One of the most perplexing questions a Christian and, to be sure, a Christian leader will face when it comes to risk is this:
Am I trusting God, or am I simply being foolish?
The question isn’t as dumb as it seems.
There’s a fine line between faith and irresponsibility, and at times it’s almost impossible to see.
You know that big leadership risk you’re thinking about?
your new role
the massively daunting project
the big mission trip
that new campus
your start up
hiring a team
a new facility
the big move?
So…is it a step of faith, or is it just stupid?
Is it trust…or is it irresponsibility?
How would you know?
Real Risk Lives on the Edge of Spectacular
Recently I had a call from a pastor friend who wanted to get his church out of a portable situation and into a new facility.
We had talked about the move several times, and on this particular day, he was down to the wire. His church had given at unbelievably sacrificial levels, but he was still at least 6 figures short of his goal. Yet they had a building deal in front of them that they could move on now before costs escalated beyond what they could afford.
He asked me what I thought. I asked more questions. The answers really didn’t help me get much clarity at all, despite my friend’s best intentions.
I asked him what other wise people he and I both knew were saying. He said everyone thought it was pushing the known limits.
I said I tended to agree.
We talked some more.
So what advice did I end up giving him?
I told him:
I think this will be spectacular. It will either be spectacularly wonderful or a spectacular failure. And I don’t know which.
That’s quite literally what I told him. (Bet you don’t want to call me for advice anymore….)
But that was the truth. I just didn’t know which. I told him I’d be watching with prayerful anticipation, which I did.
So what did my friend do?
He put out one last call for giving and people…responded.
They signed the deal. And I saw his amazing new facility that’s nearing completion.
I’m glad I kept my mouth shut. He was right. It looks like it was a spectacularly great decision for his congregation and all those they’ll reach in the coming years.
The Bible Sometimes Makes Things…Complicated
Ever really read the Bible?
So when you read it…what do you see? Faith or foolishness?
What was Abraham thinking when we set out with his entire family to go to a land he’d never been to, risking everything for a voice he thought he’d heard?
Who was Moses to think he could stand up to the most powerful king in the land, or to even attempt it after he had so much doubt about his calling?
The prophets were….not very typical suburban people. Ezekiel lay on his side for 390 days, eating a specific diet cooked over excrement and played with a scale model of Jerusalem to show its pending destruction…wow!)
Imagine how Daniel felt being thrown into the lion’s den. Had he lived his life faithfully, or foolishly? He was about to find out.
Would you have advised your kids to do what Peter, James, and John did, leaving it all (including you, mom and dad!) to follow a man that had just burst onto the scene and some are starting to think is God?
How about Paul, who went from place to place, prison to prison, painfully misunderstood but absolutely committed to proclaiming this Jesus so many people rejected?
We say we want our kids to lead faithful lives, but do we even have a clue what that means?
None of our biblical heroes were exactly on the top college/stunning career track.
If you were advising any of these biblical figures, what would you have told them to do?
What is a Godly decision?
Is it always wise, prudent, restrained, responsible?
Or is it always risky, edgy, out-there, half-crazed?
That’s a tough one, isn’t it?
Two Helpful Questions
For the record, I don’t believe there’s an easy way, five-step, bulletproof way to resolve the tension between faith and foolishness.
Pivotal decision-making should be navigated through prayer, through pouring over scripture (prayer and scripture should always be married), and through seeking the advice of trusted, Christian mature people around you (click here for how to develop an inner circle like that). But sometimes that even lands in a place of uncertainty.
Here are two questions I’ve started asking myself to help when things aren’t clear:
1. Is ‘wisdom’ killing my trust in God?
2. Does my ‘trust’ in God disregard all wisdom?
Q 1: Wisdom Killing My Trust?
I think the first question—is wisdom killing my trust in God—is more disturbing for me.
I’ve led for 20+ years and learned a lot of lessons. I’m wiser than I was decades ago (hopefully that’s true for all of us who have led for a while).
And that can lead me to choose what I know, can see, and can predict without honestly going for broke and trusting God wholeheartedly.
Moreover, the more successful you become—the more money you have, the more people you’ve reached, the more influence you have—the more conservative you tend to become. I’m not talking politics here, I’m simply saying you tend to not want to lose what you’ve got, so you naturally conserve more and risk less.
You know what’s underneath that? Fear.
Fear is clever. And fear can hide behind wisdom.
You can get to a certain season in leadership in which you no longer want to take risks in the name of being ‘wise’, ‘prudent’ or ‘responsible’.
But the truth is you don’t want to rock the boat. If you examined your motives, you’d be honest and say you don’t want to lose what you’ve already gained. You simply don’t want to sacrifice what is for the sake of what could be.
You’d be forced to admit that having wisdom is more comforting than trusting.
And you’ve allowed ‘wisdom’ to become a substitute for trust.
And that’s bad.
That’s why young leaders are often better risk takers than seasoned leaders—they have less to lose so they risk more.
And that can lead some leaders to stop trusting God because ‘risk’ looks unwise.
When was the last time you had to trust God for the outcome of something? I mean really trust God?
If you can’t remember, it might be a sign you’ve let wisdom kill your trust in God.
Q 2: Does My Trust in God Disregard All Wisdom?
The opposite, of course, can also be true. You have so much faith that you’re…well, reckless.
What people claim to be ‘trust’ can easily be:
a cruel disregard for other people
Just because you label it ‘faithful’ doesn’t mean it’s faithful.
If you are disregarding wisdom entirely and likely to hurt a bunch of people you’re likely not being faithful.
Trust still looks like Jesus…and it should have outcomes consistent with his character and with scripture.
If your decision makes you and the people you lead look nothing like Christ, it’s not from Christ.
The Final Call
So…you can go through all of these steps and still not be clear. You knew that, didn’t you?
So what happens if all of this (prayer, scripture, wise counsel, and questions like the two questions above) doesn’t lead you to a conclusion?
Here’s what I do.
I just make a decision. So should you.
So many dreams have died because people were terrified to make the wrong decision. Don’t be.
Whatever decision you make, offer it up in faith. Make it faith. Dedicate the decision and the outcome to God, like Paul suggests in Romans 14:23.
A prayer like that can sound something like this:
God, I’m doing this (or not doing this) because I trust you. If it’s wrong, I trust you will show me. If it’s right, I trust you will show me. I’m trusting you with the outcome.
Then go for it. With confidence and faith. Don’t hold back.
For as Augustine said:
Love God and do whatever you please: for the soul trained in love to God will do nothing to offend the One who is Beloved.
So…what do you think?
What are you learning?
What would you add to this discussion?
And maybe even tell me what big decision you’re weighing right now.
Scroll down and leave a comment!