Why a risk-ready mindset is essential for growing churches
“Risk is right!”
I can still remember the moment when John Piper thundered these words in characteristically dramatic fashion during his address to the Evangelical Ministries Assembly in London. Then for added effect he shouted again, even more loudly, “Risk is right!”
It was 2006. Just one year earlier we had formed Co-Mission—an exciting church-planting movement in London, UK, named after Christ’s “Great Commission” to make disciples of all nations. From one small congregation in a school hall, God has since grown us and enabled us to pioneer and establish about thirty new churches and ministries. The growth we’ve witnessed is modest compared with some parts of God’s global mission, but dramatic for a secular city like London.
In our church-planting over the last decade, we’ve sometimes accepted unavoidable risks, not because we’re impetuous, but because we’re convinced that God is looking after us. We try to minimise the risks as much as possible, but we still can’t be certain how it will turn out.
Sometimes a more cautious observer will suggest that the planting group seems too small or the financial support is too uncertain. We know they’re right and we may well fail. It’s just that, since we’re trying to obey Jesus in making disciples by planting churches, and since our loving Father is sovereign, we trust that he can employ our weakness for his glory and pick us up if we fall flat on our faces. Since he’s completely in control, we don’t have to be. Let me explain.
We believe that God predestines
“For [God] chose us in him [Christ] before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love he predestined us for adoption to sonship through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will.” – Ephesians 1:4-5
Some worry that believing in God’s election (choosing some but not all sinners for salvation) and predestination (deciding our future) will make us neglect evangelism. But election and predestination make us evangelise more because we know that God saves his elect and predestined people through evangelism (indeed, if God didn’t choose to save some, there’d be no point in us even trying). So we can accept unavoidable risks in gospel ministry precisely because God uses his people to find his predestined people scattered across the world. Our plans and churches don’t have to be perfect, because God can use our weakness to magnify his power in saving his elect (2 Corinthians 4:7). We can accept unavoidable risks because God is sovereign in saving his chosen people.
We believe that God provides
God is also sovereign in his loving provision of our daily needs. Our heavenly Father delights to give us good gifts. Jesus said:
“Do not worry ... why do you worry ... do not worry ... your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry...” – Matthew 6:25-34
I don’t think Jesus was excusing sloppy planning. And I don’t believe that living by faith means we don’t have to try hard to raise the resources of leaders, people and funding that we will need (compare Acts 20:34). But faith in our Father’s loving providence does encourage us to work tirelessly and then trust that he’ll provide what we really need to do his work his way.
We believe that God preserves
And God’s sovereignty includes his loving preservation of his children all the way to heaven. Jesus promised that he’ll lose no one who comes to him. How could anyone chosen before creation by God the Father, redeemed at the cross by God the Son, and sealed with the indwelling guarantee of God the Holy Spirit, ever be lost by God?
God preserves us by keeping us persevering. We don’t know that our plants will all grow, but we do know that God will keep us persevering. Trusting his loving preservation encourages us to take unavoidable risks and keep trying! Nothing unexpected or undesired by God for our good can ever happen—for God is preserving us.
Real disciples don’t live safely
So God’s sovereignty allows us to be opportunistic and entrepreneurial. In his parable of the talents, or bags of gold (Matthew 25:14-30), Jesus likens himself to a master who entrusts resources to his servants while he’s away. When he returns, he commends two servants with the words, “Well done, good and faithful servant!”, because they made the most of what they’d been given. The third servant is condemned because he just protected what he had. He didn’t take any risk in trying to do something creative with the master’s resources.
Jesus was warning that many will be horrified to discover that attempting nothing for Jesus reveals that they were never his true disciples—because genuine disciples care so much for their Master’s gospel business that they will accept unavoidable risks to advance it. Real disciples don’t live too safely, because they love their Master enough to have a go.
“Let’s see what happens if…”
Across Co-Mission we’re trying to have a go, though we don’t know what will happen. I recall one godly wife of a staff member asking me some years ago what our ten-year plan was. I felt rather inadequate as I admitted, “Well, I don’t really have a ten-year plan. I thought we’d preach the gospel and try very hard and see what happens.” That was enough for a while. Now that our movement has grown and gathered momentum, we do have a ten-year plan for planting sixty churches; we have a leadership team and some strategies and resources; but beyond this, we still have no idea what will happen. We are still having to accept many considerable and unavoidable risks and we may well fail. But we are going to have a go and not die wondering! “Risk is right”… because God is sovereign!
Article first appeared on The Good Book Company blog. This is adapted from Richard Coekin's new book, Gospel DNA: 21 Ministry Values for Growing Churches, which is available to