Evangelism involves risk-taking

In their stimulating book Making New Disciples: Exploring the paradoxes of evangelism (SPCK 2015) Mark Ireland and Mike Booker make the perceptive comment:

“We live in a risk-averse culture, yet there is something fundamentally risky about evangelism, when we are called to proclaim afresh the Christian faith in each generation. We learn by trying out new ideas, and finding out what works and what doesn’t, and so perhaps ‘success’ in evangelism should be measured not in how many come to us, our courses and events, but how far we have been willing to go to reach the lonely, the lost and the broken with the good news of God’s grace. And maybe not by how easy we have made it to respond, but how hard; when the eager rich young ruler walked away sad, the disciples might have felt disappointed that Jesus had not made an easy win.”

This in turn reminded me of Jesus’ parable of the talents (Matt 25.14-30). When the master returned and called his servants to give an account of their stewardship, two had doubled their capital, not by passively investing their money, but by going out and actively making money. Like any other entrepreneur, they almost certainly had to take risks with their money. Doubtless they made some losses, but overall they made massive profits. As a result these “good and faithful” servants were commended for their business acumen and were rewarded for their efforts. The third servant, however, had not been prepared to take any risk with his master’s money and had placed the money into the ground for safekeeping. As a result he incurred his master’s wrath: he was a “lazy” and “worthless” fellow.

Significantly Jesus prefaced the story with the words: “At that time the Kingdom of Heaven will be like this” (GNB). From this it seems to me that we learn that God expects us to take risks in his service. We are called to be “faithful” or “trustworthy” in the sense of being productive. To do so we must be bold and adventurous, creative and imaginative. All too often preachers use this text to encourage their people to use their money or their gifts for God. But this is to misunderstand the parable. This parable, like all the other parables, was aimed at Jesus’ contemporaries. The third servant, who did nothing, represented the scribes and the Pharisees. God had intended the entrusted them with message of his love for the world; but instead of being a “light to reveal God’s will to the Gentiles”, they had hoarded away that saving knowledge of God. They had buried it where not even the ordinary people of Israel could get at it. They had kept for themselves what was meant for all. In so doing they had defrauded God – and for this they would have to answer. The church today is the successors of the scribes and Pharisees. God has entrusted us with Gospel and through this parable Jesus asks: “What have you done with this message of salvation? What risks have you been willing to take for the sake of the Kingdom?”

Ireland and Booker end their section on risk-taking with the prayer of Sir Francis Drake:

“Disturb us, Lord, when we are too pleased with ourselves, when our dreams have come true because we have dreamed too little, when we arrived safely because we sailed too close to the shore… Disturb us, Lord, to dare more boldly, to venture on wilder seas where storms will show your mastery; where losing sight of land, we shall find the stars. We ask you to push back the horizons of our hopes; and to push back the future in strength, courage, hope and love. This we ask in the name of our Captain who is Jesus Christ.”

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