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Taking Risks in Ministry

A leap of faith can lead to great results — or failure

Chris Colvin on July 19, 2018

Have you ever taken a step of faith and then fallen flat on your face? Being a risk taker is always thrilling and rewarding, but only when the reward is a win. But for every risk you take, there is a definite likelihood of failure. Otherwise, it’s not really a risk.

In ministry, God calls us to take risks sometimes. That doesn’t mean we are careless with finances, reckless with resources, or impulsive with our team. It does mean that we might throw caution to the wind, taking a shot at a big reward over advice to play it safe.

When we do take risks, we must be willing to assume the loss. Jesus spoke of the importance of counting the costs, whether it be building a tower (Luke 14:28-30) or going to battle (Luke 14:31-32). There is great wisdom in knowing what you will lose before taking a leap.

But we also need to understand the context of Jesus’ words here: “In the same way, those of you who do not give up everything you have cannot be my disciples” (Luke 14:33). Clearly, Jesus was asking us to do what He was willing to do: lay it all down for the prospect of great gain.

Risks of All Sizes

Risks in ministry come in all sizes. What may be a risk for you isn’t necessarily risky for someone else. Just think about public speaking. Surveys have long revealed that talking to a crowd of people is a risk most want to avoid. Yet ministers take that risk regularly.

Church planters take some very risky steps. Even with the backing of a parent church, success is never guaranteed. And it may take a long time to realize the vision God has given you. Church planters risk uprooting their family and disconnecting from support — not to mention the financial risks involved.

Established churches can also take risks, perhaps by sponsoring a parent affiliated church, or taking on a staff member with lots of promise but little experience. Pastors who feel led to make a turnaround risk alienating current members for the sake of growing their churches. And building programs are full of risks, even for the healthiest of givers.

My first full-time ministry job came with a lot of risk. Spurred by God through prayer, we packed up and headed off halfway across the country to be a part of a church plant already in progress. With little money and no set jobs, we lived off credit cards for the first few months.

As it turned out, I came on as the youth pastor pretty quickly. The role was not one I chose but one I was thrust into out of necessity. I took the leap of faith, not just by moving with little financial backing, but also by stepping into an area for which I felt neither called nor qualified.

The most important thing when it comes to risk is knowing what the Lord wants.

Looking back, I wrestled with a lot of regret for taking that particular step of faith — at least at first. After serving for four years, I stepped away from ministry for a season. I regrouped, paid off some debt and then reevaluated my risks.

Before long, another church came calling, asking me to step out once again. Now, with clearer eyes and a bit more wisdom, I decided to risk it all again.

I can count several risks I’ve taken in ministry, from preaching a sermon that may not have reached a wide audience to trusting some new believers to lead a small group, and by stepping away from a full-time position at a church I loved to starting a business helping pastors with sermon prep.

My risks have had some success but also some missteps. They wouldn’t be risks without both.

Risk and Reward

We all want the reward without the risk. But some rewards are only attainable through risk. Risk takers who take the right risks have four things in common.

They understand what’s at stake. There is a reward behind every risk. But there are also traps. Like Jesus said, we must count the cost. Knowing what’s at stake can help you decide. What is the financial gain and loss with this risk? What is the time commitment? What will you have to say “no” to in order to say “yes” to this risk? Approach the risk with eyes wide open.

They see the big picture. The best risk takers are visionaries. When you have the end in sight, you know when to leap and when to let go. The right risk can get you further down the road. That’s the power of risk.

They are willing to stick to it even if the risk doesn’t immediately pay off. Risk takers who put it all on the line and then step away when it goes wrong aren’t taking risks for the right reason; they’re only in it to promote themselves.

They are willing to fail. You must accept that at the end of the day, you may not get any reward from the risk. You might lose money. You might alienate people. You might taste defeat. Are you OK with that? Instead of trying to reframe every failure as a success by talking about “failing forward,” real risk takers know they can learn lessons in every loss.

Be honest with yourself about the likelihood of success and the effects of defeat. Then lean into the risk regardless, if the risk is right.

What was the last risk you took? Were you successful, or did you come up short? How will that affect your willingness to take a risk again?

The most important thing when it comes to risk is knowing what the Lord wants. If you feel Him calling you to take a risk, there’s no other move that’s safer. When you hear His voice telling you to jump, you should be limber enough to make the move and risk it all.

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