Christian Outdoor Leadership: Theology, Theory, and Practice

Notes and Highlights From: Christian Outdoor Leadership: Theology, Theory, and Practice, by Denton, Ashley

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But young people are our future. Those of us who are a bit older and further along in the journey are called to serve as stepping stones for these young pioneers to make them ready to set sail into our communities and the rest of the world with fresh ideas and vision. For them to do this, however, they need the confidence and competence to meet the pressing needs of our hurting world.

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“People don’t care what you know unless they know that you care.”

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When Jesus taught his disciples he did so mostly in real dynamic settings that were in a constant state of flux. From what we can tell, his stories and illustrations were not usually contrived to just make a point, but rather he crafted his teaching to sow seeds of life into people’s hearts in the context of a real experience the audience was either currently experiencing, or had recently experienced. Their frame of reference was genuine and fresh.

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It is widely accepted today that learning increases as stress and tension increase. In other words, our senses are more keenly involved in the learning process as we’re pushed out of our comfort zone.

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[There is] encouraging empirical support for the philosophy of stress-inoculation training as implemented in an Outward Bound program. The cutting edge of challenge, it seems, can and does make people stronger, particularly when the salve of social support is applied.[ 19]

Introduction: Five Smooth Stones of Wilderness Theology
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He chose a group of young people to turn the world upside down, he used the wilderness as his primary classroom, and he employed adventure to produce radical commitment toward his mission.

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God often allowed fearful circumstances to test belief in his followers to show them nothing was too difficult for him to do on their behalf.

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wilderness is any place where the natural creation dominates the landscape, thus distant enough from civilization where one’s senses ascertain he or she is more influenced by the forces of nature rather than the comforts of civilization.

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Our adventure-loving God pulled out all the stops to ensure the Hebrew people would have forever ingrained into their community the knowledge of him and the path to eternal salvation through him alone. When the stakes were high, the wilderness was one of God’s favorite instruments to ensure that permanent community transformation took place. There is no reason to think this is not still true today.

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James also reminds us that, as inconvenient as they are, trials are not all that bad because they actually increase our endurance and refine our desires to be aligned with what the Spirit of God desires (see James 1: 2-3; Galatians 5: 17-18). Wilderness experiences teach us what we ought to desire—God.

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Matthew records that when Jesus needed to grieve and process the death of John the Baptist, “He withdrew from there in a boat to a secluded place by himself; and when the people heard of this, they followed him on foot from the cities” (Matthew 14: 13). We all need a secluded place from time to time.

Chapter 1 Tempo
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One of the more striking patterns of Jesus’ life was his rhythm. The tempo he modeled for his disciples was remarkably simple. The movement of his ministry song was composed of two basic strands. He began with rest, reflection, and retreat with the Father. Then from this peaceful garden of communion with the Heavenly Father, he launched out like a cup overflowing into the Palestinian cities, towns, and villages with incredible capacity for the hard work to which he was called.

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Israel often began well, but did not finish well. Ouch! Sometimes I see that pattern in my life as well—how about you? Wilderness adventures are a sure way to challenge one’s propensity to give up when the going gets rough.

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Yet in the encouraging environment of community we persevere and endure what we started, learning that the rewards for perseverance are always worth it in God’s economy.

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When we lead groups of people in the wilderness, we typically live in tents for several days, and sometimes a whole week. There are practical and theological reasons for doing this, such as remembering our dependence on God in every way. It is significant for the Jews that the Festival of Booths is annual and lasts for a week. One would not have the same experience at a Hagha-Sukkot festival if he were sleeping in the comforts of his home at night and just playing games in his tent during the day. And the same is true for people enjoying the wilderness. There is something special about having extended time in makeshift accommodations that forges trust in God. I say this tongue in cheek, but think about this: It’s actually a biblical idea to plan an annual weeklong camping trip with your family or friends! Don’t feel guilty for taking time off to make this happen—it’s biblical!

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I need to remember these moments when I walk through some of the more difficult ravines of my normal daily routine—in the valley below. Hardly anything lives on the mountaintop because the environment is too harsh for creatures to thrive. Life is lived in the valley, but times of perspective on the mountain are designed to carve landmarks of perspective into our memory, which can fuel new hope as we journey in the valleys below.

Chapter 2 Timing & Terrain
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Yes, learning from the wilderness metaphor teaches us something, but journeying in the wilderness makes us something. God is more interested in making and remaking, sanctifying and growing men and women.

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During much of the year the Jordan River is a mere trickle of water, but at this time of the year melting snows from the northern mountains were causing the Jordan to overflow its banks. This was no little stream, and there was no bridge. Why didn’t God choose the dry season to bring them across the river? The text explains he chose this setting and timing to amaze them—to transform them.

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Mountains have always been a special terrain for God encounters. When the Israelites finally arrived at Sinai, God called Moses to climb the mountain to meet with him:

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In case after case, mountains mentioned in the Bible provide awesome vistas for those who climbed them to see God more clearly for who he is. And climbing them today still affords a majestic setting for recognizing Christ’s authority over all.

Chapter 3 Trials
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Trials expose the reality of our humanity and the inadequacy of our worship. In the Garden of Gethsemane Jesus stated to the twelve, “The spirit is willing but the flesh is weak” (Mark 14: 32-42). In the same way that squeezing a sponge reveals what’s soaked inside of it, difficult trials squeeze out the truth about ourselves and make us honest about what’s in our heart. This makes us more authentic and opens the door to experiencing abundant life through reliance on the Spirit rather than our own strength.

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Jesus also tests the twelve at the feeding of the five thousand, which occurred in a remote setting (see John 6: 1-15).

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After the miracle of the five thousand being fed, there was obvious intentionality in the way Jesus sent his disciples immediately out on a wilderness-type experience on the lake. How was he intentional? First, Jesus sent the disciples on ahead of him. They were on their own. They were going to have to go through this storm without him. Outdoor leaders can simulate this by sending the group ahead without them to give a chance to feel the weight of responsibility.

Chapter 6 Results
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S –Scenarios This learning objective focuses on critical thinking, decision-making, and discerning the will of God. How to make sound decisions for survival or for charting a vocational path varies from person to person. But in most cases, developing an ability to process environmental conditions, group needs, and biblical wisdom to make a sensible decision involves handling four types of knowledge: 1) Knowing what to do, 2) Knowing how to do it, 3) Knowing when to do something, and 4) Knowing why to do it. If there was ever a need for this generation, it is to help people throw off the shackles of decision-paralysis so they can do something with their lives in the full freedom of Christ. Especially in the developed world, our younger generation has had many things handed to them, and, as a result, hasn’t learned how to weigh decisions and assertively decide a good moral direction to glorify God. The wilderness offers a veritable cornucopia of decision-making scenarios.