Risk has no guarantees; it may upset our comfort and challenge the status quo. It assumes possible loss and disequilibrium. Risk defines what I am willing to face or brave in the face of a worthy goal. Thus, it is an attribute of healthy people and cultures.
But it took only a single day of speakers and stories about risk to realize it is an errant theme. While the Bible is rich with terms like faith, sacrifice, and surrender, the word risk is absent. Prescribing risk misdiagnoses the problem.
We are not simply too safe, we have missed the calling to a life of daily sacrifice. Risk is a humanistic term. We risk when a greater gain resides on the other side of a decision. We risk when a win lurks around the corner.
Sacrifice is a theologically rich term. We sacrifice when we realize all of ours is not ours at all. Our families and ministries, hours and minutes, health and happiness, securities and savings accounts belong to God. We are steward who serve with open hands. Whether our hands are empty or full, their openness suggests our surrender.
And people who live as a sacrifice, who make surrender a daily habit, know that “risky” decisions are not risky at all. They are obvious. They are inevitable. They are matters of faith undeterred by opposition. Abraham lifted the knife. Joseph fled the house. Moses parted the sea. Joshua circled the city. David slung the stone. Elijah called down fire. Peter walked on water. Paul arrived in Jerusalem. Jesus died on a cross.
The biblical story does not provide emotional details when its heroes face danger. We never see their ledger of gains versus losses. For in the mind of the faithful, loss is not an option. Faith is not a game of risk and rewards. It is a journey of sacrifices met with the aroma of God’s pleasure.
So why do we risk? We risk as a response to our calling and trust in our God. Risk is a means to a greater end. It serves mission, but it cannot be our mission. As many ways as we tried to pitch the theme -- risk of family comfort, risk of political favor, risk of financial security, risk of popular opinion -- it sounded redundant. Risk is a great battle cry and board game, but a terrible anthem.
Perhaps a theology of risk would have bolstered the theme. Rather than twelve rally cries to risk more for Jesus in church-planting, evangelism, and social justice, a thoughtful reflection on the Imago Dei (Genesis 1:26, 28) -- God sharing power with His creation -- or Incarnation (John 1:14) -- God invading His creation -- could have fed our imaginations.
Alas, no such theology of risk came. Instead we clanged the cymbal and pounded the drum. We rallied the troops and deflated the weary. We conflated mission with marker, Newark with New York, and retreated to the Margins until next year's conference... Margins: Ministry in a Post-Christian World, where I am offering (at a reduced price) to present my stunning "Theology of Margins" talk (for a limited time only).