In the last ten years, we have seen a rise in outdoor ministries whose initial purpose seems innocent enough. These types of ministries hold a special place for kingdom growth if they have great deal of clarity in thier mission. While I do enjoy seeing outdoor ministries do well and expand their reach, I will also say (at risk of a good deal of ridicule) that it’s ok not to make your love for the outdoors an organized “ministry”.
In a sportsman’s ministry I was previously a part of, we learned this lesson right away. We were hosting an outdoor expo and we were doing everything by the preverbal “Sportsman’s Ministry Handbook”. We had an overwhelming number of people in attendance, and when the speaker, who we spent an enormous amount of time and effort getting to the event took the stage, we were excited. We thought the folks that came were going to get a clear presentation of the gospel and that we would get the chance to follow up with them in the future to discuss this event, and God-willing, a decision to follow Jesus. When the night was over, we knew a lot about the speaker’s hunting show (that never aired anywhere…ever), we saw a lot of really bad, really redundant hunting footage, and we heard a lot about his life experiences. This stink of it was, I guarantee not a single person could have repeated the gospel message from that presentation. We were all devastated.
“How we deal with all of these things will be a reflection of the health of our relationship with Christ.”
The word “ministry” in the Greek basically means “serve”. The implication is that there is a need that needs to be met, and by serving the one with that need, you fill the void that the need presents. Perhaps too often, so-called sportsman’s ministries are created to make a point, set a certain group straight, or even be a form of self-promotion. All of these are antithetical to the basic definition of ministry. None of these go along with the definition of serving anyone to thier benefit or pointing them to Jesus. What we took away from that event was that any well meaning group of people can pull of a really cool sportsman’s event. With the help and backing of a church, it can be a huge outreach to the community too. But without the endgame of connecting with new people and leading them to Christ, we would be better off simply enjoying our hobby and joining in the churches mission some other way.
If you are wondering whether or not to organize a “ministry” that has an emphasis in the outdoors, here are a few things to remember:
1. Clarity is Critical. What audience are you trying to reach? Why are you trying to reach them? Do you actually have a message to share? What is it? How are you going to provide useful information or services for them that will point them to Christ? If someone asked you what your ministry was, could you tell them in one or two sentences?
2. Minister to those around you first. How are you serving the ones you love now? How would you rate the condition of your current relationships? A professor once told an entire class of shiny new ministry students, “Your family is your first ministry.” If we can’t serve those we love and are closest to us now, how will we ever be able to minister to those we may not want to love later? The Lord is more pleased with us when we do a good job of ministering to those around us already, than when we try to minister to someone else and neglect those he has already placed in our care.
3. Do you want a ministry or a hunting team? This question is very specific to our current outdoor culture climate. I have no problem with groups of friends organizing filming teams, hunting groups, and even making clear that they love the Lord as they make a run at being the next big hunting or fishing craze. Go for it! If that’s what you want though, it’s important to not call promotion of yourself a service to your audience. Find a way to provide value and meet the needs of those who follow you. Even then, it doesn’t have to be a “ministry”. JCS wasn’t started with any intent of being a ministry, rather, it evolved into a form of one as its message developed. Be sure to evaluate your goals and motives before reaching out to the public. There are plenty of self-promoters and influencers. Being a useful part of someone’s life is a much bigger challenge and responsibility.
4. Follow Up, Follow Up, Follow Up.
No matter what type of outdoor ministry you are organizing, there is one glaring question that few in your organizing team will want to deal with. How will you follow up with the people you are ministering to? There are few things more frustrating to a pastor than for a church to have an evangelistic event and fail to pursue relationships with the people that came. We should adopt the same mentality with outdoor ministry. We are not in the business of entertainment. When God provides the opportunity to build a relationship with someone through outdoor ministry, it is then our responsibility to grow and maintain that relationship as best we can. Capture information from the folks that come to your ministry events, and follow up.
Putting it all together…
How we deal with all of these things will be a reflection of the health of our relationship with Christ. Are you embittered by a past church experience? Have the politics and practices of being an outdoorsman overshadowed your leadership in the home? Are you using outdoor ministry as a bandage to cover up a wound or as a platform for self-promotion? These things can be indicative of idolatry or another type of sin that needs to be dealt with. Psalm 32:1-2 says, “Blessed is the one whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered. Blessed is the man against whom the Lord counts no iniquity, and in whose spirit there is no deceit.” If you are in Jesus, these misbehaviors are not who you are anymore. Pray for God’s forgiveness and move forward in grace. Then these unique challenges will become blessings to you and those around you.
Continue to pray for clarity as you move forward!