Esther: How do leaders handle risk?
“Go and assemble all the Jews who can be found in Susa and fast for me. Don’t eat or drink for three days, night or day. I and my female servants will also fast in the same way. After that, I will go to the king even if it is against the law. If I perish, I perish.” Esther 4:16
Esther could have died. Let that sink in.
Although Esther was the queen, no one—not even the queen—could approach the king without his permission first. But time was of the essence and who knew when the king would call for Esther again.
Esther’s cousin, Mordecai, had discovered an evil plot to kill all of the Jews and the only hope for God’s people rested in Esther. If she could just go to the king and plead for her people on their behalf, perhaps they would be spared from the coming catastrophe.
But how could she approach the king without being invited? What if he didn’t receive her? She could die.
With Mordecai’s encouragement, Esther decided that it was worth the risk. She called for the Jews to fast and pray for her and then she would go to the king. If she died, she died. The risk was worth it. The fate of her people was more important than her own life.
God was kind to Esther and the risk she took ended up working out for her. The king received her and she ended up saving her people.
Ministry is full of risk—at least if we are doing it right. God continually wants us to step beyond ourselves, our comfort, and our own abilities. He wants us to sacrifice and risk for His kingdom and His glory. That’s hard for many leaders to do! Here are five lessons on how we can take risks as leaders:
- Be bold, but not foolish. You can be too cautious and never take risks in ministry or you can go to the other extreme and throw caution to the wind. Neither approach is good for a leader. We want to be bold, but we don’t want to be foolish. Take those steps of faith, but pray and plan as you do. For example, it may be bold for you to change to a new kids curriculum, but it would be foolish to make the change on a Saturday and launch the next day! So be bold and take risks, but don’t take them lightly. Learn from Esther who preceded her risk with asking her people to pray for three days.
- Consider the risk/reward ratio. A risk may be foolish if there is little upside and quite a bit of downside. This is known as the risk/reward ratio. If the negative impact of an action far outweighs the potential benefits, you may want to pray through it some more. Esther’s risk was her own life, but her reward was the lives of all of her people. The reward far out-weighed the risk. That is why it was wise of her to take that risk. The risk/reward ratio should not be the most important factor in considering an action, but it should certainly be weighed.
- Include your leaders and your leadership. A wise leader is going to have a great team around him or her in the first place, but this is especially important when it comes to taking risks. Don’t take on risks by yourself. You have to bring others into the decision-making process. You will need different perspectives and thoughts. You will need partners bathing the risk in prayer. And you will need others to cast the vision of the risk and guide your ministry through it. Don’t take on risk alone. Take it on as a community.
- Trust in God. The beauty of risk is that it pushes us closer to God. Once you determine that a risk is worth taking, don’t waver from trusting in God. Even as you wisely develop plans, you still need to trust in God to work those plans out. When we trust God during a risk we take, we position ourselves to bring Him glory if the risk works out, while simultaneously to bring Him glory if it doesn’t work out from our perspective. A leader and ministry that trusts God completely cannot be shaken.
- Go all in. This last lesson is a natural byproduct of the previous one. When we trust God completely, we will go all in. Don’t make the mistake of sticking your big toe into the pool. Dive in! If God is leading you to take a risk, take it! Be wise. Communicate the vision. Pray over the decision. Honor God in what you do leading up to the risk, and then take it. Half-hearted risk-taking communicates what it really is—a failure to trust God and follow His leading.
Next time—Joshua: How do leaders handle opposition?
Brian Dembowczyk is the managing editor for The Gospel Project. He served in local church ministry for over 16 years before coming to Lifeway. Brian earned an M.Div. from the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and a D.Min. from the New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary. He and his family live in Murfreesboro, Tennessee.