By Eddie Pipkin

February 9, 2017

How do we help people make the leap?

How do we help them experience the thrill of trying out a small group, serving at a homeless shelter, joining us for a worship service, or giving a sacrificial gift?  None of these things—none of these elements of ministry—are mandatory in the ways that life’s other day-to-day details are mandatory: details like showing up for work or going to school, paying taxes or doing the laundry.  Everything about ministry is voluntary, particularly in a world which places absolutely no social pressure on seeking or serving God.  Those of us who are committed disciples of Christ—and I assume you are if you are taking the time to read this blog—are full of personal experiences which have convinced us of the joy of this discipleship, the ways in which it has enriched and deepened our lives.  But every step along the way is a leap into the unknown, sometimes invigorating, sometimes terrifying (and then usually invigorating after the initial terror subsides).

I was entranced last week by a video posted to The New York Times website, called  “Ten Meter Tower”.

3m sprungbrett / 3m diving board - spring board

It is stunningly simple in concept: 15 minutes of people standing at the edge of a 10-meter diving platform and deciding whether or not to jump off into the pool (that’s 33 feet for you math-challenged folks).  In this short work by Swedish filmmakers Maximilien Van Aertryck and Axel Danielson, young and old, male and female, all face their fears.  They talk to themselves, encourage one another, count down from three, or flail their arms nervously before flinging themselves into space or chickening out and heading back down the ladder.

As leaders, we tend be farther along in our discipleship journeys that those we are seeking to inspire to jump in for the first time, and it’s easy to forget how intimidating those first steps can be.

Here are some ways to help people triumph over their trepidation:

  • Set expectations clearly and often. It’s worth noting that the participants in the “Ten Meter Tower” film had never jumped from such a height before, but they were given $30 by the filmmakers with the expressed intention that they would work up the nerve to make the leap.  As church and ministry leaders, we often fail to set expectations for those who enter our communities.  We give people a lot of options to study and serve, but we’re very squishy about holding them accountable to the demands of true discipleship (which is about the work of following Christ).  We should couple the good news of our belief that God calls us all uniquely with the expectation that committed disciples will answer that call.
  • Provide easily accessible, clear guidance. If a person is serious about responding to God’s call, we should give them a clear path for exploring that response.  Stepping off a 10-meter tower is a straightforward challenge, but figuring how we are gifted to do God’s work and grow in God’s word can be complicated.  We do our part well as leaders when there are clear options for people to explore their spiritual gifts, try out different ministries, be welcomed into small groups, and serve their communities.  Printed materials (old-school and online) and clear channels for who people should talk to figure out what comes next are invaluable.
  • Pair people with others who can serve as guides and mentors. Most churches do this critical step poorly.  Although it is a powerful component in the growth of the early church as related in Acts, we often treat this process casually in our own congregations, letting new disciples work it out for themselves rather than structuring a community that places a high priority on connecting them with those who have taken the leap before.  Note how crucial the encouragement (and occasional gentle taunting) of others is to the nervous leapers in “Ten Meter Tower.”  New disciples thrive with the encouragement of those who have traveled a little further along the discipleship path and, therefore, can offer reassurance, accountability, and wisdom.  And, as with many aspects of discipleship, this process benefits both parties in the relationship, those who mentor and those are being mentored.

In both the Membership to Discipleship materials and the Connect! materials at the EMC3 website, we repeatedly express the importance of people making leaps towards new connections, new experiences, and deeper spiritual growth if they are to become yoked to a faith community.

  • People must develop several meaningful relationships to truly feel part of the faith community.
  • People must be stretching themselves spiritually and experiencing significant growth to truly feel the value of their faith community.

Sixty-seven people went to the high platform in the “Ten Meter Tower” film, and in the end, some 70% took that leap into the unknown.  How are the new people in your ministries doing in their “leap percentage” (and how often are you jaded, longtime leaders making new leaps of your own)?  Explore the many resources at the to learn practical details about how to inspire people to greater leaps of imagination and experience.