(3) Confusing risk with faith
Another common mistake among leaders is the tendency to confuse risk-taking with faith, and innovation with living on the ragged edge.
I’ve heard conference speakers tell a room full of pastors and leaders that if we don’t have some area of our life or ministry that will crash and burn if God doesn’t come to the rescue and do something miraculous, we aren’t living by faith.
God is not impressed with risk-taking.
He’s impressed with obedience.
Faith is not taking crazy risks. It’s trusting God enough to do what he says even when it’s risky or makes no sense. It’s going out on a limb that he specifically tells us to go out onto.
Abraham took Isaac to Mount Moriah, Noah built a boat in the middle of nowhere, and Moses audaciously told Pharaoh to let God’s people go because God had explicitly told them to do so. They didn’t do something crazy and expect God to bless it. God asked them to do something crazy, so they did it.
Many of those who write and speak about motivation love to tell stories of people who took a great risk and lived to tell about it. They turn them into heroes. And some of us buy it. We begin to think that the secret to innovative success is to take great risks, even when God hasn’t asked us to do so.
I think of a pastor friend who told me he was pushing his church to take a huge and seemingly imprudent financial risk to get into a new facility. He’d heard a conference speaker tell a story about taking a similar risk. God had come through for him at the last minute. So my friend figured if he crawled out on the same limb as the speaker had, God would reward his “step of faith” and rescue him.
So he went for it.
He thought he was being a courageous and innovative leader; He thought he was pushing the envelope and leading his congregation into a great step of faith.
But he wasn’t.
He was unintentionally leading them into bankruptcy.
I think also of another pastor who called me after hearing me speak on sermon-based small groups. He was convinced his church should do the same thing. So he told me he had “burned the boats,” canceling every competing program in order to go all in on this new ministry model.
I asked him how it was going so far.
“Not too well,” he said. “People are pretty upset, and lots of them have left. But if I’m going to lead by faith, I have to step out and take the risk.”
Sadly, the next time I talked to him he was looking for another job.
Like many leaders, he had confused risk-taking with faith, and innovation with living on the ragged edge. But innovation is not about risk-taking. It’s about innovation. And faith is not about risk-taking. It’s about obedience.