This summer my son Caleb and I continued our quest to climb as many of the tallest mountains of Colorado as we can. There are 58 mountains in the state that are 14,000 feet in elevation or higher, and we have now summitted 30 of them together.
There are a number of different ways that “14er” hikes are rated, ranging from the altitude of the mountain to the distance or difficulty of the hike. For example, our hikes this summer included Mt. Harvard, the third highest in altitude but only number 27 in difficulty. Mt. Lindsey is number 45 in altitude, but 18 in degree of difficulty. That’s the one where I almost quit.
There are often different “approaches” to each summit, with differing degrees of difficulty. Caleb and I had researched Mt. Lindsey and decided that, for the last thousand feet of the climb, he would take the more difficult and exposed “class 4” approach up a ridge, and I would take the easier “class 3” approach, up a rock gully.
I knew this already, but I learned it afresh that day. Climbing is much harder when you are by yourself.
The gully I found myself scaling alone was steep, and complicated, and full of loose rock. Each time I climbed to the top of what I could see, I found only more of the same. About the fifth time this happened, I decided I should probably stop. Caleb and I had agreed that if we didn’t meet at the top, that he would descend through the gully and find me. I sat down, exhausted, to wait for him.
That’s when I heard him call my name. I squinted up the gully as far as I could, and saw a tiny Caleb waving to me. When he assured me that he was on the upper ridge of the mountain, and that he could see the summit from where he was, I decided I could keep climbing. He cheered me on, and then we summitted the mountain together.
Back here in the flatlands of Illinois, let me again make this observation. Ministry is a mountain. And it’s much harder when you are by yourself. When you are tired, when there is no end to your struggle in sight, when you are ready to quit, you need the encouraging voice of a fellow climber in your life.
Maybe you just need someone to acknowledge that the climb is hard, but that the summit is worth it. Maybe you need someone to suggest a different route, or to tell you that he’s been a little further up the mountain, and that you can make it. Maybe you just need someone to talk to while you climb.
A young pastor recently contacted me about possibly attending the IBSA Annual Meeting and Pastors’ Conference. For a variety of reasons, he doesn’t have many friends in ministry where he is serving. As I encouraged him to come and be with other pastors, and worship, and discover some new resources and perspective, he agreed to make the effort. “Sometimes it’s just good to feel you’re not alone,” he said.
Not alone. For a negative phrase, it holds such positive, reassuring hope. Not being alone is the common principle behind God’s wonderful design for marriage, for fellowship, for church family, and for cooperation and partnership among churches.
So let me encourage you as I did that young pastor this fall. Especially in ministry, it’s not good to be alone. Even though gas and a hotel room cost a little, make the drive down to Marion for the Pastors’ Conference and IBSA Annual Meeting Nov. 5-7. Your fellow climbers will meet you there.
Nate Adams is executive director of the Illinois Baptist State Association.