We asked six influential ministry leaders to tell us their stories of
the toughest leadership decision they’d ever made—and how they went
about making the decision. We’ve already heard from Craig Groeschel, Nancy Ortberg and Glenn Packiam. Now, Richard Stearns, president of World Vision and author of The Hole in Our Gospel, shares his toughest decision—to go.
"Here I am, Lord. Send me.”
It was just too hard for me to say these six syllables.
My decision was this: Should I stay as CEO of the luxury tableware company Lenox, or should I lead the world’s largest Christian humanitarian organization and serve children in poverty?
The answer, to be perfectly honest, should have been: “Duh!” But it wasn’t so clear to me at the time.
After two days in Seattle, visiting with the board and leadership of World Vision, I had to make my decision. It came down to this: Was I willing to follow Jesus Christ no matter where He led me?
I liked my life. I was in my second job as CEO of a large corporation. I was doing well and being paid handsomely. I was a faithful Christian, witnessing, tithing and serving on the board of our Christian school. My wife, Renée, and I were raising a good Christian family. Why did God want even more?
I had to decide if I was really willing to surrender what I wanted in order to gain what God wanted.
The apostle Paul writes in I Corinthians 7:22, “If you were free when the Lord called you, you are now a slave of Christ” (NLT). That was my toughest decision. Initially, my mind was closed to the idea of working for World Vision. Recruiters and friends had been pestering me about it for months.
I’d worked for two decades for significant achievements. Trade that in for uncomfortable trips to African villages? No, thank you. The world’s problems were better solved by other people—people whose efforts I was more than willing to generously support.
Just as Moses blubbered before God at the burning bush, saying how unqualified he was, I was under the covers in my hotel room in Seattle crying, Please, not me! In fact, I told God, “No.” After arriving home, I called the recruiter and told him: “It was a mistake. I have to say no and get on with my life.”
The very next day, God changed my heart. During our church’s missions conference, the preacher said he felt God was asking a person in the sanctuary that night to serve. God didn’t need money, the preacher said, but He needed a heart.
I knew God was speaking to me. He continued to pursue me even after I rejected His will. Later that night I was talking to Renée when it hit me: What if there are children who will suffer because I failed to obey God? I couldn’t bear that thought and so, the next day, I called the board. Yes, if you will still have me, I will join World Vision’s work, partnering with Jesus’ mission to “proclaim good news to the poor … to proclaim freedom for the prisoners … to set the oppressed free” (Luke 4:18, NIV).
Previously, I could only see the things God wanted me to give up. But being a slave of Christ is a tremendous blessing. I get to work alongside highly gifted, compassionate people. We get to serve the most blessed people on earth: the poor. God has given me and my family some amazing experiences. And it wouldn’t have happened if God didn’t help me make one tough decision.
Christ made me His slave. But He did so for the freedom of others. When the apostle Paul says, “You are now a slave of Christ,” in I Corinthians 7:22, he also says, “If you were a slave when the Lord called you, you are now free in the Lord.”
World Vision is all about setting slaves free. Poverty enslaves. By tackling the causes of poverty in the name of Jesus Christ, we free people to reach their full potential as beings created in the image of God. Serving alongside the poor has been the toughest decision of my life with the most wonderful consequences. It is a tough decision, one we all must make day after day, to fall on our knees and say: “Here I am, Lord. Send me.”