Anxiety was thick in the air as we gathered beneath the 40-foot high ropes course at Camp Emmaus, part of Pathways Outdoor Ministries. With the 40-foot high structure looming in the background, we read Psalm 46 and sang songs reminding us of God’s steady presence in times of great trouble. We breathed deep and headed out to the woods. We stayed low at first, doing crazy challenges with 4×4 boards, cinder blocks and aircraft carrier cables.
After laughing and learning personalities in the inaugural Certification School in Progressive Christian Youth Ministry, we headed to the high ropes. Staring up from the wood-chip covered ground, the obstacles above were daunting, even terrifying. We donned harnesses and learned how we could be connected to the belayer below. We climbed up using the pegs that lined the sides of the telephone poles, breathless we shimmied to the platform and screwed up the courage to walk across the obstacles. At the end we were lowered down with the harness and rope.
In each movement, we confronted ourselves and our own fears, relying on the group to keep encouraging us, keeping us going when we thought our muscles and frayed nerves would fail. The rope and the belayers below held you up, helped you keep your balance. Even though you were moving through the obstacle by yourself, you were never really alone.
The second time I climbed to an obstacle, I had to walk across wooden platforms that were suspended above on aircraft carrier cable. When I stepped off the platform, momentum took me forward faster than I expected and after a few successful steps, I lost my balance and leaned backwards, held up by the rope attached to my harness. I clung to the rope, desperately trying to pull myself back to the ‘solid’ platform below my feet. Finally, it took the voice of one of my peers below directing me to use my knees to pull myself upright. It worked and I took the remaining steps across the platform.
We are never really accomplishing anything alone. There is the rope the holds you up when you lose your balance; there’s a coaching voice telling you to stay focused on your goal; there are people there to tell you that you can make it. God is present in it all. God is the tension in the rope; the inspiration in the encouraging voice; the focus of well-timed instruction.
When we processed our day, our facilitator made certain to remind us that God is not just present in the highs. God is most profoundly present in the lowest point, the times in which we thought we just wouldn’t finish or when we thought we’d fall or quit.
Leadership is not a singular activity. Leaders rely on the gifts of others and of God’s guidance. Leaders require that others are competent in their jobs, helping everyone, including the leader, to accomplish their goals. Maybe everyone should climb up 40 feet in the air to learn this.