Is outdoor ministry more effective for discipleship or evangelism?

by Ashley Denton


“Is Outdoor Ministry Most Effective for Discipleship or Evangelism?”


Answer: BOTH

Jesus Christ spent 3 years with a group of young friends who were all over the map in their spiritual awareness of who Jesus really was.  Some tuned in a little quicker, like Peter, James, and John, and others took a while to be convinced that salvation and abundant life could be only found in Christ, i.e. Thomas. Ironically once Thomas did “get it”, he went further with the gospel than any of the other Apostles eventually making his way all the way to southern India to an area known today as Kerala—he was obviously sold out once he got it.

To put it bluntly outdoor ministry can be a fantastic forum for dialogue with Christians and non-Christians from any religious worldview. The most important thing is to know what your desired outcomes are for your trip. To do this you have to know your audience, but you don’t have to manipulate your audience—just adjust to whomever you have on your trip.  If you have a group of primarily non-Christian young people for example, then you’ll want to help them chew on the Gospel throughout the week. If you have a mixed group or a group of primarily believers, then you can cover themes all over the spectrum, from leadership development, to spiritual formation, etc.  If you’d like some suggestions on some common outdoor ministry outcomes for a variety of audiences, you can check out chapter 6 of my book on Christian Outdoor Leadership and/or download the ABCDE’s of Christian Outdoor Leadership Outcomes & the W.I.L.D.E.R.N.E.S.S. Learning Objectives on the resource page of my website.


How Wilderness Experiences Shape Community 

Remember, that one of the reasons why God used the wilderness to shape and transform people throughout history is because it can be a great leveler!  We’re all on the same playing field once we leave the comforts of civilization for a while. Living in the messy reality of people’s faith questions for a few days helps everyone chill out on their differences in worldviews, and begin to see how great it can be to be open with people regarding their faith, no matter where they stand. If you have confidence in the power of the good news of Jesus, then you can trust that once people get an accurate picture of him, they will realize that he is the most winsome person who has ever walked the face of the earth.

Wilderness by definition is untamed—out of our control. It’s a place where God is in control. That becomes crystal clear the longer you are out there. So whether you have a group of non-believers, believers, or mixed, you can be guaranteed that God will not waste a moment of your time in his Creation.  After hundreds and hundreds of days with groups in the context of outdoor adventure, I am always surprised how God uses his outdoor theater to put on a show and amaze people with his presence. So don’t get caught up in trying to organize a homogenous group unless that just naturally happens for you with a certain group you are reaching out to.  Instead, take comfort that Jesus seemed to like using the terrain of the wilderness and the great leveler of adventure with a diverse group of folks who were all over the map. The main thing is to just get out there with people and let God do the work of opening their eyes to His wild pursuit of their soul—and yours too.

-Ashley Denton

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