Vineyard founder John Wimber used to say that faith is spelled “R-I-S-K.” That may excite or terrify you, but it’s important that our risks are calculated and are for the sake of the Kingdom rather than brazen foolishness. Letting students jump from the church balcony onto a trampoline below will probably always be unsafe. But are there other, more calculated risks that God is calling you to embrace?
In his song “Safe,” Justin McRoberts talks about how Western Christians like only “clean jokes and cleaner fun.” He also pokes fun at our hankering for security. “We’ll close and lock the doors to keep the bad ones out / That’s how we’ll show them just how good it is inside this house.”
When our main concern is self-protection, we can lose sight of the holistic nature of our calling. Yes, we’re called to a life of holiness. But we’re also to love the world around us. Retreating into our comfortable Christian enclaves makes it impossible to tell others about the good God we serve. Is that what we were made for? Have we sacrificed some of our calling to worship at the throne of “safety”?
A Risk Worth the Reward
In my context, this was played out in the form of a benefit concert we’ve hosted the past few years. It all began when a representative from the International Justice Mission (www.ijm.org) came to speak to our youth group. IJM representatives are real-life superheroes who work throughout the globe combating social cancers such as forced slavery and child prostitution; and when they speak to teens, they leave listeners disturbed but motivated to do something about the world’s injustice.
Our students were deeply affected by what they had seen and heard. They decided to organize a benefit concert to raise awareness and money for what IJM does. And they chose to do so using a popular genre of music called “hardcore,” which involves loud guitars and a good deal of screaming. (You always hear about parents telling their kids that the music they listen to isn’t singing; it’s just screaming. OK, this actually is just screaming.)
The students who prefer hardcore are sometimes not your “safe” kids. We had more cigarette butts thrown on our church’s front lawn in one night than we’ve had in probably the past 15 years. And teenagers at hardcore concerts don’t just stand around or even just wave their hands; they enjoy aggressive dance moves that, to an outsider, look bizarre at best and demonic at worst.
We take the normal precautions, obviously: plenty of adults on hand; we call the neighbors to warn them of the noise; and we make sure it’s over by 11:00. But to a concerned adult (or a deacon at our church who is responsible for the upkeep of the building), it looks risky. What if someone brings alcohol in? What if the students get in a fight or cuss each other out? What if someone breaks a leg and sues the church for negligence?
These are real risks â€” but they’re small compared to the risks faced by IJM personnel who risk their lives for a just cause. And we consider our risks well worthwhile, too. Our benefit concerts bring students inside our church who never would have darkened the door otherwise. And we raised over $1,000 at each concert. This brought the students a strong sense of satisfaction and helped fight injustice somewhere in the world.
I realize my story may be tame compared to the risks many of you face every day. Others of you are in situations where your church board has told you to keep the ship afloat and not to make waves. But wherever you are, the same thing is true: Don’t risk for risk’s sake.
At the same time, don’t be afraid to take the risks God is calling you to take, for in such cases His grace will suffice. It’s like McRoberts says in his song’s poignant closing lines: “A thousand times I’d rather fall than be afraid to move at real-life superheroes who work all / And after all, what is this thing that you call grace? Is it safe?”
A native Texan, Syler Thomas is the student ministries pastor at Christ Church Lake Forest in the northern suburbs of Chicago.