First Third Conversations

Incorporating Adventure Experiences into Your Ministry

Grand CanyonA blog post by Sarah Bane

I was tired, and it was hot. The top of the canyon could have been Mount Everest for all I cared. The last week had tested my grit, and I was ready to be done. I kept asking myself why the hardest day of hiking had to come when I was so physically and emotionally spent. One of my best friends from high school, Kaitlin, had asked me to join her family on a hiking trip through the Grand Canyon. Our itinerary was to hike from the north rim of the Grand Canyon to the south rim over a span of five days.

 By day five, with a nine-mile hike uphill, I faced one of the most mentally and physically challenging experiences to date for my, at the time, 18 year old self. My feet were covered in blisters, I was tired of my perpetual nosebleeds, and in general, I was simply a novice to being “outdoorsy.” But, when I reached the trailhead sign for Bright Angel Trail, the euphoria of accomplishment set in, and it struck me just how transformational my trip with Kaitlin and her family had been.

Though I did not have anyone to help me externally process what had just happened within a theological framework, I can retrospectively see how God was at work through my adventure experience -- molding and shaping me into the woman I am today. It’s experiences like the one I had in the Grand Canyon and countless others, like ropes courses and pilgrimages, that are imperative to the faith formation process. Here are five reasons I recommend incorporating adventure experiences (AE) into your ministry:

1) AE breed community. Faith communities aren’t made up of several individuals vying for their own spiritual enlightenments but rather by people knit together by God’s love for the purpose of serving God and one another.

2) AE provide liminal moments, stripping us of the walls that make us comfortable and that separate us from the abundant life we have in Christ. Distancing ourselves from distraction and simplifying things helps us to see this more clearly.

3) AE are not mutually exclusive to faith formation, nor are they separate from being the church out in the world. God isn’t restricted to the physical structures of church. AE are needed for the church to truly be lived out in the world, because they honor the different ways God can be encountered.

4) God created soul and body. Feeding one but not the other creates imbalance. When AE are woven into faith formation, the entire self is engaged, which allows the Holy Spirit to use our entire capacity.

5) There’s not always a lesson to be learned in the ambiguity of pain and suffering. Life is messy, and as a people constantly living in that mess, we must cling to the discomfort of the “both/and.” AE are opportunities for groups to wrestle with paradoxical thinking and for facilitators to point to the hope in the cross.

As a facilitator, here’s how I’d suggest working with a group (as taught to me by Rev. Dr. Paul Hill  and Sara Larson Woodruff): To achieve a point of confidence and trust within a person, a process of sequencing has to occur. It’s best to start slow and simplified, then work into more challenging elements. Trust is earned, and trying to expedite earning trust can defeat the purpose of an adventure activity. Trying to expedite this can also seriously jeopardize a person’s safety and trust.

Just as important as the AE element is the checking in during the experience  and processing afterward. Developed by Vibrant Faith Ministries, “DRAG BIG,” is a useful tool for gauging the temperature of an AE. It stands for, “Do it; Reflect; Analyze; Generalize; Biblicize; Generalize again.” DRAG BIG articulates an experience within a theological framework and helps communities learn how to use the language of faith in a tangible way. AE work best when they are not wrapped up in coercion. The point of AE are not to scare or endanger someone but to respectfully help people explore their personal edges without having to sacrifice their feelings of safety. When used safely and intentionally, AE empower individuals and communities, while bolstering faith formation.

For more information, check out these books:

Coming of Age by David Anderson, Paul Hill, and Roland Martinson

Girls on the Edge or Boys Adrift by Leonard Sax

Spark by John Ratey

Sarah BaneAuthor Bio:
I’m Sarah, and it’s good to know you! A little bit about me: I love singing, being outside, and thinking about how the first third of life integrates into the whole life of the church. I recently graduated from Luther Seminary and will join Shepherd of the Valley’s (Apple Valley, Minn.) Youth Ministry team at the end of July.

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