One of the more important things I’ve learned during years of mountain climbing is that even when you’ve reached the summit, the hike is not over. What goes up truly must come down. And though the ascent can be tough, the second half of a hike is often challenging in its own ways.
For example, three years ago my son Caleb and I undertook a long hike up a particularly difficult mountain in Colorado named Ellingwood Point. The ascent to 14,042 feet was especially demanding due to one stretch where the only way up was through a long slide of loose rock with extremely difficult footing. Scrambling up that 800 feet of altitude gain required almost two hours, and postponed our arrival at the summit.
Climbers at that altitude are always advised to be well on their way back down into the tree line by noon, to avoid exposure to afternoon storms and especially lightning. So we took little time to rest at the top. Perhaps that’s why, just a few hundred feet into our descent, one of my legs stopped working.
For a scary few minutes, I sat immobilized on a steep slope of loose rocks, vigorously massaging my cramped leg. Caleb and I began discussing our options, if my leg’s strength didn’t return. No other climbers were around, and there was no cell phone reception. We even found ourselves discussing the somber reality that there was no reasonable place for a rescue helicopter to land. Our only choice, really, was to rest, recover, reflect, and plan.
Eventually the paralyzing cramp passed and surprising strength returned to my leg. Praising God, we slowly finished the rest of our hike. But for the first time, it took us just as long to climb down a mountain as it had to climb up.
Fast forward now to the flatlands of Illinois, and the unexpected, pandemic plagued year we and our churches have all endured. The price has been dear in many ways, and the pace exhausting. But the disease and the restrictions are starting to pass, and the hardest part of the climb may be over.
But the second half of a hike is often challenging in its own ways. It places demands on different muscles, requires different pathfinding, and calls for endurance at a higher level of fatigue. In fact, falling during a descent is often more dangerous than on the way up.
This summer, we that serve and lead churches would do well to make some time to rest, reflect, and plan, before rushing into the rest of the hike. The quick pivots and skills that it took to adjust to the pandemic are worth celebrating. But the rest of the climb will bring yet new and different challenges.
The question this mountain of a pandemic raised in our minds as we climbed it may well have been, “How will we now survive?” But the question that challenges us for the rest of the hike out of the pandemic should be, “How will we now thrive?”
This word thrive has become a central commitment in our new mission statement as a network of churches. IBSA’s newly stated mission is to “deliver network value that inspires each church to thrive in health, growth, and mission.”
You and your church have climbed quite a mountain over the past year or so. By God’s grace, you have survived. Now as you continue your journey, take some time to imagine what “thriving” means for your church, and in your setting. Whether in health, growth, or mission, we at IBSA would love to assist you with whatever your church’s next steps are in the rest of your hike.
Nate Adams is executive director of the Illinois Baptist State Association.