So What’s the Risk/Reward Ratio?

I recently sat in a circle of disciplemakers when concerns arose over opening doors too quickly. One person expressed fear over tossing people into deep water where they might drown. I immediately thought of a father who allowed his infant son to swim before he could walk.

Reward Outweighs Risk

The dad released the boy into warm water not more than 30 inches away from the mom’s waiting arms. The child instinctively held his breath and began paddling toward the mother. He came up giggling. They did this several times that evening to the joy of both the child and parents. Years later when the boy took swim lessons, he entered the program with none of the fears evident in the other kids. And, he grew into a strong surfer as a man. The parents did well by providing that early, minimal exposure to water. The strong rewards far outweighed the limited (minimal) risks.

The fear that kicked off discussion among disciplemakers was really about overloading someone with more than they could handle. You could compare that to pressing an infant to swim the length of a pool. The parents in my story launched the boy on a journey of less than three feet. The depth of the water made no difference as you only swim in the shallows at the top of the deep. What did matter was the length of the swim. A child would only hold their breath for a limited amount of time and strength would run out quickly. But the boy readily took to the short swim.

Fearing the Deep End of the Pool

The same holds true in discipling potential leaders. The guy who initiated the discussion fears that initial ministry assignments might be too complicated for his disciples. While we talked this through, another person spoke up to describe how he was challenged to tell what little he knew to just one close friend—a short swim. Later he led a circle of three people. Eventually, along with two others, he practiced preaching a 15-minute-sermon for his mentor—a little longer swim. However, the day after the practice session his mentor’s wife gave birth… You guessed it! The young guy preached his 15-minute sermon in church that day. A little longer swim.

The issue here is the risk/reward ratio. Each step from sharing with one person to preaching in church was a short swim as everything that went before conditioned the individual for the next risk. The key here is to embrace risk while limiting any downside. Ask people to dive in the deep end of the pool, but keep the swim short enough that they don’t drown.

Have you ever tossed someone into a situation where they couldn’t cope? Have you been surprised by a person’s hidden abilities that you didn’t anticipate? Tell us about it in the Comments sections below…

COMMENTS: It’s your turn!

5 thoughts on “So What’s the Risk/Reward Ratio?

  • May 3, 2018 at 12:25 pm
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    Great analogy! I like to think of risks as the “calculated” variety when it comes to examples such as preaching without the formal training and hours of class room prep.
    But I do believe “taking reps” in front of say a mini Church first then the disciple can do a 3 minute tithe offering .. if he/she has any vocal ability to lead the congregation in worship etc. .. all these build confidence through small steps.
    No one starts their baseball career as a child in front of a full stadium.
    But as athletes need encouragement when they fumble, so do disciples, constantly correcting is a deterrent to any ministry. But we need to put them in the game and not just hold practice everyday…. we encourage them to pick themselves up shake it off if they trip over second base and step up to the plate again.. Babe Ruth held the record for strike outs as well as Home runs in his time.

    We all need to learn through our mistakes. Much more can be learned about character through loosing a game than winning them all… sometimes we need to be allowed to “fall forward”, and then the coach needs to be extra encouraging and make available more repetitions. I’m big on taking reps and what is known as “muscle memory”… the movement improves with reps and becomes instinctual…. but disciples like the baby in your example need to be thrown into the deep water as soon as logically possible.
    I happen to gravitate toward disciples who have led rebellious lives before they came to Jesus
    Their not afraid to be risk takers.. those that had “No Fear” in their former lives sometimes turn out to be the best leaders and risk takers we need in leadership.

    What’s the worst that can happen? … will anyone loose their salvation? Or maybe those that are overly concerned are focused solely with building up their congregational numbers… but that is another issue for another post.. hehe

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  • May 3, 2018 at 3:04 pm
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    Aloha! Ralph: Your discussion reminded me of the minichurch scenario where the members were actually being “mentored” and discipled as they participated in discussion or in leading the session. “Very shallow water” scenario. Blessings.

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  • May 3, 2018 at 7:03 pm
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    I’m not sure if the relationship I have with the folks I meet with on Molokai can be considered disciplship in the tradition sense as I’m still new to this. While we do consider this to be a “house church”, my approach has never been that I’m the leader giving assignments. For one thing these are long-time friends and another is he is an ex con with a very rugged past. During our times of fellowship I’ve focused on what I know as a prayer minister and trusted in The Holy Spirit. The results are a few miracle healings and I’m sure that God is working powerfully in many other ways.

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  • May 4, 2018 at 3:20 am
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    Here’s insight from Commandant Charles C.Krulak, Marine Corp (Charles Duhigg, “Smarter, Faster, Better”, Random House, 2016):

    “‘ We were seeing much weaker applicants…A lot of these kids didn’t just need discipline, they needed a mental makeover. They’d never belonged to a sports team, they’d never had a real job, they”d never DONE anything…They’d followed instructions their whole life.’

