The seven men who awaited me were excited and prepared for a once in a lifetime challenge that would bring them closer to the Lord, help each man to face himself, and bond them together in greater trust and transparency.
On that first rather cool night, we gathered in our guide’s home at the foot of the mountain range, at about a 9,000-foot elevation. We knew that in the next two days we would be hiking up to an elevation of 14,000 feet. Each man was to gather from the riverbed a stone that in some way resembled his own character. One by one, each shared how he was like that stone. Together, we laid them on the table. Then I asked a question, “What is it going to take to change this stone of yours?”
I wanted them to deeply think about their nature, their pride, their weaknesses, and about the process that God might use to reshape them – and most importantly, about their participation in that process.
Awaiting them were the challenges of memorizing a chunk of God’s Word, hours of solitude to listen to God, and sharing their personal life stories – all in the context of the physical and group challenge of high country, heavy backpacking and altitude sickness. I told them the stones would be different in a week’s time.
And that is how our LeaderTrek began …
During the years I have worked with urban church leaders in Asia, I have seen how the rigors of city life and shepherding a growing church can take its toll on the leader – his walk with God, his relationships and his family life. To counter this, I used to teach young pastors the biblical principles of healthy leaders, but it was not enough. And neither was it enough for Jesus as He built His closest disciples.
True discipleship involves giving followers real life opportunities to rise or fall while drawing them ever closer to their teacher who loves them, guides them, exhorts, and passes on his wisdom to them.
So, gradually, I learned how we can help these urban ministers in Asia become healthier disciples. First, we discover their primary areas of need. After many years of knowing and sharing life with them, I have found their true heart-needs to be: intimacy with God, a healthy spousal relationship, a close, transparent friendship with at least one other man in ministry; and personal equipping for the building of more healthy leaders.
Second, we create a relational, experiential, and spiritual environment into which the teachings of Jesus Christ come alive. Taking the men on a wilderness LeaderTrek provides the setting in which I can really get to know them, challenge them, and inspire them to go deeper with God and other men.
Though we cannot do all that they want or hope for, we can do one very important thing – help lay a foundation of healthy leadership in their hearts that will last a lifetime. This means time. This means sweating together through ministry situations. It means one-on-one heartfelt sharing, questioning and struggling through various life scenarios.
Rather than rushing to help them understand how to build more leaders (as I did in my earlier years of ministry), I now rush to their private side. I want just one thing – I want their heart.
Doing a LeaderTrek helps me get their heart as we adventure together into a mountain wilderness – no cell phone signals, no ministry responsibilities, no busyness. But it is also a step into another kind of wilderness – a soul wilderness. I send them out into solitude, with granite cliffs dwarfing them and nothing but a deep blue sky and the sound of the wind. And I ask them to think deeply about three primary questions: God, who are You? Father, who am I? and, Lord, what do You want me to do?
I find we often rush to that third question without really answering the first two. But discipleship works only when we answer these questions in order. Once we understand who God really is, then we can answer who, or whose, we really are. Once those two questions have been settled, the third question of one’s calling comes more easily into focus.
These are the “5Cs” of healthy leaders all over again: Christ (Who are You, God?), Community, and Character (Whose am I? What kind of a person am I?), Calling and Competencies (Lord, what do You want me to do?).
This is how Jesus taught us to make disciples: He grabbed men’s hearts by His own profound, intimate Father-Son relationship with God and His reckless abandonment to the Father’s call. He then issued the challenge to come and follow Him – not just to follow in what He was doing, but to follow Jesus into His kind of relationship with the Father.
Then, in a loving relationship of Master and followers He challenged them immensely at every level, especially their faith in God, love for God and others, character, and calling. And through His careful instruction and life-on-life training, He built in them the capacities to lead the church and impact the world.
In all we do with indigenous leaders in the urban church in Asia, we seek to instill these truths and experiences, turning them to Jesus, who will lead them as co-shepherds of His church.
Twice a year I have invited men to the mountains – into a deeper relationship with Jesus, with other men, and with the Word of God. I have never regretted it. These men are like living stones, precious and useful to God in the building of His kingdom. But until they are discipled at a deeper level, they don’t always know it or believe it. They tend to doubt their walk with Jesus and struggle with being a husband and father, not to mention a church leader.
For others, it is a struggle with pride or a fear of being known. But whatever kind of stony character they came with, I believe those seven days left a deep memory in their souls – a memory that will go far beyond any remembrance of what I said.