self-protection mindset has seeped into the way we see everything and has distorted our understanding of the very nature, definition and practice of our faith.

Imagine a risk-free Hebrews eleven, a risk-free exodus, risk-free Great Flood and ark, a risk-free Temple or Tabernacle build. Imagine the stories of Abraham, Moses, Noah, David, Mary, Elizabeth, Peter, Paul, Deborah, Amram, or Jochabed as risk-free. The parable of the talents is not risk-free. The prodigal son’s return and his father’s welcome were not risk-free. The Creation of humanity was not risk-free. Leaving the boats and nets and the tax table were not risk-free. Following Jesus demands risk. “Safety-first” may be a great mantra for the construction site, the school room or factory floor but it doesn’t play well in the kingdom of God.

Consider your risk tolerance for leadership. Spiritually speaking, are you a person who tries to eliminate, or at least minimize, any element of risk in your life? Do you hold your cards close to your vest and refuse to take any unnecessary chances in life? Are you like the servant who was afraid and hid his talent in the earth, and when he gave it back it was not acceptable? Do you know what it means to lose your life to save it? Those of us who try to eliminate every risk from our lives often operate out of a fear and protection mentality instead of purpose.

I can identify with that. My mind automatically wants to minimize and manage risk. I sometimes think in terms of “what if” and worst-case scenarios. I have to make myself go on a mission trip to Africa or a fishing trip to Canada or a shopping trip to Indianapolis. Worse, I had to force myself to let my kids go and take risks.

One day in our Saturday morning Bible study, our leader posed the question, “Are you a risk-taker or a play-it-safer?” I’m afraid I knew the answer to that one. But even though I’m wired that way, I know intellectually that it is better to take some risks and live life to the fullest rather than living in protection mode all the time. If that is true physically it is an even deeper truth spiritually.

Does that resonate with you at all? Can you feel for Nicodemus who came to Jesus by night? Can you identify with the servant who protected his talent by burial? Can you sympathize with the disciples who stayed in the boat? Do you feel for the rich young ruler who wanted to keep a chunk for his retirement? Can you understand the mentality of the Pharisees who were comfortable with their religious systems? Do you have a soft spot for the secret disciple Joseph of Arimathea? Do find yourself subconsciously defending the inaction of the priest and Levite who walked by on the other side of the road or the parents of the blind man who didn’t want to lose standing in the synagogue?

Max Lucado wrote, “Fear doesn’t want you to make the journey to the mountain.  If he can rattle you enough, fear will persuade you to take your eyes off the peaks and settle for a dull existence in the flatlands.” 

As Martin Luther King once said, “Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.”  In other words, our lives end when we refuse to risk for anything.

In their book Ten Steps for Church Growth, Donald McGavran and Win Arn said, New life and growth are more likely to be experienced when a church is willing to risks and move from the known to the unknown.  Such a move, however, is threatening.  Not all … are willing to assume risk.  Such fear of failure has laid to rest many attainable goals and buried many magnificent visions.”  

Dr. Arn told of a personal experience he once had, where some people he was working with invited him to try a trapeze they had been using as a prop.  Amazingly, he took them up on their offer. He climbed up, grabbed the bar, and swung out into the air.  Here is how he related his thoughts about the whole experience: 

Flying through the air, I made three important discoveries:  First, you can’t hold on to one bar while grasping for the other.  You must let both hands go and leap! Second, it’s frightening and threatening to let go of your security.  Third, you don’t have forever to make up your mind.

Recently I sat down with a financial advisor and took what he called a risk tolerance assessment. The results confirmed what he and I both already knew. I’m way too cautious in my approach. A spiritual risk tolerance assessment will surely be even more revealing. What does God want us to risk?

  • Our own vision of a “successful” church for His plan of a real church.
  • Our own individual and family security for His promise of true security.
  • Our own version of “proper” spirituality and doctrine for His unfettered declaration of truth.
  • Our own definition of a meaningful existence for His description of abundant life.
  • Our own carefully crafted public image for the image of His Son.
  • Our own sense of purpose and accomplishment for His ultimate purpose.

What we will find in our contemplation is that He wants us to be willing to risk that which we treasure most.

One thought on “The Leader and Risk

  1. Jerran Jackson Reply

    Thanks for the challenge, Jeff.
    I agree the Church needs to take more risks, until it comes to me.
    You’ve got me pondering and praying.
    Jerran Jackson

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