    This was a problem because the Corps increasingly needed troops who could make independent decisions…Krulak said, ‘ We need extreme self starters.’ in today’s world, that means the Corps requires men and women capable of fighting in places like Somalia and Bagdad, where rules and tactics change unpredictably and marines often have to decide — on their own and in real time — the best course of action.

    “…the most successful marines were those with a strong ‘internal locus of control’s — a belief they could influence their destiny through the choices they made.

    “…Researchers have found that people with an internal locus of control tend to praise or blame themselves for success or failure, rather than assigning responsibility to things outside their influence A student with a strong internal locus of control…will attribute good grades to hard work, rather than natural smarts….

    “‘Internal locus of control has been linked with academic success, higher self motivation and social maturity, lower incidences of stress and depression, and longer life span,’ a team of psychologists wrote in the journal ‘Problems and Perspectives in Management’ in 2012. People with an internal locus of control tend to earn more money, have more friends, stay married longer, and report greater professional success and satisfaction.

    “In contrast, having an EXTERNAL locus of control — believing that your life is primarily influenced by events outside of your control — ‘ is correlated with higher levels of stress, [often] because an individual perceives the situation as beyond his or her coping abilities’, the team of psychologists wrote.

    “Studies show that someone’s locus of control can be influenced through training and feedback. One experiment conducted in 1998, for example, presented 128 fifth graders with a series of difficult tests. Afterward, each student was told they had scored very well. Half of them were also told, ‘You must have worked hard at these problems.’ Telling fifth graders they have worked hard has been shown to activate their INTERNAL locus of control, because hard work is something we decide to do. Complimenting students for hard work reinforces their belief that they have control over themselves and their surroundings.

    “The other half of the students were also informed they had scored well and then told, ‘You must be really smart at these problems.’ Complimenting students on their intelligence activates an EXTERNAL locus of control. Most fifth graders don’t believe they can choose how smart they are…telling young people they are smart reinforces their belief that success or failure is based on factors OUTSIDE of their control.

    “Then all the students were incited to work on three more puzzles of varying difficulty.

    “The students who had been praised for their intelligence — who had been primed to think in terms of things they could NOT influence — were much more likely to focus on the easier puzzles…They were less motivated to push themselves. They later said the experiment wasn’t much fun.

    ” In contrast, students who had been praised for their hard work — who were encouraged to frame the experience in terms of self-determination — went to the hard puzzles. They worked longer and scored better. They later said they had a great time.

    “‘Internal locus of control is a learned skill,’ Carol Dweck, the Stanford psychologist who helped conduct that study, told me. ‘Most if us learn it early in life. But some people’s sense of self-determination gets suppressed by how they grow up, or experiences they’ve had, and they forget how much influence they can have on their own lives.’

    “‘That’s when training is helpful, because if you put people in situations where they can PRACTICE feeling in control, where that internal locus of control is reawakened, then people can start building habits that make them feel like they’re in charge of their own lives — and the more they feel that way, the more they really are in control of themselves.’

    “For Krulak, studies like this seemed to hold the key….’Today we call it teaching ‘a bias toward action…The idea is that once recruits have taken control of a few situations, they start to learn how good it feels.

    “‘ We never tell anyone they’re a natural-born leader…Instead we teach them that leadership is learned, its the product of efforts. We push recruits to experience that thrill of taking control, of feeling the rush of being in charge….

    “…their drill instructor approached the smallest, shyest member if the platoon and said he noticed how the recruit had asserted himself when a decision was needed on where to put the ketchup. In truth, it was pretty obvious where the ketchup should have gone…But the shy recruit beamed as he was praised.

    “‘I hand out a number if compliments, and all of them are designed to be unexpected, ‘ said Sergeant Dennis Joy, a thoroughly intimidating drill instructor….’You’ll never get rewarded for doing what’s easy for you. If you’re an athlete, I’ll never compliment you on a good run. Only the small guy gets complimented for running fast. Only the shy guy gets complimented for stepping into a leadership role. We praise people for doing things that are hard. THATS HOW THEY LEARN TO BELIEVE THEY CAN DO THEM (emphasis added).'”

    I hope this excerpt is short enough.

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  • May 16, 2018 at 9:28 am
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    Thank you Ralph for your challenge, encouragement and insight here.

    I have certainly seen this happen. I had a long time friend who had a speckled past (don’t we all!) begin following Jesus. He was fired up and ready to charge hell! So I let him. In the process, he excelled not only in leadership but in multiplication of disciples. Young green shoots (like growing bamboo) as I like to call them can really take off with the right nutrients. He would go on to become an elder of our church and led well up till the day he suddenly passed away from the flu at the age of 32.

    The risk can be great but the reward can be greater. I needed this reminder today. Thanks Ralph!

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