For several years now, my oldest son Caleb has been on a quest to climb the 58 tallest mountains in Colorado. They are known as “14ers,” because the summit of each one is at least 14,000 feet in elevation. I told him I would join him in this quest whenever I could, as long as my middle-aged legs and lungs hold out.
So this past summer, we were climbing again. And though I made it up and down six 14ers in about a week, only two of them were new conquests. Believe it or not, I chose to climb four of the mountains I had already climbed.
I know what you’re probably thinking. Why on earth climb the same mountains twice? The simple answer is that, this time, we wanted to take some new climbers with us. Caleb married Laura last January, and was eager to share his love for mountain climbing with her. And while my wife Beth has been supportive of our climbing efforts over the years, she had never climbed a 14er with us.
So we chose mountains that were familiar, and that we believed our understudies could climb too. On the hike itself, we went slower than we normally would, and stopped to rest more often. Of course it took longer. Yet there was a new kind of joy in the climb, and a new kind of satisfaction at the summit, even though we had been there before.
During that same week, I was finalizing IBSA’s proposed goals for 2014, goals that were to be approved by the IBSA Board at their September meeting. For months already, we had been talking about the vital importance of leadership development, both for pastors and for other church leaders. Instruction and training are valuable, we reasoned, but moving leaders to new levels of effectiveness will require deeper processes of personal growth and development.
As I worked on those goals, I reflected on our experiences climbing mountains. Many times before, Caleb and I had returned from a hike and described to others its unique challenges and what was required to make it to the top and back. Often we had urged others to come with us to those new heights, of course explaining what they would need to endure to get there. But none of that talk “about” hiking could compare with the experience of actually walking together, in relationship, up a mountain some of us had already climbed.
So one evening with tired legs at the bottom of a mountain, I drafted a new 2014 goal for IBSA about Leadership Development. The first part of the goal describes the more than 20,000 trainings IBSA delivers every year, in areas ranging from Sunday School to evangelism to worship leadership and student ministry. But the second half of our new Leadership Development goal says we will “engage at least 200 pastors, staff, church planters or leaders in spiritual, relational leadership development processes, striving for breakthrough growth in leaders that helps transform churches and their effectiveness.”
The IBSA Board unanimously embraced this new goal, along with its implications. Helping church leaders grow and develop at deeper, more transformational levels will require new processes, new commitments, and perhaps even some new venues and facilities. For example, we will be exploring the feasibility of how both IBSA camps and a possible new leadership retreat center in Springfield may contribute to the “spiritual, relational leadership development” of our churches’ leaders.
There are many pastors and leaders who have climbed their own mountains in ministry, and who can help other pastors and leaders up those mountains. We believe enlisting them in a more intentional leadership development process may be just what is needed for the “breakthrough growth” that “helps transform churches and their effectiveness.” After all, as I learned again this summer, helping someone else up a mountain you’ve already climbed can be even more satisfying than simply climbing it yourself.
Nate Adams is executive director of the Illinois Baptist State Association.