I was in my early twenties, sitting in a conference with a bunch of other Youth Pastors, listening to Andy Stanley speak on leadership. I’ve never forgotten what he said.
In talking about organizational change, he said that every person–and every decision–has a certain risk quotient. As it relates to people, he meant that every person is wired differently and a decision that may seem perfectly clear to one person may seem overly risky to another; we are all hard-wired to need a certain level of information before we can make a decision, and that level varies based on the individual. Of course, the decision itself can also affect the risk-quotient. Big decisions require a significant amount of information in order to limit the risk; on the other hand, we may make small decisions–like driving to a store just to check if something we want is “in stock”–without much concern for the risk at all. Even if the store doesn’t carry what we are looking for, there wasn’t much loss associated with the decision to drive out and check.
Several years after hearing that talk on leadership I was asked to take a test as part of my assessment for church planting that would indicate my level of comfort with taking risk. The results came back, solidly in the “average” territory. What I’ve discovered over the years is that for me to be comfortable with a decision means that I need a reasonable amount of information before making a choice. I’ve made what others may consider to be risky decisions, but as far as I was concerned, I had all the information I needed.
At least, most of the time.
My desire to have just the right amount of knowledge, mixed with just the right amount of certainty, means that I am not typically swayed by how I feel about something in the moment. Unfortunately, it also means that I am not typically swayed by things like “the Holy Spirit’s voice”. If the Holy Spirit wants me to make a risky decision, he has one of two choices, as far as I’m concerned: either he can give me the knowledge and the certainty, or he can make it so obvious that it’s Him that I’d be a fool to resist, even if I don’t know how it’s all going to work out.
It’s that second one that scares me, and it happened to me on January 31st, 2010.
Christi and I were visiting a rag-tag group of people in North Jersey who were trying to have a church service together and just needed people to preach. We didn’t know what to expect. Our life was recently in disarray. We had entered the New Year looking for new opportunities, trying to determine where God was leading us. We thought we were supposed to stay in New York State, where we lived, near family. I hadn’t preached in a while and was nervous. I had slept on a friends floor the night before. I had to drive through Dunkin' Donuts because there were no Starbucks on the way to the church. It was rough.
The service ended up going fine, but it’s what happened afterwards that changed the trajectory of our lives.
We got in the car.
We looked at each other.
And we knew we were supposed to be at Restore.
At that particular moment, the “risk quotient” of making a decision like that would have been the equivalent of “foolish”. We had…one percent, two percent?…of the information that we needed to be able to say that this was where we were supposed to go. But the voice of the Holy Spirit was unmistakeable: just call them and see what happens.
Jesus told his disciples that the Holy Spirit would guide them into all truth. Most of the time, the way the Spirit does that is by guiding us through the process of planning, discovery, and ultimately confidence in decision making. He uses our “hard-wiring” to achieve his results. But sometimes, the Holy Spirit pushes more than guides, and says, “Here. You probably couldn’t have figured this out on your own.”
And what a gift that is. The Spirit, dwelling in our hearts, prompting us forward to obey God’s call on our lives, leading us into joy. That gift is worth the risk any day.