Spiritual Motivation for Risk Management in Outdoor Leadership

by | Leadership Skills, Program Management

risk management

My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. -John 10:27


Do we love adventure for what we get out of it, or do we love it because it bends us more toward dependency on God?

Leading others in the outdoors safely and effectively requires risk management (hard skills to protect your group), but even more importantly, it demands having a shepherd-like heart. I have three stories to illustrate this point:

  • A story from guiding a group of CEOs from the Young President’s Organization
  • A story from the Prophet Jeremiah
  • An unforgettable moment between Jesus Christ and his Disciple Peter.


I remember guiding a father-son trip for the Young Presidents Organization. I was a bit intimidated because each of the fathers on the trip were all highly capable CEOs and Presidents of some very large companies. I was young and new to guiding, so I just did my best to serve each of the folks on our trip in simple ways, and by facilitating special times for each of the fathers and sons to spend meaningful time together in the wilderness. Then what happened during this trip completely took me off guard. Every morning as I awoke around 5 a.m. to boil water for coffee and hot cocoa to soften the blow of the cold morning air, I went to get the pots to fill them and they were already full. Someone had filled them for me. One morning I woke up a bit earlier and noticed that one of the men who was a president of a large Leerjet company was walking off toward the stream with pots in hand. He had been quietly serving us without drawing any attention to himself. This man truly had a shepherd’s heart. I quietly watched the rest of the week as many things “got done” that no one else noticed, but I did. This man loved to serve.

RELATED POST: Servant in the Shadows | Acts of Service Create a Culture of Christ


The prophet Jeremiah lived during a time when God’s people had been misled and neglected by careless leaders. Yet in the midst of this treacherous vacuum of godly leadership, Jeremiah offered these words of hope. It is a challenge to leaders of all kinds:

Then I will give you shepherds after my own heart, who will lead you with knowledge and understanding. (Jeremiah 3:15) 

God saw this and out of his grace raised up new leaders. These leaders would be first committed to Him. They would have the right heart. Then from of the outflow of their relationship with God they would lead others unselfishly with knowledge and understanding. People are desperate for these kinds of leaders.

RELATED POST: 2 Things Outdoor Leaders Can Learn from the Hebrew Prophets 


What we learn from the Gospels is that true love is expressed in the comprehensive care and protection of Jesus’ flock. Risk management is another way of saying comprehensive care for our group. This is what shepherds do. We manage appropriate risk with our groups because we see ourselves as a shepherd and we love the sheep we are entrusted to lead.

We are leading people through vulnerable scenarios in the wilderness, and they are relying on us to care for them and hold over them a mantle of protection. Shepherd-like leaders must take seriously their spiritual responsibility as Jesus fulfilled his role as the Good Shepherd: “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.” That is extreme.

To drive the point home even further, while preparing Peter for the leadership, Jesus spoke these words:

Again Jesus said, “Simon son of John, do you truly love me?’ He answered, ‘Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.’ Jesus said, ‘Take care of my sheep.’ (John 21:16)

One thing that has stood out to me as I observe leaders all over the world is that those leaders who have a shepherd’s heart are the ones who others are following. People generally struggle to follow leaders who lead out of their “position” of leadership. But when a leader truly humbles themselves to serve and use their influence and authority to build others up—not taking the credit for it, but giving credit to others… these are the leaders people are looking for. And Jesus is the perfect model of this kind of leadership. He was the King, he was the Master, and yet he humbled himself before the Father always giving Him glory. This is what shepherd leaders do, they comprehensively care for their sheep, they don’t care who gets the credit, and they give God the glory.


The next time you organize an outdoor pursuit or wilderness excursion with your family or friends, intentionally make the effort in your planning and facilitation to go above and beyond the call of duty to comprehensively care for those you are leading. When considering how to manage risk, remember to approach risk management like a shepherd would lead his sheep, and you’ll not only make better decisions, but you’ll also provide an example for others to follow.


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