Dilemma: Many Outdoor Facilitators – Too Few Outdoor Ministry Builders

For which of you, intending to build a tower, does not sit down first and count the cost, whether he has enough to finish it— (Luke 14:28)

We need more outdoor facilitators to step up and become outdoor ministry builders.

We need more outdoor facilitators to step up and become outdoor ministry builders.

This post offers some challenge for the faith-based outdoor industry, so I want to make sure that my motivation is clear. My motive for writing this is missional. I see alot of gifted people with immense training and giftedness who I believe have more to offer, especially in the realm of starting new organizations or ministries. Like Kurt Hahn, and Paul Petzoldt, I believe we are in a time where we need more excellent facilitators stepping out with dreams to start new organizations or ministries that can serve hundreds and thousands. That is my heart’s motivation for writing this post. AND, if anyone who reads this wants to step out, take a risk, and start an outdoor ministry in your church, your city, state, or nation, then please call or email me and I will support you or help you find other people to support you as much as I’m able.


It isn’t easy learning how to be an outdoor facilitator, but it is achievable .  Anyone who is willing to learn the skills, gain competency, and get some field experience can do it. Yet a culture like ours with a glut of “facilitators” doesn’t really get much accomplished for the next generation. What our world needs is more leaders who are willing to do the harder work of building something; something that will last and something that will involve armies of volunteers or employ dozens of people to accomplish a task. Builders create growth through multiplication. Facilitators foster growth through addition. Multiplication is harder but way more productive.

I see this happening in our culture where people are striving to be the expert. Don’t get me wrong, there’s nothing wrong with pursuing excellence, but I believe we are in a time where we need more people assessing their level of expertise and saying, “Okay that’s enough I’m going to take the risk to step out and start a ministry or outdoor program that can multiply my talent and giftedness by empowering many others.”


Builders use their experience and abilities to make something. The create stuff. They have a vision or dream and are willing to do the excruciatingly hard work of starting up something that they can eventually pass on to others.  In our information age, too many people are just passing around information and too few people are taking the information and going into their workshop to make something of it.

I see this not only in the widely noted wane of innovation and inventiveness in western culture, but I also see this in ministry circles. Churches are full of people who are oozing with giftedness, but too few are stepping up to say, “I have an idea, I’ll lead this, I’ll help build a ministry to address x, y,or z in my community.” I want to challenge anyone reading this post to think about this deeply. Are you just trying to become a “facilitator” that stands on the perimeter waiting to shoot a 3 pointer, or are you aiming at driving the lane for the bread and butter lay-ups that will really build something that will outlive you? Maybe you are called to start an outdoor ministry team in your church to serve all the other ministries. Maybe you are called to go out with a team and help plant a new church in an unreached community. We need leaders who will commit to building things… we don’t need more people who aspire to being an expert on something to help others learn critical thinking skills. We have too many people trying to do that and too few people rolling up their sleeves and turning information and education into a real foundation that something can be built on.


I love the concept of “facilitation” in outdoor ministry because it represents an important skill that helps people get the most out of an experience. And there are many instructors out there who have really mastered these skills. Yet how many of these “facilitators” would actually impact more people if they transitioned from a season of “facilitation” and embarked into a season of “initiation?” Kurt Hahn did this when he took his skills and experiences in facilitating experiential learning with young people and then asked a much bolder question about how he could maximize his impact. The result: he started the Expeditionary Learning School which later became Outward Bound. Paul Petzoldt loved facilitating outdoor leadership development with students but eventually saw the need to build an institution that could serve thousands more than he could ever serve on his own. Voila—the National Outdoor Leadership School was born.


What about Faith-based outdoor leaders? I believe the next trend we are going to see is young men and women in their churches finally catching on to the fact and reality that with a bit of training and commitment, they could actually launch a top-notch outdoor ministry program that is church-based. I think today’s camps and adventure ministries will continue to grow, but the real growth will be through Jesus-loving social entrepreneurs who love Christ, the outdoors, and adventure, and are willing to do the very hard (but eternally rewarding) work of stepping out to say, “I’ll lead this thing. I’ll set it up! I”ll take the initiative and build a new ministry that will serve all of the ministries of our church by taking people outdoors to experience Jesus through adventure and experiential learning. Sign me up, I’ll build it! I won’t just help lead a great trip or two, but I’ll commit to starting this ministry from scratch and building a foundation for generations to enjoy the fruit of encountering Jesus in the outdoors.”

RELATED POST: Outdoor Ministry Start Up Kit


If you haven’t had a chance to read my book, Christian Outdoor Leadership yet, I want to share one of the concluding paragraphs which I think communicates what I believe needs to happen and is going to happen as people catch on to the need for more Builders rather than Facilitators:

I encourage leaders who resonate with this style of ministry and its relevance to youth ministry and other kinds of ministries to view your self as a stepping stone, like the early pioneers who discovered America did. They saw themselves as servants laying a foundation for future generations to walk on….

In the imagery of Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King, the signal fire above Minas Tirith has been lit to call for support from the warriors of Rohan at a crucial time. If you feel called to Christian outdoor leadership in a small or large way, I invite you to light a signal fire in your church or organization to give people a vision for a more experiential approach to ministry. May you be part of a string of signal fires stretching across both hemispheres to put in motion a massive return to Jesus’ shoulder-to-shoulder style of adventurous, experiential, and relational evangelism.


If you would like to throw your hand in the middle of the huddle and join those who are committed to Build something and not being satisfied with only being a facilitator, the…

  • Email me
  • Sign up for my weekly newsletter to be encouraged
  • Forward this post to a like-minded friend
  • Or give me a call (my number is on my weekly newsletters). I’d love to urge you toward this noble task.

RELATED POSTS: 7 Tips for Successfully Launching a Church-Based Outdoor Ministry , 7 Reasons Why Church Based Outdoor Ministry is Taking Off