British Antarctic explorer Sir Ernest Shackleton placed this recruiting advertisement in London newspapers in 1900 in preparation for the National Antarctic Expedition:
INDIVIDUALS WANTED FOR HAZARDOUS JOURNEY. Small wages, bitter cold, long months of complete darkness, constant danger, safe return doubtful. Honor and recognition in case of success.
That’s not exactly the most glamorous recruiting advertisement is it? Shackleton wasn’t interested in getting a lot of responses, he just wanted to find those who were really ready to take on a demanding challenge. Although one might think that an advertisement like this would drive people away, amazingly, Shackleton said:
It seemed as though [everyone] in Great Britain [was] determined to accompany him, the response was so overwhelming.
WHY DO PEOPLE SIGN UP FOR UNCERTAINTY?
Why is it that so many people responded to this opportunity? Why would they sign up when challenges and danger were basically guaranteed? I think it’s because deep within us (and especially youth), we know that anything really worthwhile is costly. Danger and risk are par for the course with adventure, otherwise it isn’t really adventure is it?
When Jesus commissioned his disciples to follow him, he also didn’t candy coat what that meant. He said,
Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you. (John 20:21)
That’s saying a lot if you consider “how Jesus was sent.” He was sent into a sinful world to live a life of service and sacrifice ultimately ending in his death by crucifixion for the sins of the world. Following Christ is probably more like Shackleton’s adventure than we care to admit: “Small wages, bitter cold, long months of complete darkness, constant danger, safe return doubtful. Honor and recognition in case of success.” And why would we expect to have life any different from Jesus? Jesus actually answers this question in the parable of the Unworthy Servant:
Will any one of you who has a servant plowing or keeping sheep say to him when he has come in from the field, ‘Come at once and recline at table’? Will he not rather say to him, ‘Prepare supper for me, and dress properly, and serve me while I eat and drink, and afterward you will eat and drink’? Does he thank the servant because he did what was commanded? So you also, when you have done all that you were commanded, say, ‘We are unworthy servants; we have only done what was our duty.’ (Luke 17:7-10)
I am challenged and encouraged in a couple of ways looking at Shackleton’s recruiting strategy, and Jesus’ “advertisement”, if you will, for what it means to follow him.
1. OUTDOOR PURSUITS MODEL WHAT DISCIPLESHIP LOOKS LIKE ON JESUS’ TERMS
Outdoor pursuits are SO beneficial, especially to young people, as a way to get the flavor of what following Christ is really going to be like: the adventure is absolutely abundant and sweet, but the conditions may be sparse, challenging, and downright uncomfortable. Welcome to discipleship on Jesus’ terms!
2. TRY HIGHLIGHTING THE “UNCERTAINTY” OF ADVENTURE IN YOUR OUTDOOR MINISTRY MARKETING
When we “market” our outdoor ministry to our churches or to groups that we want to attend our camps, we may do well to highlight how difficult and challenging they will be. Highlight the uncertainty of the adventure, after all that is what adventure is–no guarantees. Then if you must, throw your audience a bone in your advertisements that, “in case of success,” the reward will be sweet. I wonder if we marketed our outdoor ministry like Shackleton did, if we wouldn’t start seeing our doors knock down with ready participants who are hungry for REAL adventure?