First Third Conversations

Ministry in the Outdoors

ImageA blog post by Jesse Weiss

Often, when we realize that we need to make changes in programming or other ministry-related endeavors, the tendency is to search for ways to change in places that might be more complicated than they need to be. Change is good, but we can be overcome with new curriculum, new worship styles, new schedules, etc. Instead, I’m going to throw out a relatively simple change that I think can make a deep impact youth and adults: embracing creation theology in ministry or, in other words, going outside.

  1. There is a practical application for creation theology -- we can experience and understand God in new and unique ways when we go outside. Through creation God is revealed as being relational by nature. God’s intricate creation of humanity and the ongoing support of humanity through the rest of creation show us that it is God who initiates a life-giving relationship with us.
  2. When we go outside, we give space for youth and adults to realize this essential nature of their relationship with God. The outdoors is a tool for exploring the ways in which God is working in their lives. Here are three ways that I think an interaction with creation theology brings us into a deeper relationship with God:
  3. God utilizes the nonhuman aspects of creation to serve God and humanity. For instance, in Exodus 15, when God shows Moses a piece of wood that will make the bitter waters of Marah sweet, nonhuman elements of creation are being used to recreate and sustain. Through outdoor experiences we can experience this aspect of God in our own lives -- that God uses creation to heal, serve, recreate, and so on.  

We can also turn to the nonhuman aspects of creation to be a vehicle through which God is revealed to humanity. The Psalms give many accounts of when “God is accompanied by fire and smoke, covered by darkness and clouds, supported by the wings of the wind, surrounded by lightning, and enveloped by the clouds."1Putting this in the context of worship, we don’t just go outside for ambiance; we go outside because God is reveled in different ways than inside the four walls and ceiling of a sanctuary. In the outdoors, wonder and awe are brought into the worship experience.  

Nonhuman aspects of creation can also serve as metaphor and speak of ways in which God relates to the world for the purpose of deeper theological understanding. Biblically, God is described as light, water, rock, fire, wind, eagle, lion, etc. We can sit inside a classroom and hear about these metaphors, or we can go outside and experience them firsthand. These metaphors of God can become tangible realities and allow youth and adults to see, touch, and experience what God is being related to, thereby deepening their understanding of God.

This interaction with creation theology is one of the foundations of the philosophy of “organized” outdoor ministry. Bringing youth and adults in touch with the nonhuman aspects of creation for the purpose of deepening their relationship with God happens in very powerful ways through camp. However, we don’t need to spend a week at camp or on a backcountry canoeing trip to be in touch with creation. We simply need to go outside. In the life of the congregation, this means finding opportunities to ditch the Sunday School classroom, the fellowship hall, or the sanctuary for the outdoors.

The great thing about the outdoors is that it’s everywhere. When I was growing up, we’d have our VBS crafts under a tent in the cemetery. You can utilize a lawn or parking lot. You can walk down the street to a park. It’s a simple change, but it can have a deep impact.

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From Terri Martinson Elton, “Cultivating a Consequential Faith in a Consumer-Driven World: From Object to Subject to Agent,” in the The Missional Church Consultation (Luther Seminary, St. Paul, MN. 2011)

Jesse WeissAuthor Bio:
Jesse Weiss is the Program Director at Luther Point Bible Camp in Grantsburg, Wisconsin. He graduated from Luther Seminary with a Master of Arts in Congregational Mission and Leadership in 2012. He is passionate about outdoor ministry and how this ministry can encourage people to be active in God’s mission in the world.

 

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