Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Discipline: Leading Without Instructors

Leading in the wilderness without instructors requires discipline and skill. Following Jesus in this wilderness life also requires discipline and skill. It requires being a disciple, a learner. One of the goals of the National Outdoor Leadership School is “To develop students as leaders who make decisions to lead without the direct guidance of their instructors. The curriculum themes of wilderness skills, expedition behavior, leadership, leave no trace, and risk management all follow toward this goal” (Gookin). Just as this is one of NOLS’s goals, to develop leaders who can lead, this is also the main goal of the church to make disciples; the church is to make disciples who make other disciples.

Discipline is the root of the word disciple, which means learner. A disciple, or learner, has exercised the discipline needed to gain the knowledge, skill and judgment needed to make disciplined and informed decisions on the wilderness expedition, or the adventure, of the Christian life on his or her own, by the power and grace of God. We need discipline in the wilderness expedition of the Christian life. There will come a time when each of us has to take ownership of our faith and become true disciples who go and make other disciples. We cannot always live vicariously through someone else’s faith. We have to make the journey on our own at some point in our expedition to follow Christ personally and to live our lives for Him.

In speaking about the self disciplined following and learning from Christ, or discipleship, in Colossians 2:5, Paul gives this instruction to his readers that captures the essence of leading on our own in the expedition of the Christian life:

“I’m a long way off, true, and you may never lay eyes on me, but believe me, I’m on your side, right beside you. I am delighted to hear of the careful and orderly ways you conduct your affairs, and impressed with the solid substance of your faith in Christ (Peterson).”

Paul wants his readers, the Colossian church, who he has never formally met, to be able to navigate following Jesus and living for Him on their own in his absence from them. This is the same picture of what it is like to lead in a NOLS course without instructors.

When I was on a NOLS course the summer of 2008, I had the opportunity to lead without instructors. It was toward the end of our two week expedition in the Bridger Teton National Forest, and three of my teammates and me had been working overtime with our instructors to learn trip planning, extra first aid skills, and other needed skills to be equipped on our own in the wilderness. We were to leave before the rest of the group and find the last camp site of our expedition. The rest of the group would follow later. Could we do what our instructors had been doing and lead? Did we have what it took to go at it alone? The answer is, “Yes.” We led, with a few minor detours and complications, a successful instructor-less expedition and we learned from it and in turn will teach others how to lead.

This is such a perfect picture of becoming Disciples of Christ and making Disciples of Christ. As the church, Disciples of Christ, we are to teach people the gospel and teach them what it means to follow Jesus. We are to do this in such a way that they will be able to follow Him on their own in our absence. This is what Paul was doing from prison with the Christians of the Colossian church. He wanted them to follow Christ on their own. He wanted them to be disciples who make other disciples without further instructions from him, or his presence.

Like my instructors on my NOLS course, Paul tells the Colossians that he is not far off from them. He tells them that he is with them and that he is aware of their ability, training, and accomplishments. He knows their credentials. In our case, as Christians, our credentials are that we have the power of Christ and His leadership training, and we have the fellowship and teachings of the church and its help and support on our way. Because of this, we can be confident to follow Christ on our own, knowing that we are not truly on our own. Like Isaac Newton said, “If we have seen further [or in this case, if we have followed Christ on our own] it is by standing on the shoulders of giants.” This is also similar to an old Chinese Proverb that says: “If you give a man a fish, he will eat for a day. If you teach a man to fish, he will eat for a lifetime.” We are to teach. We are to make learners of Jesus. We are to make and be Disciples of Christ.

Following Christ, with discipline, without instructors,


Gookin, John. Wilderness Educator Notebook. Ed. John Gookin. Lander, WY: National Outdoor Leadership School, 2006.

Peterson, Eugene H.: The Message : The Bible in Contemporary Language. Colorado Springs, Colo. : NavPress, 2002, S. Col 2:5

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