In my earlier post, 3 Perspectives On Christian Outdoor Leadership Jobs, we argued that the time is ripe for outdoor ministries to start popping up in local churches because it meets profound needs that are relevant to our culture today. We also asserted that one of the next bubbles that might pop in this generation is the leadership bubble. Where are the upcoming leaders? There are genuine concerns about the commitment, maturity, and resilience of our upcoming younger leaders. And for this reason, outdoor leadership and adventure ministries are tools that I believe will be embraced widely by the church to shape and harden the next generation of younger leaders who have been pampered and insulated from responsibility.


I’m a student of history, so I know this is not a new problem, unique to our day. But I do believe that a pendulum has swung way too far toward comfort and ease, which does not fare well in developing leaders. I know as a parent that if I make everything easy for my kids, when they go off into the world, they will be rudely awakened. Today we have a large percentage of our younger generation too afraid to launch. Their parents and mentors have not been bold enough to push them out of the nest. This will soon lead to a leadership crisis. And this crisis will force a change when the church realizes that it still needs leaders, yet its leaders are cowered in the foxholes rather than storming the hill on the front lines.

Some people think they are in community, but they are only in proximity. True community requires commitment… —David Spangler


To be ahead of the game and avoid a leadership crisis, any church must address what it is doing to develop leaders among the next generation. I contend that especially student ministries that focus on building resilience and toughness into our young people today will not only be around tomorrow, but they will be the flagships that we need… these will be the churches and mission communities that will be sailing out ahead of the fleet showing others the way.

The intent of this post is not to defend the biblical support for outdoor adventure ministries… if you’d like to read more about that, you can read my book, Christian Outdoor Leadership: Theology, Theory, and Practice. Instead the point I want to make in this post is that ministries of all shapes and sizes are going to be looking for more experiential approaches to ministry in the coming decades. So we will need more people who are competent and comfortable using outdoor adventure as a ministry tool.

RELATED POST: Don’t Whine, Just Adapt | How the Outdoors Teaches Us How to Adapt to Changing Conditions

Stay tuned for my next post in this series on outdoor ministry jobs. In the next post we will explore both vocational and volunteer opportunities in Christian outdoor leadership.


  • Have a look at my Recommended Outdoor Programs List and see some of the colleges, camps, and church-based outdoor ministry programs that are leading the way in providing models for effective adventure ministry to today’s generation.

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.


  1. It is easy to see that in our culture today Millennials have a sense of entitlement that prevents leadership. It is a temptation to blame them for their issues with entitlement, but I would contend that we must take pause when doing this. In the generation that they were raised by, there seems to be an anxiety surrounding parenting that is demonstrated by participation awards, newly discovered food sensitivities, and political correctness. We work so hard to make everything “equal” for our students that we forget that God does not promise us that life will be fair and oftentimes we learn the most from perceived inequalities. Rather than sheltering our young people, we need to shepherd them. Shepherding involves pushing to engage them in their “inequalities.” What can they learn? How are they growing? Can the problem be solved? if not, how can they cope with it? We need to encourage creativity and problem solving, rather than approaching unfairness with fear and contempt. As we push students to engage we will develop leaders who can solve problems creatively without become defeated, complacent, or entitled.

  2. I think that Alan hits on a great point in that fear may be a bigger driving force in Christian leadership today. I know, because I was always of the mindset that if I could fail it wasn’t worth the risk to take on a new challenge. I have since come to know and understand that the opposite is true. The problem that I have noticed in Christian leadership now is the notion that someone else is going to mess up their plans and what they want to do. By doing so, they hinder spiritual growth and cripple not the next generation of leaders but also their own spiritual growth. It is important to remember that it is God’s ministry and that he will provide for what he wants to do in it. We just have the privilege of going along for the ride.

    I agree that the church today does a pretty poor job of raising up and training the next generation of leaders because we don’t understand the biblical model that Jesus has given us. Going into the wilderness to develop leadership is critical but not the only avenue for leadership development. Part of it comes with the understanding that anyone can be a leader, even the troublemaker in the youth group that doesn’t think they have any influence on those around them. The difficulties that Church leaders face is what Alan pointed to as the growing consumerism among church goers and the mentality that the church is there to serve them, not the other way around. How amazing it would be to see a church that the members had the mentality that they were there to serve and use their gifts as God intended!

