Resource Library

Take a Risk

Resource Library

Take a Risk

By David P. KingDavid P. King

This article was originally published in Giving Magazine Vol. 20 in 2018. You can access the full issue here.

At first, stewardship might lead us to picture the exact opposite of courage. Isn’t stewardship about good management, preservation, and limited risk? In the financial planning world, that is what first comes to mind. In your first meeting with a financial planner, you are likely to take an assessment to gauge your risk tolerance, and only then will your planner work with you to develop a diverse portfolio with a mix of stocks and bonds precisely chosen to balance risk with return on investment. And as we move toward retirement, we minimize risk to play it even safer in order to preserve the nest egg we have worked so hard to build.

But that is not exactly the stewardship metaphor we get through scripture. In Matthew 25:14-30, Jesus offers us the Parable of the Talents, and it is the servant who buries his talents (preserving the principle, mitigating all risk, but sacrificing any return) who is chastised by the master. It was the servants who risked their talents and increased them who were praised and rewarded. Yet, it was less the servants’ economic prowess that the master praised; it was their trustworthiness: “You have been trustworthy in a few things, I will put you in charge of many things” (v. 21, 23). It seems that living courageously and stewardship are directly tied to trust.

Too often, however, I find that our models of stewardship in the church are designed for preservation and limited risk (trust in ourselves) rather than helping Christians to live freely, simply, generously, and courageously (trusting in God). Of course, there is a difference between living courageously and living foolishly. In another of Jesus’s parables, he describes the wise man who built his house upon a rock in contrast to the fool who built his house on shifting sand (Matt 7:24-27). Wisdom comes from building a solid foundation, but there is a difference between standing firm and laying down anchor and refusing to move.

I have been struck over this past year by deadly hurricanes Harvey and Irma forcing millions in the United States to make the choice to abandon their homes and flee as well as by the endless numbers of refugees in countries like Syria that must make the even more difficult choice to leave their homeland in the face of terrifying war. It often takes more courage to leave home than to stay. Even when home is no longer safe or comfortable, residing in the familiar is safe.

And in the midst of danger and tremendous change, our faith calls us to “be strong, and let your heart take courage” (Ps 31:24). The Israelites knew something about being refugees. Like so many psalms, Psalm 31 was written to ask God to deliver God’s people from their enemies. And alongside their cries for deliverance, they proclaimed that in such a precarious situation, they would seek refuge in the Lord. Even as refugees, they knew where their hope rested.

Of course, the Israelites did not pretend that it was easy to be strong and take courage in the midst of what they faced, but they continually reminded themselves that it was possible for “all who wait upon the Lord” (Ps 31:24). This phrase, “wait upon the Lord,” is repeated all throughout the Old and New Testaments, and because we find it so often, I think we might overlook its significance. Waiting can have a very passive connotation— sitting back and not doing anything until it is our time. Yet that is not what God’s people mean by being called “to wait upon the Lord.” Psalm 31 is a cry to God for God’s help, but it also proclaims a trust in God’s promises that leads to action. Waiting upon the Lord is to live expectantly, trusting in God’s character and promises, and setting out to get our hands dirty. We trust in what has been said about what God would do, but this is an active trust that calls us not to build walls (stewardship as preservation, management, or fair-share giving), but rather to be an active steward of the future of God’s kingdom.

So, when we are living courageously, stewardship calls us to do good, be generous, and be ready to share so that we might “take hold of the life that is really life” (1 Tim 6:18- 19). But living as Timothy suggests in the midst of the world in which we live takes great courage. If we limit our theology of stewardship merely to how we invest our money and possessions, then  we  have  missed the message. God has chosen to work through us to transform this world; therefore, God calls us to steward this ultimate kingdom vision. Of course, stewardship of such a comprehensive, missional task cannot be explained with notions of management and preservation. Such an active and courageous stewardship will force us to live differently, and we will likely have to engage personally, politically, and publicly.

Stewardship, therefore, is not merely a church word associated with fundraising, pledging, and annual budgets. Stewardship is a theological word that leads us to cling to God’s promise for the future, to announce that vision to the world, and to live into this vision by working for that change right now. When living courageously, we can wait expectantly upon the Lord, risking the safety and comfort of the status quo for the chance to live into the role that God calls us to play in the ongoing creation, redemption, and transformation of this world.

David King is Karen Lake Buttrey Director of the Lake Institute on Faith and Giving, Indiana University Lilly Family School of Philanthropy and Associate Professor of Philanthropic Studies at Indiana University, Indianapolis.

Giving Magazine was a premier stewardship resource published by the Ecumenical Stewardship Center (ESC) from 1999 until 2020. The magazine served Christian faith communities throughout North America, providing thoughtful, practical, and inspirational content on faith and giving from thought leaders and practitioners alike. Giving was published annually from 1999 until 2018 (volumes 1-20), and then quarterly in 2019 and 2020 (volumes 21-28) in digital form only. In 2021 ESC closed its doors and committed its archives to the care of Lake Institute on Faith & Giving. For further information on ESC or its archives, please contact us at

DATE: January 31, 2018
TOPIC: Theological Reflection
TYPE: Article
SOURCE: Ecumenical Stewardship Center Archives
KEYWORDS: Christianity, Stewardship
AUTHOR: David P. King