Before connecting with the Uniting Church, I spent a few years working in the outdoor education industry. In that industry, we dealt daily with risk – and with exploring what happened, and what could be learned by our behaviour when we are in a risky situation.
In fact one of my jobs in the organisation was to ensure that the real level of risk was as low as possible, while ensuring that the perceived level of risk for the participant remained high. We wanted our participants to feel at risk as they paddled, hiked, climbed or abseiled, while ensuring we did everything we could to make certain there were no accidents, or that consequences were minimal or acceptable.
The theory of course, is that how we behave when we believe danger is imminent has a lot to say about who we are….and can allow us (if we will let it!) to learn to manage ourselves differently both in risky and everyday circumstances.
In the church today we also talk a lot about risk. We proclaim our willingness to be risk-takers, and innovators. We use phrases like ‘risking the way of Jesus’ and want to ‘risk exploring new ways of being church’.
What exactly are we risking? Our lives? Physical harm? That’s hardly likely in Australia…even if it remains a very real risk for some of our partner churches.
Perhaps we are risking our comfort. If we allow our imagination to breed new ideas, we might end up living differently to the way in which many of us have become comfortable.
Perhaps we are risking our sense of responsibility to our forebears. The acquired the land, erected a building, employed a minister, proclaimed the gospel, built a community called ‘church’. If we try something different, are we selling out what we have inherited?
Perhaps we are risking seeming foolish for the sake of the gospel. If we try something genuinely new, something we’ve not tried before….how will we know if we can make it work? If it falls over, will we look foolish for having experimented with things we did not understand?
Perhaps we are risking our financial well-being. While-ever we can rent the manse, charge for car parks and keep enough income flowing in to pay for the minister, we are ok. If we re-think the use of the building and lose rental income, or take a chance on employing a community development worker….we might get ourselves into a financial situation from which we cannot recover.
Perhaps we are risking our very survival. What will we do if we risk something different, and in doing so alienate the last remnant? What if we are forced to close our doors? Or worse yet…sell our building?
I think as a consequence of our sense of fragility, we perceive the risks to be greater than they really are. We are responding, behaving, acting, living out of our limited perception of what is at stake.
At the end of the day, I like to think of God as the risk-manager of this whole enterprise. The very idea of the Missio Dei (the mission of God) is that we are invited to participate in God’s mission, God’s business….and not our own. If there is real risk here (not perceived risk) it is God’s risk….not ours.
We ought, in my view at least, be about discerning God’s call to us, and then acting on it to the best of our ability – whether it be dangerous, risky, innovative or not.
The writer of the letter to the Roman’s famously said “in view of all this, what can we say? If God is for us, then who can be against us?“. I think there is something in that passage that we could give attention to when our fragility, our fear, our sense of trepidation paralyses us and presents us springing forth with new ideas and initiatives.
(Big Themes: this is the first in a series of ‘big themes’ posts in which I’ll reflect a little on some of the common voices and themes I’m hearing in our churches)
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