“Is it safe?” This question echoes across church fellowship halls and Sunday School rooms as short-term informational meetings take place throughout the year in churches of all shapes and sizes. The call goes out in the church for a short-term team to go to ____ and do ____. A meeting is scheduled for those interested in this mission opportunity. Inevitably, pressing upon the inner thoughts of those interested or those who love those who are interested is the question of safety. “Will I or my loved one be safe?”
Forming our theology of risk is vital to an overall strategy for fulfilling the Great Commission. The purpose of a theology of risk allows individuals and groups to think through the reality that any mission endeavor (long-, mid- or short-term) involves risk. New Testament missionaries faced risk (e.g., Acts 9:15-16), and it is only appropriate to understand that today’s missionaries may also face risks or crises while serving God during mission efforts. In the face of such crises, a clear understanding of Scripture, as related to risk, should prepare mission team members to honor God despite difficult circumstances.
The Great Commission (Matthew 28:18-20) is the foundation of all the church does in the name of Christ. Like Paul and Barnabas in the book of Acts, we are called upon to “risk” our lives for the cause of Christ (Acts 15:26).
Missions can involve high levels of risk—criminal, political, health, or even natural catastrophe. Understanding God’s call on our lives is essential (Luke 9:23; 2 Timothy 2:1-4). The biblical legacy of risk is evident in Scripture. Paul was ready to be bound and even die, if necessary (Acts 21:13). Some early believers could have escaped but chose not to (Hebrews 11:32-38).
No single response to danger is given in Scripture. Both fleeing and facing danger is given. There is freedom in either case; therefore, we must be careful not to develop hard-and-fast “rules” for risk. For example, Stephen faced risk in Acts 7-8, and the early believers fled in conjunction to his death (Acts 8:1-4). Neither are viewed as superior or less-than in these circumstances. In fact, God uses both facing and fleeing for His glory (Acts 11:19-26).
The problem for the church today is often not the decision of whether to face or flee danger, but whether we should even consider danger as an option. We assume that Jesus wants us to be safe and secure, so why would we go to other places where there are risks? Jesus does not call us to safety; He calls us to be satisfied (in Him).
Facing or fleeing danger seemed to be assessed most often in Scripture based upon the need for the gospel in a particular place. In Corinth, Paul, who was apparently fearful, was assured by God that he would be safe while he remained in Corinth preaching the gospel (Acts 18:9-11). He understood that his calling was one of testifying to the gospel of the grace of God in places where it had not been heard (Acts 20:22-24). He knew danger awaited him.
There is a sense of urgency in Scripture for gospel advancement. This urgency means that, at times, Jesus calls us to face danger, and at other times, He calls us to flee from danger. May God give us the wisdom and grace to do both. *(Portions adapted from Alabama Baptist Convention State Board of Missions Policy and Procedure Manual)