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Taking Risks in Leadership

By Stephen Blandino | Posted In What Does the Bible Say

In life, we have a natural inclination to “play it safe.” While it may sound fine on the surface, that approach usually leads to regrets — specifically, regrets of inaction.

Inaction doesn’t just affect us. It also affects the people and churches we lead. So, how do we avoid the regrets of inaction and take risks that matter?

To help answer that question, consider the life of Esther, the orphaned exile who became queen to King Xerxes and revealed Haman’s evil plot to have the Jewish people annihilated. From Esther’s story, we learn three important truths about taking risks in leadership.

Risk Exposes Excuses

Coming up with excuses is easy. Take arriving late to work, for example. In a 2018 survey, CareerBuilder revealed some of the most bizarre excuses employees gave for their lack of punctuality. Here are a few:

  • It’s too cold to work.
  • I had morning sickness. (It was a man.)
  • I was here, but I fell asleep in the parking lot.
  • My fake eyelashes were stuck together.
  • Although it has been five years, I forgot I did not work at my former employer’s location and drove there on accident.

Excuses can be funny … until they’re not.

Haman, the most powerful official under King Xerxes, issued a decree that the Jewish people — young and old, men, women, and children — would be slaughtered and annihilated on a single day (Esther 3:13).

When Mordecai saw a copy of the decree, he had it delivered to Esther, his cousin, with instructions to plead for mercy from the king. But Esther relayed a message back to Mordecai making an excuse:

All the king’s officials and the people of the royal provinces know that for any man or woman who approaches the king in the inner court without being summoned the king has but one law: that they be put to death unless the king extends the gold scepter to them and spares their lives. But thirty days have passed since I was called to go to the king (Esther 4:11).

On the surface, Esther had a good reason to avoid getting involved in the matter. But here’s what we have to remember about excuses. More often than not, excuses are disobedience in disguise — a seemingly good reason for doing the wrong thing. Excuses may come with short-term relief, but they eventually lead to long-term regret.

Risk Involves Action

John F. Kennedy once said, “There are risks and costs to a program of action, but they are far less than the long-range risks and costs of comfortable inaction.”

In her case, Esther’s excuse paralyzed her. But Mordecai was unrelenting. He said, “Do not think that because you are in the king’s house you alone of all the Jews will escape” (Esther 4:13).

Action may feel dangerous, but inaction leads to disobedience. And the obedience of action is never as dangerous as the disobedience of inaction.

Mordecai continued: “If you remain silent at this time, relief and deliverance for the Jews will arise from another place, but you and your father’s family will perish” (Esther 4:14).

God has a way of accomplishing His will, with or without you. The question is, do you want to be left on the outside of God’s will?

Finally, Mordecai shared his now famous words: “And who knows but that you have come to your royal position for such a time as this?” (verse 14).

How do we avoid the regrets of inaction and take risks that matter?

We often focus on the last few words: “for such a time as this.” But equally important are the first words: “Who knows but … .”

Apply this to your leadership today. Who knows but God might be prompting you to write that book. Who knows but God might be leading you to plant that church. Who knows but God might be nudging you to enroll in that class. Who knows but God might be calling you to start that business.

Who knows? God does. Is there a risk? Yes. But reward always starts with risk.

Risk Requires Courage

After hearing Mordecai’s bold challenge, Esther ditched her excuse and took action.

Then Esther sent this reply to Mordecai: “Go, gather together all the Jews who are in Susa, and fast for me. Do not eat or drink for three days, night or day. I and my attendants will fast as you do. When this is done, I will go to the king, even though it is against the law. And if I perish, I perish.”

So Mordecai went away and carried out all of Esther’s instructions (Esther 4:15–17).

Esther could have clung to her excuses. After all, they sounded quite reasonable on the surface. Instead, Esther took a risk, and that risk began with a single courageous step.

What was the outcome? In a divinely ordered turn of events, Haman’s evil plot to annihilate the Jews was exposed, and Haman was impaled on a pole he had set up to kill Mordecai. One courageous step led to thousands of lives being spared.

In 1988, a woman named Grete Gjelstrup was in her attic when she came across a scrapbook with names, pictures, letters, and travel documents. Immediately, she went to her husband, Nicholas Winton, and asked for an explanation. In that moment, a 50-year secret began to unravel.

The names and pictures were of children destined for Nazi concentration camps. Five decades earlier, Winton had been a stockbroker in London. During December 1938, he canceled a Swiss ski vacation and went to Prague to see a friend. This friend was helping refugees in Czechoslovakia. When Winton arrived, he saw massive camps of refugees living in horrific conditions.

Jewish homes, shops, and synagogues had been vandalized or destroyed, and escape for Jewish men and women and their children looked bleak. But that same year, Britain had begun a program called Kindertransport allowing Jewish children to come to Britain if they had a host family.

Ten thousand Jewish children had already been rescued from Germany and Austria before the war began, but there were no rescue efforts taking place in Czechoslovakia. So, Winton created one.

During 1939, Winton put friends in charge in Prague, and he returned to London to find foster homes and raise money for the transportation of the children. The small group of volunteers had photos of the children printed and sought funds and foster homes in newspaper ads and church and synagogue bulletins.

The hard work paid off. On March 14, 1939, the first 20 children left Prague on a train. In the following months, Winton and his team made plans for eight more trains to rescue children. The first seven trains arrived safely, but the eighth train never made it. Hitler invaded Poland on Sept. 1, 1939, and all borders were closed. Of the 250 children on the eighth train, only two survived the war.

Because of Winton’s courageous acts, a total of 669 children were rescued from certain extinction in the concentration camps. Nearly every child saved was an orphan by the end of the war, as their parents were killed in the camps.

In 2001, The New York Times interviewed Winton. When the reporter asked Winton what motivated him to do this, he replied, “Why did I do it? Why do people do different things? Some people revel in taking risks, and some go through life taking no risks at all.”

When he died in 2015, at the age of 106, Winton was remembered for the 669 children saved because he was willing to take a risk. Today, there are more than 6,000 descendants of those 669 children.

It began with a risk. Leaders lead, and leading is always risky. But inaction is riskier. Ignore the excuses, and step into the bold future God is calling you to pursue.