I headed out with 10 students to spend three days backpacking in the wilderness. Our goal was to hike from the Yosemite Valley floor to the top of iconic Half Dome, four thousand feet of elevation change up. This is one of the great hiking experiences that belongs on every hiker’s bucket list. We pulled into Curry Village (now called “Half Dome Village) as the clock struck noon, ate a quick lunch and headed for Happy Isles, the official trail head to begin this epic hike.
Our first destination was Little Yosemite Valley, four miles up and our site for spending the first night under the stars.
We enjoyed the spectacular sights of Vernal Falls, the mist trail, and the spectacular Nevada Falls.
Shortly after starting out ascent up the popular path, one of the young men began struggling with his backpack. His sleeping bag was falling out and I stopped to help him make it secure. Being a less-than-experienced trail guide, I failed to understand the importance of keeping the group together, making sure that when one stopped, everyone stopped. As the “mature” trail guide, who knew the way through the wilderness it was my responsibility to keep the group together.
Unfortunately, the three students in front forged ahead, excited to get to the destination first. However, moving fast is not a good thing when you take a wrong turn, never having been this way before.
For the next twelve hours these three students became lost in the wilderness. They didn’t stop in Little Yosemite Valley and no one knew where they might have gone. It gave plenty of time for my imagination to work overtime, thinking the worst, “If I don’t find these three young men, how will I would break the news to their parents?” “How could I do such a boneheaded mistake of losing track of these boys in the wilds of the sierras, filled with lions and tigers and bears, well at least bears…”
We asked other hikers if they had seen our three clueless friends. We checked with the Ranger station in Little Yosemite Valley; no luck.
How soon should I admit failure and call 911? Were they in danger? Were they even aware of the dangers? Were they playing near a cliff or feeding a bear cub or fording a raging river on a slippery log? How long should I wait before initiating a search and rescue operation?
Sleep was fleeting that night as I reflected on the potential realities for these three lost fledglings. All those years studying in Bible College and Seminary would be a waste if I didn’t find these boys. I was quite sure that their mothers wouldn’t be very understanding of my neglect, and who ever ever trust me again? Losing students in the wilderness is the unforgivable sin of youth ministry.
Maybe I could turn the conversation on the parents with, “What were you thinking when they trusted me with your students?” or maybe “why didn’t you teach your children to follow their spiritual leader?”
Fortunately, the next morning the boys moseyed back into our campsite, after hiking several extra miles beyond Little Yosemite Valley.
Whew, I dodged a bullet! I still had a job! Maybe these teenagers won’t tell their parents about their off trail adventure. Right?!?
I learned a lesson I would never forget from my failure, that “in order to lead through influence, you can’t do it from behind!” The leader stays in front like a mother hen with her chicks behind. No one goes ahead of the leader and the leader is responsible to keep the group together so that everyone arrives at the destination as a group.
Losing a few individuals through “survival of the fittest” is not a good option for anyone who wants a career of leading others.
Whether you are trying to influence a tribe of children in your home, a tribe of soccer parents, a tribe of co-workers, a tribe of peers, neighbors or fellow students, you know that leadership is influence.
Many hesitate to lead, saying “I’m not a leader,” because people don’t always follow and they drive the leader to sleepless nights of anxiety.
But nothing important happens without someone taking the lead and initiating positive change. If there is a rock to be moved, someone needs to say “heave!”
We made it to the top of Half Dome and those students made memories that will last a lifetime.
That is the payoff of leading others, influencing them to take a risk and go places that they would never go on their own. That has been the great joy of my life and ministry and I look forward to many more opportunities to lead with influence!
Leadership means that we are willing to step out by faith and influence others. Paul the Apostle understood this when he wrote,
Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ. 1 Corinthians 11:1 (NIV)
As we follow the example of Christ, we are going to lead others on the right path of life. We are all leading someone. The question is, “are we leading them, influencing them to become more like Jesus?”
We are planning on taking others to the top of Half Dome in the future! Who is interested in following our lead? Talk to us…