Having spent 26 years leading Christian wilderness ministry, some of my favorite metaphors come from the world of adventure and experiential education. Whitewater rafting provides us with some truths that translate well to ministry and how we can endure turbulent scenes and seasons in our ministries.
How many of these rafting principles can you apply to your ministry team’s experience?
Rapid Transit: Ten Things We Can Learn from Whitewater Rafting
As we guide ministry teams through turbulent times, here are ten things we can learn from whitewater rafting:
Commit to the adventure – A trip down a challenging river with a team that is disgruntled, distracted, and disengaged, is a quick trip to misery and failure. Make sure your team is committed to the cause.
Listen to your guide – Guides know how to analyze a rapid, choose the right line or path to take and then communicate their wisdom to the team through commands. The success of the journey depends on the team’s ability to follow those commands. In ministry, teams know the importance of seeking clarity from their Guide through the Word of God and the guidance of the Holy Spirit. You must listen to your Guide!
Stay in the raft – Turbulence may tempt some team members to abandon their leadership position or seek comfort in a more convenient boat. Remember that you want to come back with the same number of people you started out with.
Be prepared to retrieve your team members if they go overboard – In the more challenging rapids, it is possible for a team member to be thrown from the raft into the water. Immediate action is important so the paddler can be brought back to safety before being harmed. Don’t let your team members float away.
Be alert – It is easy for rafters to become mesmerized by the magnitude of the waves and the power of the water. This may cause team members to stop paddling at a time when their participation is most needed. Just like rafting, in ministry, these are critical moments and demand an “all-in” response.
Paddle in keeping with the desired direction and at the command of the guide –Paddlers will follow different commands as the guide leads the team to run the rapid correctly. Every paddler contributes to the success of the overall journey. Rafters who fail to do so detract from the team’s objective. Stay focused on your responsibility.
Don’t panic – Panic seldom contributes to a desirable outcome during turbulent times. Life’s “rapids” provide us with opportunities to be strong and courageous (Joshua 1:6-7, 9). Turbulent times give ministry teams an opportunity to shine.
Constantly evaluate your circumstances – Wise raft guides always keep an eye on what is ahead. Here’s a word of advice should you ever decide to paddle a stretch of river you have never paddled before: If you hear a roar around the bend ahead of you, get your raft to the shore immediately and check out that sound – it could be a waterfall! Wise rafters, like wise ministry teams, plan for the future by trying to get a glimpse of what’s coming.
Always move faster than the water in the rapid – Experienced boaters know the importance of making sure the raft is going faster than the flow of water when you enter a rapid. If you are going slow, the river controls the raft. Rapids are run successfully if you have the proper line (path) and speed (power) so that you “power through” the chaos. Ministry teams find success when they are not controlled by their circumstances and the conditions within the culture around them.
Expect more rapids – it’s just part of the environment – Like whitewater rafting, Christian ministry is a combination of turbulent times followed by periods of calm. Thank God for the relief but be prepared for the next rapid around the bend.
Your JBA staff is available to assist you as your team continues to minister in the chaos. Paddle on!