Five Christian leaders tell what God did when they took a surprising step of faith.
By Rusty Russell
I’m living proof God can use ordinary people to accomplish extraordinary things. Why God chose me to lead a church of 1,200 people in Southwest Florida is a mystery to me. I’m not a risk-taker. I like routine. I’m not a type-A personality. On the DISC profile, “D” doesn’t show up for me. When I go to the pool, I don’t dive in. I’m a toe-in-the-water guy. I ease in.
My friends think I’m boring, but at least I’m predictable.
So trying to determine “the riskiest move I made for God” isn’t that difficult because the list of possibilities is pretty short. The one that leaps out is the decision I made in 2010 to leave my associate position at Southeast Christian Church in Louisville, Kentucky, and take the position of lead pastor at New Day Christian Church in Port Charlotte, Florida.
I moved with my wife and four children (ages 6 to 15 at the time) a thousand miles away from home. Though I had briefly lived away from Louisville in my young adult years, we had spent almost 20 wonderful years at Southeast, and my children had never lived outside the Louisville area.
It was risky, and there were reasons to fear. What if my kids hate it? What if they hate me for this decision? What if I hate it? What if I bomb? I’m following a great young storyteller—Jamie Snyder—who preaches without notes. My approach is more “scholarly” (code for boring), and I use notes. Jamie brought a lot of energy and a lot of young people during his four years at New Day. I’m in my forties. What if all the young people leave?
We moved anyway.
We had some rocky days in the first year, but God has blessed our decision. Over a six-year period, the church has grown from 600 to 1,200 people, we’ve baptized nearly 500, and God has brought financial health to a church that was still suffering from a 10-year-old financial crisis.
And my family has adjusted well: My kids love the church and consider Florida “home,” my oldest married a wonderful girl he met at our church, and they’re all still speaking to me. And I love my job!
I’m glad they didn’t ask me to write this article after my first year at New Day. I remember attending the North American Christian Convention in 2011, one year after we moved. I knew everyone would be asking how things were going. I dreaded the questions and almost didn’t go. But because I so desperately needed the encouragement, I was willing to face my friends and tell the truth.
“How’s it going, you ask? Well, let’s see: Attendance is down. Offerings are down. We had to fire two employees and a volunteer who slammed the door on me when he walked out. . . . It’s going great!”
Thankfully I had good friends who encouraged me. And I had a wonderful dad who kept saying, “Rusty, you’re doing the right thing. You just keep preaching God’s Word and loving God’s people, and God is going to turn this thing around.” Sure enough, God did.
As I reflect on the riskiest move I’ve made for God, I would challenge young leaders to adopt three rules, that by God’s grace, I’ve tried to implement in my life when it comes to taking risks:
1. I will make no decision out of fear. “For God did not give us a spirit of fear . . . ” (2 Timothy 1:7, author’s paraphrase) If that’s true, then fear is ungodly. There are exceptions, of course. It’s not wrong to stop at the stop sign in part because you fear getting in an accident. And it’s not wrong to fear the accounting we will someday give before God.
But I know it’s ungodly to make a decision based on my fear of failure, fear of fallout, fear of embarrassment, and so forth. So when it comes to the moment of decision, faith—not fear—will be my motivator.
2. I will take calculated risks. Jesus said, “No man builds a tower without considering the cost” (Luke 14:28, author’s paraphrase). Maybe Jesus can use my toe-in-the-water personality if I’m willing to plod forward after calculating the cost.
I had sensed for years that God was nudging me back to the preaching ministry, as difficult as it would be to move. So I prayed, counseled with close friends, and consulted my wife. When the decision got closer, I included my children, asked them to pray, and considered their feelings. Then I fasted and prayed. I made charts on a legal pad of the positives and negatives of each possible choice.
Because of that diligence, I believe I made a wise decision. We moved to a place that was healthy for my family, was in line with my giftedness, needed my style of leadership, and was primed to do great things for the kingdom of God. And it doesn’t hurt that it’s a place our friends and family love to visit in the winter!
3. I will find a way to succeed. “The way of the sluggard is blocked with thorns, but the path of the upright is a highway” (Proverbs 15:19). Plodders are often surprisingly successful for one reason: they’re determined. No matter how difficult the situation, they take one more step. They refuse to quit. They refuse to chase fantasies and bail out when life gets tough, only to brag about taking “yet another risk.”
I read often about great leaders in the business world who are wired a lot like me, and it encourages me. Maybe you don’t have to be a “type-A” guy to be successful. Maybe you just have to be loyal, stubborn, patient, and willing to work hard.
If you’re wired like me and think you’re risk-averse, take heart. God can still use you!
Rusty Russell serves as lead pastor with New Day Christian Church, Port Charlotte, Florida.