Yesterday was our free day for hiking and such. But it seems to me like more ministry happens when we’re not “in session” (i.e. organized group activities). Singing, teaching, and leading small group discussions are great. But sometimes, it also helps for things to sift and settle in more organic conversations.
I joined a group that decided to do a more ambitious hike. Our destination was the top of the third-highest peak in the Great Smoky Mountains: Mount Le Conte. On the way up the mountain, I had a great conversation with Griffin and Gillian. They’re a part of the team from H2O Kent who is hoping to start a new church in a new place next summer. They (and the rest of the team) are still praying for clarity on the church plant location. They’re also working through a slew of team dynamics. So it was good to just have some time to walk and talk together. I appreciated the opportunity to hear more of their perspective. And I hope I was also helpful in stretching their perspective and finding enthusiasm wherever God might lead the team.
We talked about seeing the church plant play out like our hike. We don’t want it to be too fast, nor too slow. It cannot be for personal glory of achievement. The top priority is to build relationships and enjoy the journey, not just the destination. Mount Le Conte happed to provide a helpful illustration. Namely: the summit felt like an anti-climax. Trees covered the summit, blocking any spectacular views. If it weren’t for the pile of rocks, we wouldn’t have even known it was the top of the mountain. But there was plenty to see and enjoy along the way.
On the way down from the summit of Mount Le Conte, I kept pace with Kyle, Rylee, and Griffin. Throughout the week, Kyle has been contemplating his own relationship with God. He grew up in a non-denominational church in Stark County. Recently, however, he’s felt compelled to make his own decision about faith. He doesn’t want to just go along with a cultural understanding of Christianity. So we talked a lot about faith, and particularly about baptism. In the first mile or two of the descent, he said that he just wasn’t sure that he was ready. He felt like he hadn’t developed enough of a track record of truly following Jesus to “qualify” for baptism. So I got to spend the next couple of miles sharing and re-sharing the Good News with him.
We focused particularly on Ephesians 2:8-9. For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith — and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God — not by works, so that no one can boast. We also talked about Romans 6:23. For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. I was trying to reinforce the idea that faith and salvation and a relationship with God are all gifts, not a payment for our labor.
I told him that I definitely didn’t want to pressure him into a decision to follow Jesus or to get baptized. But I also didn’t want him to pressure himself out of these things, either! I told him the story of Paul and the Philippian jailer, where the Bible provides an example of belief and baptism all happening on the same night. I told Kyle the story of Jesus welcoming children to come sit with him — and then using them as an example of the child-like faith needed to belong in the Family of God.
Kyle seemed to get it. Even as we hiked, it seemed like some light bulbs were coming on. I challenged him to follow up on our conversation by reading through H2O’s Baptism Guide. So I’m praying that he will experience a significant break-through in his walk with God. And in the meantime, I’m hoping that we can all enjoy the journey, not just the destination.