The Latest Adolescent Research Has Sweeping Implications for Outdoor Ministry

by | Experiential Teaching & Facilitation, Leadership Development

Mediterranean sea solitude outdoor ministry

I don’t love adventure so much for what I can get out of it, I mainly love it because it humbles me and bends me toward God.

No doubt I love times in the outdoors for the restful times of reflection. But even more, I think the greater value of these times outdoors is that God uses them to make me something. Like the Potter who has a vision for his clay, when I answer the call of God to come meet with him in solitude, I realize that the greatest blessing is how he chooses to shape me through those experiences.

Yet you, Lord, are our Father. We are the clay, you are the potter; we are all the work of your hand. (Isaiah 64:8)

As a youth worker and outdoor leader there is some very interesting research that has come out recently on the adolescent stage of life. It has sweeping implications for outdoor ministry. To use the Potter and Clay analogy, it explains why adolescence is such a “shaping” time in a person’s life. Experiential learning is all about creating an environment where people can be shaped by God through community, adventurous experiences, solitude, etc. As it turns out, the latest adolescent brain research explains that one of the reasons people have so many shaping memories from their adolescence is that the brain’s last period of heightened malleability is during that season of life. Because this is the last window of opportunity for the brain to be so radically shaped, we tend to remember events from our adolescence. This has profound implications for outdoor ministry.

Outdoor adventure is not just about providing fun experiences for people. It is more about creating an environment through experiential learning where God gets our attention and makes us something through the experience. Oswald Chambers said it this way:

We are not made for the mountains, for sunrises, or for the other beautiful attractions in life— those are simply intended to be moments of inspiration. We are made for the valley and the ordinary things of life, and that is where we have to prove our stamina and strength. Yet our spiritual selfishness always wants repeated moments on the mountain. We feel that we could talk and live like perfect angels, if we could only stay on the mountaintop. Those times of exaltation are exceptional and they have their meaning in our life with God, but we must beware to prevent our spiritual selfishness from wanting to make them the only time.

We are inclined to think that everything that happens is to be turned into useful teaching. In actual fact, it is to be turned into something even better than teaching, namely, character. The mountaintop is not meant to teach us anything, it is meant to make us something. (My Utmost for His Highest, October 2nd)

God uses outdoor ministry to make you something. We want to empower others to leave a legacy and a lasting impact on the world by submitting to the anvil of discomfort from time to time. As facilitators we help people realize that the whole time during the experience, as stressful as it may have been, that all that time we were under the Potter’s hand. He wants to make us a vessel for noble purposes.


To understand the profound connections between student ministry in this day and age and outdoor ministry opportunities to shape the character of young people, I recommend you click the link below to read this post: 3 Leadership Qualities that Help You Leave a Lasting Impact . These are the leadership qualities that outdoor leaders also need to nurture to be effective in empowering growth in others.

Share with your friends

What do you think?

Check out the most recent Blog Posts:

Outdoor Leaders ⛰️

Outdoor Leaders ⛰️