Being saved by the blood of Christ isn't a part of who we are. It is who we are. It's where our greatest value is found. Our new life in Christ governs us all the way down to our speech, the way we dress, the activities we participate in throughout the week, and how we interact with people. It permeates our thoughts, our actions, even our hobbies. So what's different about hunting and fishing for us? Everything. The elements of our world revolve around Jesus and what He did at the cross. That includes hunting and fishing. Obviously this creates some unique challenges. Here are four of them and suggestions on how to deal with each.
Local Church Involvement
We've all seen the dramatic photo of someone in a tree stand that reads, "20 feet closer to God." Or my personal un-favorite, "Some people go to church and think about hunting, I go hunting and think about God." I get it. There are so many people who have had poor experiences in very unhealthy churches that they believe the only way they can actually worship is to completely isolate themselves. Fortunately, that's not God's purpose for salvation or his people. It's true that it is important for a Christian to practice what Jesus practiced and regularly be alone with the father. However, after the gospels, most of the New Testament is framed within the context of both the church universal and the church local. So it's incredibly difficult for us to reconcile the idea that our Christian walk is "ok with God" or that we are spiritually healthy and growing if we are not making an attempt to be an active part of the life of a local congregation. (Hebrews 10:24-25)
The church is a collective body of believers that is operated by the spirit of God through people He has gifted for specific roles within that body. (Ephesians 4) When we isolate ourselves and refuse to be a part of the body of Christ within a local congregation, we refuse to be a part of God's design after we have already have made a profession of faith in Jesus. This is remarkably confusing to the world around us and muddies the reconciling work of God in the gospel. When we make a profession of faith that we have believed on Jesus for salvation, it's irrational to think we can also reject God's design for us to be a part of a body of other believers. (Also sinners saved by grace.) God's saving work does not end with our baptism. It's within the framework of the church He has prescribed our greatest opportunity for acute growth.
I think a mis-conception to all of this could be that I'm saying you shouldn't hunt on Sundays and you should feel guilty for missing a service or two in Novemeber. That would be superstitious and foolish. That's not my intent at all. For many, that's not even the conversation we should be having...yet. I think the more valuable conversation has to do with why outdoorsmen are not involved the rest of the year. Irregular church involvement has very little to do with what time of year it is. Rather, it has more to do with the overall understanding (or lack-thereof) of God's intent for church in your life and whether or not you have found a congregation to assimilate into.
How involved should you be? Ask yourself how much your church offers to be involved in. Maybe your congregation only meets on Sunday morning. Are you fully involved? Are you giving? Do you sing? Are you taking notes and then going over them throughout the week? The elements of a worship service are important. Be present in each one of them. Maybe you are involved in a number of ministries in your church. Do you make sure your responsibilities are covered when you're gone? At the end of the day, are you "neglecting the gathering"? Keep in mind that this doesn't just mean going to a church service when there are other things that need your attention as well. If you are, it's time to make things right. Church involvement is a prickly subject, but I think it goes without saying that even though we may profess, "there's no off season" for hunting, there should always be prioritized time to gather with the family of God.
The Family Priority
When my wife and I were engaged, I made ruthlessly clear to her that nothing was going to come between me and my "heritage". I was a total ungodly jerk. After we married, God reminded me very quickly that I now had a new responsibility. It was called being a husband, and a few years later, a father. Suddenly, hunting and fishing, while still important, were trumped by the fact that I had be constantly growing in my ability to deal with relationship situations, teach, encourage, and put my neck on the line when necessary to care for my family even if something wasn't my fault. It was all the things that go along with being a leader.
It's challenging to balance those responsibilities with honing a skill or finding time to be in a tree stand. Thankfully, my wife also came to an understanding that my time in the field wasn't just for me. Recharging my batteries, breaking the cycle of the every day, and clearing my head had very real benefits for our entire family. I had to be sure, however, that this was what was actually taking place. Yes, we have to return home from our trips, and we need to stop pretending that things will bend to our desires. They're going to be the same, and we have to aggressively and lovingly get back in the
saddle of God designed and prioritized responsibilities the second we walk through the door. We will have time to share all of our great stories when the opportunity presents itself.
