Tim Alford completes a 12 part series looking at leadership disciplines by considering how we lead ‘by faith’ 

101-water wheel

“Florida man arrested after trying to cross Atlantic in hamster wheel vessel”


Yep, you read that right. Perhaps you would consider this headline click-bait, and if it is, it caught me hook, line and sinker! 

The BBC article in question, into which I was so easily seduced, details the adventures of a man by the name of Reza Baluchi who, “was arrested after trying to ‘run to London’ across the Atlantic Ocean in a homemade vessel resembling a hamster wheel.”

And as it turns out, this was not Reza’s first offence. He had previously attempted to “run” across the ocean in his home made vessel, first from Florida to Bermuda, and then from Florida to New York, before finally setting off on his voyage to London.

Alas, all three of Baluchi’s adventures were cut short, ending upon being intercepted by the coast guard, for whom, somewhat ironically, he was trying to raise money!

I must confess that I find Reza’s story, though somewhat outlandish and extreme, truly inspiring. The dogged determination, the willingness to fail and try again, the relentless pursuit of a singular vision and the willingness to do so in-spite of continuous opposition, and of course, the courage to take a risk. And whilst I’m not here to endorse Reza’s extra-legal activities (!), I most definitely do want to embody those kind of characteristics in my faith.

John Wimber, founder of the Vineyard movement, famously said that ‘faith is spelled R-I-S-K,’ and with good reason. Take a moment to reflect on the most memorable moments of your life. Consider  your most significant achievements. Think about the times your ministry has had the most significant impact on the lives of others. And now consider, how many of those occasions involved taking some kind of risk? I don’t know about you, but almost every stand-out moment in my life and ministry has involved some kind of significant risk-taking.

But we should not be surprised when we consider the stories of the women and men throughout the pages of Scripture who obediently followed God. Noah risked ridicule has he built the ark, Moses risked his life as he led the people of Israel out of Egypt, as did Joshua as he led them into the promised land. Gideon risked going to battle with just a few hundred men and not a weapon in sight, and the shepherd-boy David risked confronting the defiant warrior Goliath. In exile, Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego risked standing up when everyone else was bowing down, and Esther risked everything by going before the King to protect her people. The disciples risked leaving everything to follow Jesus, and Peter risked drowning when he stepped out of the boat to walk on the waters. Paul risked (and received) beatings to spread the gospel to the Gentiles, and Peter (again) risked excommunication to share meals with the same. The call of God, it seems, comes with risk woven in as an inseparable part of the package.


You have to leave something to go somewhere

We should note, though, that the risk entailed with obedience is as much about what we must leave behind as where we must go. By way of example, consider Abraham, to whom the Lord said, Leave your native country, your people and your fathers household and go the land I will show you’ (Genesis 12:1).

The Lord called Abraham to go, but before he could do so he had to leave behind that which was safe and familiar; his country, his people, his home. So often, we have to leave something before we can go somewhere with God.

Pursuing the adventure to which God calls you often means letting go of the people, the things the places you are most dependent upon; because in order to step into your destiny you have to leave behind your security. In doing so we learn to put our trust and dependancy upon God and God alone, and that’s exactly where he wants us!

Perhaps as you read this today you can identify some things (relationships, places, habits, behaviours, experiences, emotions, situations) that you need to risk leaving behind, because you cannot step into your future when you’re holding on to your past. As the French novelist Andre Gide once said, “One doesn’t discover new lands without consenting to lose sight of the shore for a very long time.”


There is no such thing as a risk free adventure

Obedience to the call of God often means going when we don’t have all the answers. When the New Testament author of Hebrews reflected on Abram’s journey, they wrote that, ‘By faith Abraham, when called to go to a place he would later receive as his inheritance, obeyed and went, even though he did not know where he was going (Hebrews 11:8).

When God calls you on a journey he rarely reveals the destination. That’s why the Bible talks about the Word of God being a lamp unto our feet, not a floodlight to our future, because he usually only reveals the next step. Meaning that, to follow God’s call for your life, you will likely have to set out on the journey without a clear idea of your destination and with zero guarantee of success. You may not know the details of your accommodation, or the figures on your pay check, or how you’ll pay the bills, or if you’re even capable of doing the work he’s called you to do… but you’ll need to go anyway, because the pattern of faith is that the risk always precedes the reward.

Perhaps you’ve got an inkling of the call of God over your life right now but it feels too big for you. Perhaps it feels scary and unreachable. But if it does, take heart, that’s usually an indicator you’re on the right track! Because the call of God always exceeds the capacity of the one that he calls.

So I can to encourage you, take a risk on your Father who is faithful, because you cannot fulfil your calling in your comfort zone. And don’t seek to have every ’t’ crossed and every ‘i’ dotted before you step out in to the things God has called you to, because there is no such thing as a risk free adventure. As C.S. Lewis once said, “the safest place to be is far away from anything significant.”


Risk and leadership

When it comes to our leadership, risk is an essential ingredient to progress. Without risk, we retreat to the safety of the familiar, we cease to innovate and hit plateau. And if that plateau is not arrested it will inevitably become decline.

On the flipside, consider, what might your ministry look like on the other side of that risk? What if you did risk taking your young people on to the streets to share the gospel? What if you did risk praying for healing? What if you did risk launching that new group in the local school? What if you did risk investing leadership opportunity in that young person? Could it all go horribly wrong? Most definitely, that’s why it’s a risk! But the future you’ve been envisioning could just be waiting for you on the other side of taking that courageous step of faith. 

Tom Preston-Werner once said, “When I’m old and dying, I plan to look back on my life and say, ‘Wow, that was an adventure,’ not, ’Wow, I sure felt safe.’” I’ve no doubt you want to say the same.

Discipleship is an invitation to choose obedience over comfort. Leadership is an opportunity to be the first to adventure into uncharted territory. So let’s be people who are willing to trust God enough to obediently follow when he calls, even when that means leaving behind what is familiar and stepping out into the unknown, because, as Brennan Manning so eloquently put it, ‘to live without risk is to risk not living.’