"So Jacob was left alone, and a man wrestled with him till daybreak... Then the man said, "Your name will no longer be Jacob, but Israel, because you have struggled with God and with humans and have overcome." (Genesis 32:24, 28)
One of the most phrases spoken today is "safety is our top priority!" Think about how true this is; in a world full of COVID, China, lawsuits and facemasks, risk is almost a dirty word. Having done youth ministry for years, it was all about "risk management." "What's the most fun we can have while being safe?" Is a question I often asked myself. However, the more I work with Middle Schoolers, the more I have come to realize that risk goes hand-in-hand with fun.
In fact, sit with a bunch of middle school boys and ask them "Would you rather... play tackle football or flag football?" I bet you already know the answer. Why is that? Both have almost the same rules, positions, and plays. I believe the answer comes down to risk: to risk is to allow for the possibility of failure (or at least pain). It is exactly this risk that makes the sport (or anything worth while) fun!
What about faith? Can faith be risky? I would argue YES! In fact, go to an older church; one where the youth don't participate. Ask them why they don't participate. The most common answer? "It's boring." (I know this from experience). Boring is the arch-enemy of faith.
Now go talk to a super outdoorsy friend and ask them why they do it. Is it cause it's boring? Absolutely not! In fact, it can be very exciting, even scary depending on who you ask. The question we must all ask ourselves is do we consider faith exciting? Why or why not? As I sit here writing this, I have behind me a book titled God of Adventure and another one called Adventure and the way of Jesus. Both emphasize the importance of experiencing God in an adventure context. It is this sense of adventure (and with it, risk) that has left the Church.
Life must be "safe" (and boring) in order for us to grow in faithfulness. Don't believe me, look at some key phrases you'll find on the permission slips you receive from your local church/school. Is this the way of the church historically? Look at the persecuted church. Places such as Southeast Asia, parts of Africa, and even Central America. It is exactly these countries, known for persecution (unsafe) where Christianity is prospering. Why? Because it's very much not boring! Of course there's more to it than that, but it should cause us to think for a second.
How do we break out of this shell of comfort and "boring" as a church and move into a knew phase? There are a few practical ways of doing this: first, be okay with failure. We as a Church on all levels need to take more risk and be okay with a program (or even a person) failing. Second, we can use techniques such as "experiential learning" to bring to life concepts found in scripture. Third, we as the Church should be okay with messiness. Years ago, my students and I used to have large gatherings where we would play "airsoft" (think paintball but with bbs). One of the major problems was that we would often trek mud into the church building during these games, and I would get a lot of (deserved) trouble for it.
Being so inexperienced at the time, I would get frustrated at those who brought up the issues they had with this. There are a few takeaways from my experience; first I was right in that I had students who were comfortably setting foot in a church building who would never have otherwise been within a mile of it. Second, I was wrong for playing down the negligence I was showing toward the building. You win some, you lose some; but I knew for sure, those kids will never forget those games and where they played them.
For those Theology nerds reading this, what does this tell us about God's nature? There's one conclusion I have come to: heaven ain't going to be boring! A God who creates a nature inherent with risk and reward will not suddenly make a "tame" new heaven & earth. In fact, I would say the New Creation described in Revelation 21 will be full of adventure, failure, risk, and real decisions and consequences, just as the world we know and love is today. There will be a few key differences, I think, which are way beyond what I am here to describe. If you want to hear more about this thought, read my academic article; The Beatitudes & Revelation: A New Heaven and Earth. Suffice it to say, heaven is going to be a mysterious and exciting place.