    I also agree with Melissa that we do not give our students the opportunities to lead like we should. Its important that we give them those opportunities to lead but also allow them to fail because that is where real learning happens. Failure is always an option because we know that God doesn’t make mistakes and loves to work through our weaknesses and failures to bring about spiritual growth and build up the kingdom. Fear can be a healthy thing in the right situation, but when fear paralyzes us and keeps us from stepping out of the boat to meet Jesus on the water, or even when we are on the water, we will not experience the life that God intended for us to experience. The important thing to remember is that God is bigger than our fears and that he will always provide the things and people needed for his ministry in this world.

  3. You seem to suggest that the lack of leadership growth in the church (and society at large) is due to a trend towards “comfort and ease,” but I think your later discussion on fear may be the larger driving force. While consumerism is still on the rise, which drives the busyness that fills much of life, fear prevents opportunities to take risks and experience life. I’m not suggesting that we throw caution to the wind and jump headfirst into every possible adventure, but we cannot remain locked away in a protective bubble for all of life. Parents, due to their own lack of confidence, overextended schedules, and acceptance of media hype, are hesitant to allow their children to be children, which could affect a church’s outdoor ministry vision. Whether outdoor ministry is first used to reach the parents, or is an effort to reach families simultaneously, to be fully effective it needs to be more than focused on just the next generation. Breaking the bonds of fear over living life must be addressed, more than just looking at this as a comfort-driven issue.

    I agree with Melissa that we don’t provide enough opportunities for kids to lead. Or when we do, they are too contrived to allow for any chance of failure. We often learn more from failure than we do success, so there needs to be an opportunity to experience both. We should not be so fearful that our children may experience the pain of failure that we prevent the opportunity from even being possible. At some point, they will move beyond the protective bubble and experience some sort of failure in life, and they need to have learned how to deal with it. Kids have much more ability to lead than we often give them credit for, so adults need to work on doing less for them, and work more towards teaching them through their successes and failures.

    The church has a long way to go to counter the social trend that has for so long constrained its leadership-growth potential. Outdoor ministry is one tool that can be used, but its focus needs to remain holistic over the whole body of the church and avoid a tendency to just focus on the younger crowd. By reaching the larger body as a whole, the younger generations will benefit even more but seeing leadership in action beyond just the time spent on an outdoor experience.

  4. I completely agree that teaching kids to be leaders is important not only for their personal character, but for the sake of those around them and even for how they view themselves in relation to God. I would argue that all of us are called to lead something, in some way… but if we don’t enter into that then we will never be who were created to be, learn, grow, and be in the places of influence that the Lord has for us. So much of my ability and confidence to lead now has been grown out of leadership practice I have been entrusted with and because people poured their time and energy into me.

    I see the need and value of outdoor ministry in this conversation, obviously. But what do you think we can do in the Church beyond outdoor ministry? One thing I see in youth culture today is that actually it’s not that kids don’t want to lead or learn how to lead — it’s that we don’t give kids the freedom to lead. And we don’t take our leadership serious enough. Once a week contact for an hour is not enough. We have to truly disciple people. Within that, if we don’t encourage them to lead, they won’t learn to do so. Beyond that, even when we do allow them to lead, we don’t really trust them with it. There is too much micromanagement and too little challenge to todays youth.

    If we want them to learn how to lead, we have to let them practice – which means we have to be okay with their failure, we have to learn how to guide them, and we have to be able to trust and empower them. Perhaps that is through a process of discipleship where we trust them to lead one person and then to lead a small group, or we trust them with a part of the service, or we put them over a ministry. Certainly we don’t abandon them but we have to actually give them things to lead, in safe confines, before we will ever see them grow into leaders. We should approach this expectantly and prayerfully, and look around at us to see who those individuals are that we can journey alongside for the longterm so that they grow into the leaders of the church tomorrow.

  5. Hey Ashley, you probably have answered this in your Christian Outdoor leadership book, but in the resilience and toughness that needs to be incorporated in the next generation of leaders, are there certain qualities that you have seen to really grow in those who have just started to taste the outdoors and build that resilience and toughness?

  6. great post.  raising up the next generation of leaders is one of the hardest things to do when our focus is only on what is happening right now.  thanks for stretching us by forcing us to look beyond today and seek the vision that God has for us tomorrow.

    •  Hey Matt, thanks so much for your comments and your wisdom! It is great to be in the same battle with like-minded leaders!

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