What We Need Is Adventure


Growing up, Goonies was one of my favorite movies.

It had lots of things a 10 year old boy loved – pirate ships, skeletons, sparkling jewels, funny characters, ice cream, booby traps, mean villains, and water slides.

I realize that Goonies isn’t the greatest example of cinema. Sure, it has a sense of fun and a handful of good moments, but the sets look like a cheap theme park ride, the acting is over the top, and Cyndi Lauper rarely makes my iTunes playlist.

But in my book, Goonies got something dead on – the dream of many of us youngsters who longed for a good, old fashioned adventure.

That’s the only reason Goonies has persisted in my imagination. I didn’t just like the film – I wanted that film to be my story. I wanted to discover buried treasure in my backyard.

As a youngster, I spent many of my summers exploring the beauty of the Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge, an amazing stretch of rocky wilderness in southwest Oklahoma that was haunted by the legend of folks like mobster Al Capone and outlaw Jesse James. Somewhere and somehow, there had to be gold in those ancient hills. Those short expeditions were a break from the mundane and an entryway into a world of mystery and excitement. Even as a father and minister, that longing and thirst for adventure has stayed with me.

Rabbi Edwin Friedman, in his work about family systems theory, once taught that “the only way to get a system unstuck is to go on an adventure”.

Whether it is a political system that lacks any sense of moral imagination, a church that seems to bear more witness to judgmentalism than good news, an organization that fails to protect the very people it is designed to serve, or a declining congregation that gets keeps rearranging the deck chairs rather than engage in deep discernment about their calling, there are stuck systems all around us.

I often get to speak with members of other congregations and enjoy finding out what God is up to in their community. In particular, I love to hear what is the most unique about their community. The vast majority of the time, I hear how people love their church because it is warm and caring, like a “family”. I don’t often hear about daring ministry projects, unique efforts to reach out to their neighborhood, exciting initiatives to love others, or ongoing transformation through spiritual disciplines. I know how valuable warm and caring community is for each of us, but a church without a thirst for adventure is likely stuck.

Not all churches are like this. Sometimes, adventure happens without our choosing, whether it is a devastating hurricane that forces a congregation to turn its building into a mission center, the loss of a beloved pastor that moves a community to reexamine its vision, or a grim financial report that suggests only a few months of “normal” ministry remain before bills go unpaid.

But for the rest of us, our stuck system won’t change until someone (or a bunch of someones) does something radical, more than adding a worship service, hiring a new pastor, changing the style of music, or building a website. We have to have an adventure. As Helland and Hjalmarson say in Missional Spirituality, we long to be “freed to venture out on reconnaissance with Christ on mission in the wide open expanse of God’s cathedral in creation and culture.”

Or as Jesus so often does, we have to embrace the unexpected, rounding up people from the streets, “both good and bad”, for God’s banquet (Matthew 22:10), going two by two with nothing but the clothes on our back and a spring in our step (Luke 10:1), venturing into the rough part of town to be transformed by folks different than us (Mark 7:25), or partying with people of ill repute (Luke 5:27-32).

I suppose this huge theme of adventure that runs throughout the Bible, starting with Abram’s call to go to a distant land and continuing through the Great Commission and launch of the early church, continues to feed and prick the imagination of that 10 year old Goonie inside of me.

No, there may not be buried gold in my backyard, but there is an epic story unfolding all around, the work of Creator, Son, and Spirit reclaiming, renewing, and making whole.

May we join that adventure, and in the words of Shane Claiborne in Jesus for President, “live the contagious love of God.”

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8 thoughts on “What We Need Is Adventure

  1. The adventure scares me, yet when it feels like I am on an adventure as part of the Body of Christ, I feel I am closer to the Divine. The fear departs, but I must admit getting over that fear is difficult. I see places where the church is encouraging this adventure, but it needs to be more than some quaint adventures we reference when a church needs “change” and only does something as you named above.
    This reflection truly resonates with me and it reminds me that when we are not alone on this adventure, God of course, but each other. You are right we need to church in a new radical way, and I am glad you are part of the Body of Christ, and I will go on the adventure with you even if we cannot be in the same region. Hope others will too.

