Defining Your Risk Taking Style

Although people are rarely consistent in their decision-making styles, most of us can detect some regularity in the way we make important decisions. Think of the important life decisions you have made (e.g., marriage, divorce, major moves, career changes), and then answer the following questions. You may not answer some with complete confidence, but give the answers that come closest to what you believe. This is not a test, it is just a device to help you understand your own decision-making behavior. For each dimension, choose the one response out of three that best describes how you usually respond in making a big decision.

I. Attitude toward change
1. I prefer security to novelty.
2. I value security and novelty about equally.
3. I prefer novelty to security.

II. Search strategy
1. I make a quick overall survey of possibilities hoping that something will hit me.
2. I keep producing and then going over my possible choices.
3. I think of a number of alternatives but stop after a reasonable search.

III. Attention to feelings
1. I decide among alternatives not only by reasoning but by taking my feelings into account.
2. I made major decisions almost exclusively on the basis of my feelings.
3. I mistrust my feelings as a basis for a major decision; I try to rely on reason almost entirely.

IV. Decision rule
1. I believe there is one right decision, and it is my job to dig it out.
2. I believe there is no one right decision, I just need to find one that is good enough.
3. I believe in choosing the first decision that really grabs me.

V. Sense of consequence
1. I don’t try to predict the consequences of my decision because I expect things will work out okay.
2. I do think about consequences, tending to focus on the bad things that might happen.
3. I try to think of good and bad consequences of my decision.

VI. Pre-decision emotions
1. In thinking about taking a risky step, I feel mostly anxiety.
2. In thinking about taking a risky step, I feel a mixture of anxiety and excitement.
3. In thinking about taking a risky step, I feel mostly excitement.

VII. Time expended in decision-making process
1. I usually make decisions—even big ones—quickly.
2. I usually take a fairly long time to make big decisions.
3. I usually take a very long time to make big decisions.

VIII. Attitude toward new information
1. I will consider new information even after I’ve arrived at a probable decision.
2. I’m not interested in getting new information after I’ve made a probable decision.
3. I feel compelled either to seek out new information or to shut it out after I’ve made a probable decision.

IX. Post-decision strategy
1. Once I’ve made a decision, I usually don’t think about it before launching into action.
2. Once I’ve made a decision, I often experience serious doubts and may change my mind.
3. Once I’ve made a decision, I usually rally behind it after rechecking.

X. Evaluating the outcome of a risky decision
1. After I have acted on the decision, I tend to worry or regret that I didn’t do something else.
2. After I have acted on the decision, I tend to put it out of my mind.
3. After I have acted on the decision, I tend to think about what I have learned from it.

Tally the number of “A” responses, “B” responses, and “C” responses, using the following guide:

I. 1. A 2. B 3. C
II. 1. C 2. A 3. B
III. 1. B 2. C 3. A
IV. 1. A 2. B 3. C
V. 1. C 2. A 3. B
VI. 1. A 2. B 3. C
VII. 1. C 2. B 3. A
VIII. 1. B 2. C 3. A
IX. 1. C 2. A 3. B
X. 1. A 2. C 3. B

Most people evidence a mixture of styles. The average number of A responses is 6.7. The average number of B responses is 2.3. The average number of C responses is 1.0. The goal is to be balanced.

Style A: The anxious risk-taker makes big decisions with great effort, is afraid of making mistakes, takes lots of time, and tends to ruminate and worry about the outcome.

Style B: The balanced risk-taker makes big decisions fairly slowly, is more concerned with reasonably good outcomes than with fear of failure or the need to make a good decision, and tends to plan and to review, but without worrying too much.

Style C: The careless risk-taker makes big decisions quickly with little experience of mixed feelings, may feel “inappropriately optimistic,” and spends little time in introspection or evaluation.

Determining How Much Risk You Will Take

This self evaluation test will help to determine how much risk you are willing to take within the church.  The answer key follows the test.

1. What is your education? (Check all that apply to you)
a. No higher education degree
b. Bible College degree
c. Liberal arts degree
d. Seminary degree
e. Non-seminary master’s degree
f. Doctorate

2. What is your current church membership size?
a. Less than 100
b. 100–199
c. 200-499
d. 500 or more

3. How long have you been at this church?
a. Less than one year
b. 1–2 years
c. 3–4 years
d. 5 or more years

4. What is your age?
a. 30 or under
b. 31–40
c. 41–50
d. 51–60
e. over 60

5. Which church is this in your ministry history?
a. My first church
b. My second church
c. My third church
d. Fourth or later church

6. What do you believe to be your dominant gifts/talents in ministry?
a. Preaching
b. Teaching
c. Administration
d. Counseling
e. Pastoral ministry (visitation, etc.)
f. Evangelism
g. Music
h. Other

7. Do you use a biblical character (such as Jesus, Paul, or Moses) as a model for decision-
a. Yes
b. No

8. How many times in a typical year are you required to made decisions that you know will
upset, offend, or bring disagreement from people in the congregation?
a. Theological decisions
(e.g., to take a stand on eschatology, spiritual gifts, divorce/remarriage, etc., that
differs from some members’ views.)
1) None
2) 1–2 per year
3) 3–4 year
4) 5 or more per year

b. Institutional/organizational decisions
(e.g., to recommend a ministry program that clashes with the polity or tradition of
the church.)
1) None
2) 1–2 per year
3) 3–4 per year
4) 5 or more per year

c. Interpersonal decisions
(e.g., handling a counseling session in a way that offends a church family, or having a conflict with a board member.)
1) None
2) 1–2 per year
3) 3–4 per year
4) 5 or more per year


Use these guidelines to score you answers:
RISK POINTS: If you are facing a risky decision at this time, each risk point increases your chance of ultimately having to leave your current ministry position as a result of it.

SAFETY POINTS: Each safety point decreases your chance of ultimately having to leave your current ministry position as a result of a difficult decision.

Not all of the answers from the questions were shown to have a measurable level of riskiness or safety. The ones that do are shown below.

Risk Points

Safety Points








  1a.   No higher education degree

1c.   Liberal arts degree

1d.  Seminary degree

1e.   Non-seminary master’s degree

1f.   Doctorate



  2b.  100–199

2c.  200–499



  3b.  1–2 years

3d.  5 or more years




  5b.  My second church

5c.   My third church

5d.  My fourth or later church



  6a.   Preaching

6b.  Teaching (-3 only if preaching is not also listed)



  7a.   Yes, I use a biblical character as a model for decision-making

7b.   No, I don’t use a biblical character as a model for decision-making.






  8a1)     No theological decisions per year

8a2)     1–2 per year

8c1)     No interpersonal decisions per year

8c3)     3–4 interpersonal decisions per year

8c4)     5 or more interpersonal decisions per year


Add the safety points and subtract the risk points. The more positive your total score, the more safe is your current environment in ministry decision-making.


+14 and higher A very high score.
You are in a relatively risk-free environment.
Continue to be sensitive to your flock as you also continue your vigorous approach to tough decision-making.

+6 to +13 An average score.
Take stock of the currently risky factors about your background and/or your church environment.
Evaluate your own decision-making process to see how it could be strengthened.

+5 or less A very risky score.
Look closely at the combination of your background and your current church environment to see where your dangers lie.
Be aware of the dangers.
As you evaluate your own decision-making process, seek out advice from experienced pastors on decision-making itself as well as the tough decisions you face.