How much risk are you prepared to accept for your ministry based on faith that God will provide? Do you have big faith that God will provide and then you act? Or do you have big faith that God will provide when you act? There is a fine line between having the faith to trust God and being presumptuous in testing God. The practical issue is how much we factor God into our strategic plans.

In a sermon I heard in Sunday School, Andy Stanley made the point that there is only one time in Scripture that it says Jesus was amazed, and it was the big faith of a Roman centurion, of all people, that amazed him!

When Jesus heard this, he was amazed and said to those following him, “Truly I tell you, I have not found anyone in Israel with such great faith.”

Matthew 8:10

A Personal Challenge

Stanley challenges us asking, “What would your life be like if you knew for sure there is a God who is all powerful, who knows you and has promised never to leave you nor forsake you? What if you had perfect peace and no fears or anxiety about anything?” What would we dare try for the sake of Christ? What might we do that would demonstrate a faith that could amaze Jesus?

A Ministry Challenge

What would it look like if our ministries assumed no limitations that God couldn’t easily overcome? What if we decided to trust God for the things that keep us from daring to do all that we can dream of? If we believed God could provide the “if onlys” that we are wishing for? Better yet, what if we prayed for them? What if the exploits of our ministries demonstrated a faith that would amaze Jesus just like the centurion’s did? What if…?

A Planning Challenge

What if our strategic plans required divine rather than human capacity? What if our plans were so big, so bold, so far-reaching that we’d have to assign responsibility for executing parts of them to the Lord?

If we can complete the plan ourselves, I’m sure God will allow us to do it ourselves. But maybe he wants us to plan something so stupendous and awe-inspiring that it gives him a unique role to play. The Bible is full of stories of how God worked through individuals to accomplish great things. What if we inserted into our plans something that only God could do? That means, of course, that our plans will be unrealistic. Would a staff be bold enough to recommend such a plan? Would a board be daring enough to approve such a plan? Just wondering!!

Are we:

  • too cautious?
  • too realistic?
  • too self-reliant?

I admit that as I read these paragraphs, they scare me! But I think they are also a healthy challenge to think about with the board and staff.

Living by Faith

If we try to increase the faith component of our plans, we face the question of whether we should act first and depend on God to provide subsequently or let God act first and be ready to do what he has provided for.

In Acts 1, Jesus tells his followers not to do anything yet, but wait in Jerusalem until the Father sends his promised gift. So, wait until God provides and then act.

In Exodus 14, God told Moses to take the people of Israel to a specific place where they could be easily cornered by the Egyptians. He basically told Moses to deliberately lead them into a trap! Moses obeyed God and only then did the Lord part the waters and provide a way of escape. So, act first and then God will provide.

There are some different approaches to the topic and each of them has a biblical basis. Which one we use will depend on how the board and staff together discern God’s will in a specific matter for their ministry.

Pray and Act with Human Wisdom

This option is the ‘delegated’ option in which we seek God’s blessing and then act as if God delegated the work to us and he wants to watch us succeed by doing our best.

It might seem strange to start with human wisdom, but Scripture takes it seriously and so should we. The book of Proverbs consists of the best of ‘worldly wisdom,’ setting out “the way things are” or “the way things work.” God has given us great intellectual power to work out for ourselves some of the mystery behind God’s work, such as the hard and soft sciences. Jesus commended the use of human wisdom in Luke 16:8. French Arrington discusses the surprising position Jesus takes on human wisdom in his New Life Bible Commentary on Luke, saying

…the sinful “people of this world” are favorably compared with the “people of the light.” It is their resourcefulness and their dedication to the achievement of their intended goals that are held up as examples for emulation. The implication is that the “people of the light,” whose goal is infinitely more valuable, should be all the more resourceful and dedicated as they work toward their goal of a “treasure in heaven that will not be exhausted.”

