Dr. Doug Self, a pastor at The Orchard Church in Carbondale, CO, uses outdoor adventure to foster men’s ministry. He shares details from one particular outdoor trip on how men are drawn into scripture, relationship with each other, and with God.
Living on the Western Slope of Colorado we’re never very far from adventure. While pastoring the Orchard church in Carbondale, I wanted to engage men of our church and community in something beyond Sunday morning church. So, twice a year, I take 8-10 guys camping in remote areas of Colorado and Utah. The guys come self-contained for camping. They take their own gear, food, equipment and of course Bibles.
MEMORIZING SCRIPTURE AND ASCENDING A MOUNTAIN
We start off climbing Courthouse Mountain together. Before we start our ascent, I have the guys write down the first verse from a passage we’ve chosen for the week: 2 Peter 1:3-8:
Confirming One’s Calling and Election
His divine power has given us everything we need for a godly life through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness. Through these he has given us his very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature, having escaped the corruption in the world caused by evil desires. For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; and to godliness, mutual affection; and to mutual affection, love. For if you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.
We stand at the trailhead and memorize verse 3 on the first day. We read the verse together, out loud several times, and then repeat it while not looking at the card. I taunt these grown men that memorizing, internalizing and implementing Scripture is a greater challenge than climbing up the mountain. There is some groaning and grumbling, but it’s a friendly competition to be able to say the verse word for word when asked by anyone at any time during the week. As we ascent I hear them mumbling the words of the verse under their breath! Courthouse Mountain is a butt busting haul. It is steep but rewarding with incredible views and we feel a sense of accomplishment together when we summit.
RELATIONSHIPS AMONG MEN DEEPEN AT CAMP
Back at camp, grueling hikes are often punctuated with gunfire (as we find safe targets, rocks, trees, with backstops). We relax and informally debrief the day while enjoying choice brews and cigars. Worship music provides a background to the conversation. After dinner we watch the sunset on the peaks of the upper basin and life stories begin to flow. It starts off light with lots of bragging about exploits and accomplishments, but I carefully guide the conversation toward the important stuff of a man’s life. Stories of growing up, dad issues, teen years, ideas about, and experiences with God, marriage, family and financial issues all come up around the campfire. Often a heart wrenching story of abuse, failure or disappointment comes out in the safety of the campfire. Spontaneously men gather around the guy who shared his hurt and wrap our hand around his shoulder, offering up words of prayer for him.
GOD SPEAKS AS MEN LISTEN
Lying snuggled in a warm bag in the chill mountain air, each guy contemplates the day, the miles hiked, verses, and lessons learned. In the morning, after sunrise and camp breakfast (of bacon and eggs, coffee), we gather to discuss insight from the verse we memorized the day before. Each guy goes off by himself for an hour of time alone with the Bible or a Christian book and God. We share about realizations we’ve had while focusing on God’s Word in the midst of His majestic world. Then, we write down and memorize the next verse of our passage. It gets richer each day as we complete memorizing, meditating on, reciting and discussing a whole chunk of Scripture.
A LOOK SAYS IT ALL
By the end of the week, each guy has hiked and crushed summits that would stop most guys in their tracks. We’ve fired off boxes of ammo and fired up premium cigars. We’ve told and heard stories most guys have never told anyone else before. We’ve found camaraderie in our common masculine failures and faults. We’ve gotten a handle on how to navigate challenges we face. We’ve gained wisdom from each other on trusting God in difficult spiritual battles. Plus, we each have a passage of the Bible committed to memory that we take back home with us along with new and deeper friendships. A look and a nod at church on Sundays will acknowledge the outdoor ordeal we’ve experienced together.