The Impact of an Adventure Pastor | by Ashley Denton

Excerpt from Ashley Denton’s book Christian Outdoor Leadership: Theology, Theory and Practice

While walking by the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon (who is called Peter) and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea, for they were fishermen. And he said to them, “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men. (Matthew 4:19)

“When I was twelve years old, the pastor of my church, Doug, invited my dad, me and another friend, Mike, to go on a backpacking trip to the base of Chair Mountain near Marble, Colorado. I could not have been more excited. Days seemed like months as I waited for our big expedition. That warm summer day finally arrived and as we clunked along the four-wheel drive road to the trailhead, I imagined facing mountain lions, dodging rock slides, and spelunking into caves to protect us from the wild splashes of lightning common at that time of the summer. I was ready for adventure!

Near sunset at the end of our first day, after clamoring thousands of feet to the doorway of Buckskin Basin, I saw a beauty I had never before imagined. At the base of cathedral cliffs that seemed to reach to heaven, an opal-blue lake sat like a jewel, quietly reflecting the canvas of the red sky above. Like an orange ball coming to rest on the distant ridge, the sun set. I sat in the quiet, and with every fresh breath of air that filled my little lungs, it was obvious to me that this wild and pristine basin had been created as a place for me to sit and gaze into the Glory of God. “Wow,” I wondered, “Did God have me in mind when he created this alpine wonderland?” It seemed possible that maybe he did. In many ways, this special place, in the seat of Chair Mountain, marked the beginning of my journey with the Lord. Buckskin Basin marks the spot on the map where the Lord imparted a vision in me to do everything I could to help other young people around the world encounter Jesus Christ in the captivating theater of his creation.

The next morning I awoke to the serenity of Buckskin Basin and soon got the lesson of a lifetime. I learned how to fish for native cutthroat trout that day. My dad pulled out a strand of fishing line and tied it to a hook for me. After finishing his cigarette, we tied the butt of that Camel to the fishing line to use it as a bobber and affixed a chunk of cheddar cheese to the hook. With the end of the line wrapped around my hand I catapulted that tangled twine out into the lake with every hope that I would catch something. The cheese barely had a chance to sink below the surface when a wild trout swallowed my bait! We caught our limit that morning with nothing more than that funky but effective little rig my dad set up for me.

One thing you have to know about fishing is how to reel them in. If you pull too hard they’ll get away, but if you give too much slack they’ll spit out the hook. There is a fine balance. The same is true about your audience. (After working in youth and college ministries for more than twenty years, I realize now more than ever that our real challenge today is to capture the attention of young people. Maybe that’s why Jesus used the fishing analogy with Peter. Fish don’t just go out of their way to jump into a net or chomp down on a hook…you have to persuade them.)

One handy trick I’ve found to help keep folks on the line is to give them a glance of what’s ahead so they are convinced it’s worth all the hard work to get to our destination. Another type of reel we commonly see used these days to draw people in is a movie reel. Movie trailers help people decide if the film interests them enough to sit through it. They also give us a preview to the theme so we can follow the story line from the opening scene. The task for you as an outdoor leader is to come up with a movie trailer for your trip. I call these “Anticipatory Sets,” because they help people anticipate what’s coming up to keep them interested in the journey.

As an outdoor leader, you need to know the story you want to present and you need to know your audience. By knowing the outdoor environment, your desired outcomes, your objectives, and your audience, you should be able to thoughtfully write down a short vignette to prep your audience for the content you hope to present to the group throughout the adventure. Making a movie trailer forces the producer to narrow down the message to sixty seconds or so. An anticipatory set forces us to do the same. Being forced to narrow your message down to its most simple and vivid terms, you will most certainly do a better job of shaping and planning your week toward a worthwhile outcome.

Part of what makes teaching as you go more fun and more effective in the wilderness is when you have a crystal clear vision of the primary and secondary objectives you are aiming for. This frees you up to focus on discerning the needs of the group rather than following some manual. In a nutshell, you want to find a variety of ways to give your group a sneak peak into what they are going to do and what they might have an opportunity to learn without giving away all of the surprises. Then design your program to facilitate that learning process.”