First of all, I don't really hang-glide. In fact, I've never been hang-gliding at all. Last spring, when I fell in a parking lot and fractured my elbow, I tried to blame my injury on hang-gliding, because it seemed like a much more interesting story. So, I don't really have any ministry lessons from hang-gliding, although I wish I did. A few years back, one of my colleagues wrote about her ministry lessons from mountain biking. Just recently, another colleague waxed poetic about her experiences kayaking, and what she has learned about God's mission as a result.
This caused me to reflect on the lack of risk-taking (or even athletic) activities in my life. I don't mountain bike, and I don't kayak. I used to swim for exercise, and I have been known to go on long, brisk walks. I also am not known for taking big risks (i.e. sky-diving, hang-gliding, etc.) I wonder whether this defect in my character is also a defect in terms of pastoral ministry and calling out congregational mission. God's mission is big, and risky, and one thing pastors need to do is encourage their congregation to take risks for the sake of the gospel. Missional hang-gliding.
In fact, the riskiest thing I have done in the last five years was to adopt a puppy. This may not seem all that risky to you, but neither my husband or myself had much experience with dog ownership or training. I remembered that our family had a dog when I was an adolescent, but he was a small dog, about 10-12 pounds, and my mother trained him. The puppy we got was a Golden Retriever and Husky mix, and was going to grow up to be a Big Dog.
In fact, the whole endeavor turned out to be riskier than we even thought it would be. For some reason or another, our puppy turned out to have Behavior Problems. From a very young age, she would growl at us when we tried to take away Certain Items (stray socks, paper towels, also food). It was a little scary, as we were novice dog-owners. I was sure we were doing something wrong. We read many books about what to do about aggressive behavior. I took her to the Humane Society, where they tested her, and told us we should take her to a Behavioral Vet. (They also told us that, at 10 weeks, if she was given up for adoption, they would not "put her on the floor", which is code for saying that they would have euthanized her.) We took her to a behavior vet, who gave us hope. We took her to dog training classes. I took her to individual classes with a trainer who specialized in aggressive behavior. Sometimes the things we did worked.
Once, my puppy (almost a year then) bit me. Hard. She drew blood. I was tempted to give up on her. But I didn't.
Lately, my husband reflected on that time, "Why did we do it anyway? Sometimes it seemed so hard."
Here's the secret: for some reason or another, I loved that dog. So I did not give up on her. I kept trying different methods to train her, to make her into the kind of animal we could have as our companion.
Five years later, Scout is not a perfect dog, but she is a delightful dog. My husband attributes a lot of it to the hard work I did when she was a puppy, all the different methods I tried, all of the treats and the behavior modification and trainers.
So, do I have any ministry lessons from dog-training? Really, there are only two simple lessons right now, although I'm sure if I thought about it harder, I could make it a lot more complicated.
1. Never give up. Sometimes it seems as if all of the rules have changed, with regard to congregational mission and ministry in the 21st century. Who knows what works? Somehow, though, I do love this Church. I don't always know why.
2. Loving is still the riskiest thing you can do. That's true for pastors, but it's also true for congregations trying to figure out how to love the world. It's missional hang-gliding.
"For God so loved the world that He gave his only son...." John 3:16