Furthermore, Jesus’ advises in Luke 14:28 and 31: “Suppose one of you wants to build a tower. Won’t you first sit down and estimate the cost to see if you have enough money to complete it?…Or suppose a king is about to go to war against another king. Won’t he first sit down and consider whether he is able with ten thousand men to oppose the one coming against him with twenty thousand?”  It seems that Jesus believes that thinking ahead is just good common sense. His point is, “Don’t become a disciple if you are not willing to go the whole way.”

Finally, Paul advises Timothy1 to drink a little wine because of his stomach and many illnesses. I’m sure Paul had already done the spiritual thing and prayed for his healing, but he also gave Timothy the best human wisdom he had to help him with his stomach problems.

Unless he has otherwise directed us, God expects us to use the best of human wisdom in leading our ministries.

Pray and Wait for God to Act

This option is the ‘approval’ option in which we seek God’s blessing and then act once God has demonstrated his approval by orchestrating some sort of progress on the plans.

We can also think big, figure out what is humanly possible, pray for God to do the rest, and then act when he makes it possible. There is Scriptural support for this option. Jesus’ instruction to wait for the gift of the Spirit is one example. Paul raising the collection for the Jerusalem relief effort is another. Paul committed to no specific amount, just that he would bring an offering. The prayers of the saints for Peter in prison are yet another example. They did not mount an attack on the prison to free him but were waiting in prayer, and God acted and miraculously freed Peter.

This is also an approach recommended by Jesus: “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you…If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!”2 Jesus tells us to ask, receive, and proceed.

Pray and Then Act in Anticipation of God’s Action

This is the ‘seeding’ option in which we start working on the plan when we know we don’t have what it takes to complete it, but we have faith to plant the seed believing that once there is something for God to bless, he will.

This is the basis behind faith missions. Sometimes we have to act first and then we will see God do something wonderful.

  • Joshua had to march around Jericho seven times before he saw God bring down its walls.
  • The disciples handed out the fish and bread not knowing what was going to happen, but God provided.

Virtually all Christian ministries operate to some degree on faith because their revenue comes mostly from donations, and who knows what will be received next month? They make long term commitments by hiring staff and acquiring property and trust that money will continue to come in. But while some ministries are very good at active fundraising, writing persuasive appeals and so forth, others will only do passive fundraising. These ministries will pray but not tell anyone of their financial needs. Hudson Taylor ran CIM this way, on the assumption that “the Lord will provide.” God blessed this approach too.

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Some Advice

Any of the three strategies may be the appropriate one for your ministry. My comfort level is to plan based on the best knowledge we have (option 1) and to think big and wait for God to provide while we do everything we can (option 2).

Which should you follow?  It all depends. It comes down to group discernment. I believe God will lead the entire leadership team to the same approach. The board, the chief staff officer, and the senior leadership team should all be in agreement about their position on faith and risk. If one person feels the ministry should take on more risk with higher faith, then the whole group should enter into a discernment process to determine if they also feel the same. This is what Paul did with his group. He alone heard the call of God to go to Europe, but the whole team decided it was the right thing to do. When Paul felt he had the answer to how to evangelise the gentiles, James and the apostles in Jerusalem discussed the issue and came to a collective decision.

If someone gave your ministry a million dollars, how would you use it? If you don’t know, then maybe you aren’t ready to receive a million dollars! If God said he would do anything you asked him to do to help with your ministry’s mission, what would you ask him to do? If you don’t know, then maybe you aren’t ready to receive his help.  At the very least, have a list!!

Think BIG, pray HARD, and follow the option that seems best to the team. “It seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us”3 needs to be what we say when we announce our decisions.

  1. 1 Tim 5.
  2. Matthew 7:7, 11.
  3. Acts 15:28.
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Thoughts on Faith and Risk: Strategic Planning That Will Amaze Jesus!

  1. Scott Cochrane

    Great post John, packed with insights I can use today. An important part of this process I’ve learned along the way is also to make sure that my ‘big plans’ line up with what God is up to. Sometimes I’ve discovered a mis-alignment between my grand ideas and God’s greater plan.


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