Sarah was a REALLY old lady at our church. I met her when I was a young man; in fact, I am still not her age. She had snow-white hair, lots of wrinkles, and walked slowly. Yet, if she is to be judged by what I heard her say following a church meeting once, I believe she had the heart of an eighteen-year-old.
The church was struggling with how to reach more people for Christ in the neighborhood. We were in a part of town that was not exactly declining but was certainly not growing. Most of the neighborhood consisted of older people, transient renters, and a smattering of students attending the local university. The challenges for church growth were significant.
During a quarterly business meeting, different ideas were shared about new ministries to reach out to the community. Suggestions were floated and creativity was generally appreciated. No one knew exactly what to do but there was a general openness to new ideas. Leaving the meeting, I overheard Sarah say confidently to one of her friends about one of the ideas presented, “Let’s do it. We’ll try anything once.”
Quite shocking coming from an old lady.
Sarah expressed what all effective ministers know; what matters is attitude. She was old and wise enough to have seen the danger inherent in being afraid to try. She oozed wisdom and experience. She probably went to grade school with some of the Apostles. She knew the value of being willing to take a risk and she wasn’t afraid to try.
Her passion was for people to know God; this drives away all fear.
At the time, I was a youth minister at the church. I drove a motorcycle, wore jeans, a bandana, long hair and a beard–those things were actually cool back then. We took many risks with the program. We began a coffee house ministry on Friday nights as an outreach to local teens. I led a discipleship class for teenagers at six a.m. on Friday mornings (believe it or not, it was well attended). We programmed exciting events and camps. We were very intentional about building a team of committed adult leaders who took responsibility for relational ministry with teenagers. It was an exciting ministry.
ALL of these things are risky. We might fail. We might attract teenagers who didn’t know how to behave in church. Someone may get hurt. Teenagers may bring drugs or alcohol into the mix. But as Sarah knew, the greatest risk was to play it safe. It is much riskier NOT to take risks. We must be willing to try anything once–in our efforts to introduce people to the person of Jesus Christ.
Fear sees a possibility and mistakes it for a problem; faith sees a problem and recognizes it as an opportunity.Charles W. Conn
Be willing to try new ideas to reach different groups of people. Insanity has been defined as trying the same old thing and expecting a different result. Be willing to re-package the product to attract a new audience but keep the content consistent.
New wine deserves new wineskins. “And no one pours new wine into old wineskins. If he does, the wine will burst the skins, and both the wine and the wineskins will be ruined. No, he pours new wine into new wineskins.” (Mark 2:22)
Jesus said he came to give us life, and give it abundantly. Pour it over, splash it around, dripping, and enjoy that refreshing life that wells up inside your heart. It is the passion of Jesus poured into our earthly vessels. Embrace the thrill of a new challenge. God took the ultimate risk when he sent Jesus into the world. He knew we may reject him. Many did. Many still do. He was willing to take the risk because of His love.
Remember the parable of the talents recorded in Matthew 25:24-26. “Then the man who had received the one talent came. ‘Master,’ he said, ‘I knew that you are a hard man, harvesting where you have not sown and gathering where you have not scattered seed. So I was afraid and went out and hid your talent in the ground. See, here is what belongs to you.’ “His master replied, ‘You wicked, lazy servant!” The words of the Master become even harsher as the story continues. It is not a happy day for the servant who was afraid to try; afraid to risk, afraid to fail.
There is certainly a risk in taking risks; this is why it is called “risky”. It is easy to be fooled into believing something is right, just because it involves the thrill of risk-taking. Abundant life is fun and exciting and sometimes, risky. Sin provides a shadowy imitation of the thrill of abundant life. It is a deceptive mimic. That is the attraction of sin; taking risks is inherently exciting. We must avoid the trap of sin. Don’t take risks simply for the thrill of taking them; have a calculated reason for your decisions. Be wise.
I am proud to say that I have failed at more things than most people have even thought of trying. I could wallpaper my office with rejection letters. It is no fun to fail but occasionally, something I have attempted has continued, and even flourished. This sure makes it fun. Above all, following Christ is about faithfulness, not success.
Start with a vision of what God wants to do in a situation. Put together a plan. Build consensus among like-minded people. Generate excitement. Give it a go. Be willing to fail. Be prepared to succeed. Many times, you can solve an old problem with a new approach. If you fail, you will be in the same place you are now, no real loss… except, hopefully… you will have learned a thing or two.
My wife and I have applied every bit of creativity, problem-solving skills, and risk-taking imaginable to raise our children to become decent human beings. Some thought it risky for us to adopt older children; they come with baggage. From what I have seen, those who birth their own children share risks, as well. Children do not come with guarantees. We all make good and bad choices in life. The problem is people tend to be so human. It is risky business to start a family, yet God calls each generation to do so. We cannot be driven by fear. “There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.” (1 John 4:18)
If you are not living on the edge of potential failure, you are not living the abundant life. Even really old followers of Jesus know the importance of a good adventure. Be willing to try anything once. Who knows, it just may work. And if not, you are still in good company.
Excerpt from Real-Life Wisdom: Stories for the Road, (Ayres, 2004)