My first paid job in ministry was with Wilderness Trail, where every week-long backpacking experience includes a couple hours on a Group Building Course. There youth can practice good communication (such as, “I’m about to fall so please be ready to catch me”), build trust (by – hopefully – catching one another), and generally learn to work together as a team.
Because most of these activities involve some sort of risk it’s important to teach and encourage “Challenge by Choice.”
“Challenge by Choice” means that no one is forced to do anything they aren’t comfortable with. Youth are able to build confidence in themselves and their group before agreeing to something like a “Trust Fall.”
“Challenge by Choice” is also a good way to describe what happens when we agree to follow Christ.
In Luke 9, Jesus has a discussion with his disciples that clarifies who he is (the Messiah) and what he is going to do (be rejected, die, and then live again). Then there’s some instructions for those of us who believe in this suffering Messiah:
“If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me” (Luke 9:23).
Saying “yes” to Jesus is essentially a “Challenge by Choice.” Following Christ means self-denial, burden-bearing, and even loss of life.
But sometimes we don’t make a “Challenge by Choice.” Sometimes we make a “Challenge by Mistake.”
I’ve seen youth make a “Challenge by Mistake” at Wilderness Trail. I’ve been one of them myself. These youth might agree to go because their friends are going or because their parents make them get out of the house for the week. Shortly after arriving, they are wide-eyed and afraid. They don’t want to do a “Trust Fall.” They don’t want to backpack for five days on the Appalachian Trail.
Challenge by MISTAKE.
Following Jesus can be a “Challenge by Mistake,” too. Most of us don’t begin following Jesus because we want to deny ourselves. We might say “yes” for forgiveness of sins and unconditional love and a sense of purpose in life. Then, later, we are surprised to read about how “whoever loses his life for me will save it” (Luke 9:24). What?! LOSE my LIFE?
Challenge by MISTAKE.
Here’s some good news: Whether we accept it on purpose or by accident, the challenge of following Christ is a strange, wonderful blessing.
The youth who come to Wilderness Trail by mistake tend to have an especially tough time during their week of hiking and group building. But at the end of the experience, they stand a little taller. They shine a little brighter. They have been blessed by the challenge.
You, too, will be blessed by Christ’s challenge – however you came to accept it.
Today – and every day – you will have the chance to deny yourself, to bear someone else’s burdens, to risk yourself for Christ.
If you do, you will be a blessing to others.
If you do, you will be strangely blessed.
Today, choose to take the challenge of following Christ.