Because “shrewd” is not a commonly used word, could you expound on its meaning? In my book, I describe “shrewd” this way: “It’s a weapons-grade relational tactic—a way of thinking and acting—that Jesus long ago urged His followers to use in their uprising against the powers and ‘spiritual forces of wickedness’ of this world. Shrewd people (and Jesus is the Exemplar) first study how things work, and then leverage that knowledge to tip the balance in a favored direction. Shrewdness is the expert application of the right force at the right time in the right place.” Most Christians have a negative reaction to the word “shrewd,” but Jesus not only exemplified this way of relating to others in His redemptive mission on earth, He gave us a mandate to grow much, much more adept in our practice of it. The point of His “Parable of the Shrewd Manager” (Luke 16:1-8) is specifically to highlight the behavior of a lazy, lying, good-for-nothing servant who has no qualities we’d want to emulate except for one: his shrewd way of saving himself from the consequences of his terrible behavior. Jesus highlights this anti-role-model for one purpose: “The people of this world are more shrewd in dealing with their own kind than are the people of the light.” Later, in preparation for sending out His disciples on their first ministry journey without Him, He tells them to take nothing with them (no clothing, money, or “insurance” of any kind)—instead, He tells them they need just two things: 1. Be as shrewd as a serpent, and 2. Be as innocent as a dove. The word He uses here for “serpent” is the same one He uses for Satan. And the word He uses here for “dove” is the same the Bible uses to describe the Holy Spirit. He’s telling His disciples to be as shrewd as Satan is, but as innocent as the Holy Spirit is. Shrewdness, then, is a way of living and relating that Jesus first modeled for us, then commanded us to do likewise.
Would Jesus’ disciples in New Testament times have found this a startling command?
Absolutely. When Jesus told His disciples the Parable of the Shrewd Manager, they were surrounded by the Pharisees and the teachers of the law—their own private “wolf pack” encircling the “sheep.” In the midst of this pack of predators, Jesus turns to His disciples and tells them this startling, scandalous, but crystal-clear story—a story that challenges
everything we think we know about Him. He chooses His words, and His setting, well. He’s essentially pointing to the “pack” and outlining for His disciples exactly how to defeat its tactics and innate superiority. They are, He asserts, just like sheep—an animal that is wholly helpless to defend itself against predators. When Jesus ends His story with a pointed reference to “the people of the light” and their “shrewdness deficit,” He’s not only telling them something that is shocking to their sensibilities, He’s likely offending them with His assessment of their abilities.
Does His command apply to Christians today?
Anything Jesus says to His Disciples (the Twelve), applies to His disciples—that’s you and me. The reason that Jesus’ behavior often seems erratic, counterintuitive, and even incomprehensible to us is that He never says or does anything that isn’t shrewd. He is all the time and everywhere leveraging people and situations to His “favored” direction, even (and especially) when He is tender, sensitive, and kind. And He wants all of us to follow His example—that’s why He tells us the Parable of the Shrewd Manager. As His disciples, people who acknowledge the Lordship of Jesus in our lives, our response is to grow as practitioners of shrewd. And if we are truly “like sheep running through a wolf pack” (Matt. 10:16 MSG), we ignore His imperative to grow in shrewdness at our own peril.
Why was it important to you to write about this concept?
Five-or-so years ago I was locked in what felt like an all-out war over a ministry dream that was in danger of dying, because a man who was much shrewder than me was bent on stopping it. One day, in my grief and fear and anger over what was about to happen, God sort of “sat me down” and challenged me—it was clear that my “frontal” way of dealing with this situation was not going to work, and He was asking me if I was going to have the courage to move more shrewdly. I asked Him to teach me what I needed to know about shrewdness, and He (of course) brought me to Jesus, the source of all good things. Unlike us (by His own assessment), Jesus is “more shrewd than the people of this world,” and that means He’s perpetually taking what His enemies intend for evil and morphing it into good. Jesus is always and everywhere out-leveraging Satan and his allies, using the destructive momentum he creates against them, like a martial artist.
Your last book was titled Sifted. On a lighter note, do you look for one-word titles in Scripture?
People have joked with me a lot about this—believe me, I have plenty of suggestions for my next one-word “S”-titled book. There are endless possibilities, if you think about it. Salt, anyone?
You are the executive editor at the youth ministry magazine Group. Does your work there feed into your book writing?
I’m still deeply embedded in the world of youth ministry. This year marks my 25th year as editor of GROUP Magazine. Youth ministry has been the perfect community for learning about the confluence of life and the power of the gospel of Jesus. I’m around people who, every day, are working to translate Jesus’ life and message and calling into real-world situations. In the end, the key to an effective youth ministry is in making Jesus the “orbital center” for everything you do—and my role in youth ministry (and in the rest of my life) is to reveal the beauty and worth of “the pearl of great price” and “the treasure in the field.” Once you understand the inestimable worth of the treasure, it’s simply human nature to “sell everything you have” to buy the field where that treasure is buried.
Do you see Shrewd as a book that will appeal to young and old?
Because I’ve already had scores and scores of conversations with people, both young and old, about the truths in this book, I know age has no bearing on a person’s interest in Jesus’ command to grow in shrewdness. People of all ages have experienced repeated failure in their frontal, conventional approaches to problems and challenges in their life. They’re frustrated and lost. And when I simply walk them through a Jesus-centered process of thinking and acting more shrewdly, it’s like Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz moving from her flat, black-and-white world into the 3-D colors of Oz.
Why is it important that Christian bookstores stock this title?
I’ve been talking about and teaching about the beauty of shrewdness for several years now, and no matter what the setting, this exploration of Jesus’ imperative always causes a stir. It’s simply not something most people have ever thought about, and therefore it catches them off guard and captures their imagination. I believe this book is going to spark a vibrant conversation—and that conversation will also be controversial. Christian bookstores are often the “ground zero” for these kinds of conversations, because that’s where the spark begins. In the end, most of us have done little to harness the leverage of shrewdness in service to the kingdom of God. We are shrewd accidentally, and often not innocently. That’s why so many of our deepest hopes and dreams suffer shipwreck—we’ve paid little or no attention to the clear imperative Jesus delivered to His disciples: “Be shrewd as serpents but innocent as doves.” Christian bookstores fulfill their calling in the Kingdom when they promote books that spark a needed conversation.
Rick Lawrence is the author of dozens of books, including Shrewd: Daring to Obey the Startling Command of Jesus and Sifted: God’s Scandalous Response to Satan’s Outrageous Demand (shrewdbook.com and siftedbook.com). He’s has been editor of Group Magazine for 25 years and is the co-leader of the Simply Youth Ministry Conference. Rick is a church leader, consultant to national research organizations and a frequent conference and workshop speaker. He and his family live in Colorado.