Rethinking Risk/Reward to Succeed as a Steward Investor
By Steve Doerr
In my 20s, I faced a decision: accept a job at a large, multinational corporation or pursue vocational ministry. With a freshly minted degree from an international MBA program in the Arabic language track, I was certainly more strategically positioned for the corporate job. And, yet, I could not help but feel that a vocation as a businessman would mean missing God’s best for my life, i.e., full time ministry as a pastor or missionary.
In spite of these misgivings, I decided to take the corporate job.
Over the course of the next three decades, I lived in several Middle Eastern and Asian nations, traveling to over 75 countries and interacting with people of all sorts of religious and non-religious backgrounds.
I am grateful I accepted the offer, as it has given me and my family countless opportunities to serve, adventures and invaluable life lessons. But I still lived with a sense of disquiet for many years. At times, I imagined myself on God’s B team, where my job was to support the A team: missionaries and pastors doing the “real work”.
Eventually, God graciously cleared away this false guilt as I encountered teaching that broke down the sacred-secular divide with respect to calling and vocation as a question occurred to me:
“Was Jesus’ work as a carpenter as valuable as His work in public ministry preaching and healing?”
That seemed to stump people I asked, until one day, a friend of mine responded, “Don’t you realize that everything Jesus did was simply in direct obedience to the Father? So when Jesus was working as a carpenter he would have been out of the Father’s will if he had chosen to go into public ministry too early.”
The implication: What the Father cares about is simply my obedience, or the input I give my work. He takes responsibility for the output or outcome.
This realization shifted my emphasis to the importance of listening to His voice. Searching Scripture to discern the sound of God’s voice has shown me a few basic ideas:
1. God is the Owner of everything.1
2. The Owner gives us the ability to generate financial capital and has entrusted each of us to be stewards of “His Stuff”.2
3. The Owner will assess our performance on stewarding His stuff, just as we might assess the faithfulness and performance of a CEO or Fund Manager by how well they achieved the Owner’s objectives.3
As a steward of His stuff, I get to serve like a fund manager in God’s immense investment portfolio. He is a much more just, merciful Boss than I have ever had on Earth. Still, the system of goal setting and performance reviews I am accustomed to from my days in the corporate world can serve as a template for how we approach investing and stewarding His resources. In this context, two factors are critical for success: (1) Be absolutely certain that you have listened well and that your Plan aligns exactly with the Corporate Goals/ Owner’s Objectives; and (2) that you have carefully thought through the most effective and efficient way to accomplish the Plan.
WHAT IS THE OWNER’S RISK TOLERANCE?
Every fund manager knows investment decisions must be guided by the owner’s risk tolerance and time horizon. The strongest financial return is often found in the riskiest investments, e.g., venture capital. Safe investments, on the other hand, yield less return, e.g. money market accounts.
We know God’s timeline is eternal. Jesus tells us to invest our earthly assets to store up treasure in heaven, where it is secure and lasting.4 Jesus is reconciling all creation to Himself 5 and we live in the “now but not yet”, where the Kingdom of God has come, and yet we still live in a world that is not quite restored. An eternal timeframe creates a wholly different set of investment guidelines, almost impossible for us finite beings to comprehend, which is why the question of risk is important.
How do we assess risk when investing for the King of Kings? Although God has given us the Holy Spirit and sound minds to strategize and plan, the outcome ultimately depends on Him.
Throughout Scripture, we see God rewards those who earnestly seek Him. We can invest with less fear, knowing He rates our performance based on listening and obeying.6 He loves us and gives us grace to live according to His ways and shows us mercy when we repent. Financial return is an important consideration, certainly, but it is not the only (perhaps not even the primary) measure Scripture uses to delineate success.
When heeding the commands of a sovereign God whose purposes for His people are always good, there is no way to lose. The only true risk is to run from His call and bury our assets in the ground, where they cannot be put to work for His Objectives.
1. Matt. 6:19-21
2. Col. 1:20
3. Lk 11:28, Deut. 28:1-2
4 Deut 10:14, Psalm 89:11, Job 41:11, Ps 50:10, etc.
5. Gen. 1:28
6. Matt. 25:14-30