By Stephen Bond
Thirty-four years have passed in the blink of an eye. That’s how long ago I became a Christ follower. I was 21 when I began the grand faith adventure of living for Christ. Along the way I’ve had my share of bumps and bruises. But, except for the foibles I brought on myself, I wouldn’t change much.
It has been exhilarating to barrel through the years living, for the most part, by faith. The journey has taken me and my family to the Midwest twice (once for seminary and once for ministry), to South America for 10 years of missions work, and then, of all places, to northern Nevada to plant the church I now serve. It’s been thrilling (and occasionally unsettling) to see God move in powerful ways in each location.
Run, Jump, and Flip!
Sometimes I wonder why so many Christ followers seem to tiptoe through life with their faith. I think far too many Christians settle for a low-risk faith journey. Sadly, they miss out on the adventure that comes with a faith that takes risks.
This was vividly captured in a video clip of Francis Chan that my son-in-law sent me. Chan is an author, speaker, and pastor with a growing national influence. In the video clip, Chan uses a balance beam to humorously illustrate the low-risk faith that’s common among Christ followers today.
Gymnasts, of course, score points for how they walk, run, jump, and do flips on the balance beam—the higher the risk the greater the reward. The balance beam is a metaphor for faith. But rather than run, jump, or do flips with our faith, many American Christians clutch the “faith beam” with both arms and legs and ultracautiously hang on for dear life. This results in such a low-risk experience with Christ that, truthfully, day-to-day living doesn’t require much faith at all. Consequently, there’s not much reward, either.
As for me, I want to run, jump, and do flips with my faith! I want to live close enough to the edge that some might even call me crazy—crazy for God! I remember telling my wife, Pam, before we were married that I didn’t want to have a “normal suburban life.” I didn’t want to become another American statistic. Instead, I wanted to put the pedal-to-the-metal with my faith and follow the Lord without holding anything back—willing to risk everything.
No Safety Net
The first time we put this to the test was in choosing what seminary to attend. At the time, we lived in Southern California. We could have chosen from the excellent seminaries in California that would have kept us close to home. But we chose a school in the Midwest because we knew it would challenge our faith to live without the safety net of family close by.
It was tough! The first winter we experienced record-breaking snows, and our car repeatedly wouldn’t start because of the bitter cold. Pam and I couldn’t rely on Mom or Dad to help. We were forced to lean on the Lord and on newfound friends. But those challenges helped both our marriage and our faith in God to grow.
Even before seminary, we knew we were called to the mission field. We didn’t know where. But we knew God wanted us to serve overseas. I studied the history of world missions in one of my seminary classes. Each time I studied a new region I told Pam, “That’s where we need to go!”
At first it was Asia, then the South Pacific, then India, then Africa, then Europe, and then South America. Personal comfort was never a consideration. It wasn’t about “us.” We were willing to risk everything to follow God. A passion burned within us to serve wherever the Lord could use us.
As I was completing seminary, I wrote my home church, Eastside Christian Church in Fullerton, California. The church leadership supported our calling to missions. I told them we would go anywhere in the world to help advance God’s purposes.
Eastside’s leadership suggested we consider Chile in South America. Whenever I’m asked why we chose Chile for mission work, my answer is not terribly exotic. We were willing to go anywhere, and those in spiritual authority suggested Chile. It’s that simple. But my point is this—our faith did not have any strings attached. We were willing to risk. We didn’t have a list of criteria that had to be met. The only thing that mattered was to be used by God.
We spent 10 wonderful years in Chile. We were young. I made many mistakes. We poured out our lives among some of the most gracious people on earth. And God moved mightily. When we packed our bags to return to the United States, the fruit of our faith-risk was evident in 17 churches, hundreds of new believers, and a leadership training center that continued functioning for 20 years. We’ve been back to Chile many times and still count the Chilean brethren among our most trusted friends.
Location Didn’t Matter
Leaving Chile was one of the hardest risks of faith we’ve ever taken. We loved our life in Chile. We loved what God was doing. We loved the nationals we worked with. And we loved the missionaries who served alongside us. But we returned to the U.S. with a new call from God to lead a local church that would have a strong impact through its missions and outreach.
As we searched for the church God wanted us to lead, geographic location did not matter. We dialogued with ministries throughout the nation. It wasn’t about “us.” We were willing to risk again. The only thing that mattered was to be used by God.
After much prayer and searching, God called us to minister with a wonderful congregation in the Midwest. We fell in love with the people and poured our lives out. God moved in amazing ways. The church grew. Scores of people came to faith. We added new weekend services. We also learned about ministry dynamics in a local church.
However, after six years of faith-stretching ministry, God abruptly called us away. We didn’t understand at first. It was very painful to leave dearly loved friends. But, again, we risked taking a step of faith and moved west to plant a new church in Sparks, Nevada.
Looking back, we understand more clearly. God had something else planned for our church in the Midwest. The congregation is now thriving in ways that would not have been possible under my leadership.
And the Lord had something else for us, too. It was faith stretching to risk moving to Nevada. We did not know a soul in our new community. We had to trust God every step. It was especially hard on our four teenage children to be uprooted.
But as the years have passed, our entire family has grown—both in faith and in their love for each other. The risk was worth it! Today, Summit is a thriving congregation enjoying an abundance of God’s favor.
The Lord Has Come Through
As I look back on the past 34 years, I wouldn’t change much. It’s been thrilling to run, jump, and do flips with a faith in God that has taken risks. The Lord has always come through and done exceedingly and abundantly more than I could have thought or imagined.
A while back someone gave me a small metal office plaque with this inscription: “What would you attempt to do if you knew you could not fail?” It’s a great question that reminds me of another great question from the apostle Paul. “If God is for us, who can be against us?” (Romans 8:31).
Most of us say we believe this. But I wonder: if we truly believed it, would some of us be willing to take more daring risks of faith?
Stephen Bond serves as senior pastor with Summit Christian Church in Sparks, Nevada.