A great way to overcome a lot of the challenges of the balancing act is to simply communicate well. What's on the calendar? Where will the conflicts be? How can you mitigate (not avoid) those conflicts? Just like you should be present while you are in a church service, make sure you are present when you are with your family. You'll have time to pack and strategize later. Listen to your kids at the dinner table now, while they're talking, rather than try to get them to talk later. Remember, it's ok to miss a hunt or time on the lake when there are more pressing issues that need dealing with at home. There are few things worse than feeling like you have left something undone while you are out there. I've even cut trips short just because of the weight of certain issues that needed my attention. Don't let the success of a great hunt be tainted or overshadowed by the consequences of what you knew you should have taken care of.
The Political Circus of Conservation
It's imperative that the Christian worldview be heard within the political arenas of this world. My personal conviction is that the individual sportsman should be concerned with the rights of hunting and fishing as well as land stewardship, even to the extent of supporting upright and honorable organizations that lobby to protect these privileges. Let's be real though. It can be a complete circus trying to decide who to support, what to post or believe on social media, and even figure our what extent we should be involved in concerning these issues. This can be particularly true if we are trying to humbly allow scripture to lead us.
While these privileges are precious and we want to see them preserved for our children and their children, the powers that be will always ultimately determine the fate of how these legal "allowances" are governed. If we are going to be involved in these debates and decisions, we should always remember that Christ is to be the banner under which we move forward. The souls of those we interact with along the way are what Christ ultimately died for, not our temporal cause.
Should this be a "ministry"?
In the last ten years, we have seen a rise in outdoor and other affinity ministries whose initial purpose seems innocent enough. These types of ministries hold a special place for kingdom growth if they have great deal of clarity in thier mission. While I do enjoy seeing outdoor ministries do well and expand their reach, I will also say (at risk of a good deal of ridicule) that it's ok not to make your love for the outdoors an organized "ministry".
The word "ministry" in the Greek basically means "serve". Perhaps too often, so-called sportsman's ministries are created to make a point, set a certain group straight, or even serve the ministry's creator. None of these go along with the definition of serving anyone to thier benefit.
If you are wondering whether or not to organize a "ministry" that has an emphasis in the outdoors, here are a few things to remember:
1. Clarity is Critical. What audience are you trying to reach? Why are you trying to reach them? Do you actually have a message to share? What is it? How are you going to provide useful information or services for them that will point them to Christ?
2. Minister to those around you first. How are you serving the ones you love now? A professor once told an entire class of shiny new ministry students, "Your family is your first ministry." If we can't serve those we love and are closest to us now, how will we ever be able to minister to those we may not want to love later? The Lord is more pleased with us when we do a good job of ministering to those around us already, than when we try to minister to someone else and neglect those he has already placed in our care.
3. Do you want a ministry or a hunting team? This question is very specific to our current outdoor culture climate. I have no problem with groups of friends organizing filming teams, hunting groups, and so on that make a run at being the next big hunting or fishing craze. Go for it! If that's what you want though, it's important to not call promotion of yourself service to your audience. Find a way to provide value and meet the needs of those who follow you. Even then, it doesn't have to be a "ministry". JCS wasn't started with any intent of being a ministry, rather it evolved into a form of one. Be sure to evaluate your goals and motives before reaching out to the public.
Putting it all together
How we deal with all of these things will be a reflection of the health of our relationship with Christ. Are you embittered by a past church experience? Have the politics and practices of being a hunter overshadowed your leadership in the home? Are you using outdoor ministry as a bandage to cover up a wound or a platform for self-promotion? These things can be indicative of idolatry or another type of sin that needs to be dealt with. Psalm 32:1-2 says, "Blessed is the one whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered. Blessed is the man against whom the Lord counts no iniquity, and in whose spirit there is no deceit." If you are in Jesus, these misbehaviors are not who you are anymore. Pray for God's forgiveness and move forward in grace. Then these unique challenges will become blessings to you and those around you.