    • Thanks for this comment! JC, I know you are on quite a journey ahead. Fear is natural, I figure. Maybe like in the Goonies, with each step we need to remind ourselves that we are further along the path and we cannot return the way we came. Regardless of success or failure, the journey changes us.

      I too am glad to share the journey with you. Peace be with you!

  2. Pingback: What We Need Is Adventure « the table

  3. Excellent thoughts about adventure. The Chinese Christians I met while living in China live “the adventure” every day. Too many Christians in the US live a normal, easy life. No one questions their faith as the majority of people in the US check the box designated as Christian on whatever forms they must fill out. The Christian’s life in the US is comfortable and, more often than not, is only done on Sunday. For many, not even then. Checking the Christian block is easy. In China, if someone lets you know they are Christian, believe them. It is not easy to be a Christian in China. Only a Christian would dare reveal this fact and only to someone they knew to be of like mind.

    It was the last day of the American Culture class I was teaching to 3rd and 4th year students at Southwest Jiaotong University – Emei branch (Sichuan, China) when I encountered the truism of the great Christian adventure in China. One particular student with whom I had developed a friendship came up to me at the end of that class and in a low voice only meant for me announced that he and his family were Christians. It did not surprise me because the light of Christ lived in every word he had spoken to me during the semester and his general loving demeanor. He also knew that I was a Christian because I always tell my students that I am, using the same technique in each class of what to ask and what not to ask when first meeting Western foreigners. Never talk about a Westerner’s religion among other things during the first meeting. I would invariably tell my classes that as a Christian, it would not bother me but for some it is personal.

    Does not take a whole lot of Googling to find out the plight of Christians in China. Some places more than others but the key in understanding the Chinese Christian is that there life is truly an adventure. The more the adventures, the stronger the Christian.

    • Thanks, Uncle! I agree – there was a time for congregations when you launched a new church in a new neighborhood and announced who you were. People flocked through the doors in curiosity. Those days have changed though.

      We have not always had it easy though. Perhaps it is time to remember when it was difficult, when we had to go against the grain. It is time to learn from our brothers and sisters around the world who have to persevere in difficult situations. Shane Claiborne talks about the kingdom of God being like a vine/weed like kudzu, spreading everywhere… contagiously.. from the bottom up.

      Thanks for your adventures in China and Thailand. I know you learn much!

  4. Thank you for this, Pastor Nathan (“gift from God”). May I offer an observation from Stan Hauerwas? “Parents should say to their kids, ‘What you want out of life is not happiness, but to be part of a worthy adventure. You want to have something worth dying for.’ It’s awful when all we have to live for is ourselves; that’s what the Gospel reveals to us. The Good News tells of the adventure that humans have been made part of through God’s grace, through Christ, and through the church. God made each Christian part of God’s sacrificial life so that the world might know it is not abandoned and that there is salvation. That’s who Christians are. Doesn’t that sound like a joyful thing? I use the language of joy because happiness is just too pale to describe this adventure. Christianity is the proclamation that God gives Christians a gift they don’t know they need…That’s what Christianity is all about: an adventure we didn’t know we wanted to be on.”–“The Hauerwas Reader,” Berkman & Cartwright, eds, pp.530-31.

    • Awesome quote! I will save it for later. I told my kids this by the way – they love adventures, so I encouraged them to see their whole lives as an adventure.

      Peace and joy to you!

  5. You know, Nathan, this article really made me think about adventures. Once a person goes on an adventure, it is not unusual to start looking for another adventure. Adventures are powerful motivators and do bring new meaning into our lives. Being a Christian should be an adventure with new discoveries and many WOW factors. If one is not careful, it may even become a habit. The analogy to Christian living is very real. One sees it in the eyes of Christians living the adventure. Thanks for some great ideas.

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