In college I rock climbed quite frequently. There is more time for that sort of thing prior to a family and career. One bright Saturday my longtime friend Brian* and I decided to go climb some routes at Tennessee Wall near Chattanooga, TN. Known locally as T-Wall this beautiful cliff set in the Tennessee River Gorge offers grand vistas and legendary traditional routes that attract climbers from around the world. Near the end of a fantastic day of climbing, I was leading a moderately hard route while my close friend Brian belayed from below. I methodically placed one piece of protection into the rock after another paying little attention to my surroundings beyond the line I was climbing. I trusted my belayer who held the end of my rope and therefore my life in his hands. We communicated with one-word sentences without having to looking at each other. “Slack.” I would say as I continued up the cliff-face. “Thanks.” He replied. “Take.” I yelled after placing another piece of protection into the rock to secure the rope. “Thanks.” I heard from below.
One-word commands are the best way for a climbing team to communicate without an overabundance of “What did you say?” A team that is experienced with one another and knows each other can more accurately fulfill a one-word command like “Tension” with just the right amount of force. Trust between a climber and belayer is everything. As I neared the top of the cliff, I was able to hear a squirrel jumping from branch to branch in the trees at the top. But this was at the back of my mind as I focused all my effort on finishing the last few feet of the climb. It was not an easy route and as the leader I would need to build an anchor once I reached the top. Climbing is about pacing yourself to avoid using all your energy too early. It requires a lot of focus and it is easy to ignore what’s going on around you, which can be a major mistake.
Suddenly I heard a piercing crack! I knew something must have broken loose at the top of the cliff. I did what all climbers are trained to do when something falls from above and yelled at the top of my lungs, “Rock!” I pulled my body in tight to the cliff as I knew Brian would below. This is the safest spot as falling objects are most likely to bounce out away from the cliff-face. Out of the corner of my eye I saw not a rock, but a log bigger than any person go falling by me. My first thought was “God save us.” Next, I thought, “if Brian is hit, let him only be injured.” This was for his sake and mine because I knew, short of being killed, he would find a way to lower me to the bottom. He was my only way down! A split second after yelling “Rock” I heard a second crack. I looked down and saw a log 8 feet long and 8 to 10 inches in diameter right where Brian had been standing.
To my relief I saw he was not under it. I have no doubt God spared us that day. That experience also impressed on me the importance and value of trusting those with whom we venture outside. This trust becomes even more indispensable when we are responsible for leading others. It is no wonder Jesus sent his disciples out in pairs to preach the Gospel before leaving them with the Great Commission. They needed to trust not only him, but also one another. He could have sent them out individually and covered more territory. But he knew the value of companionship and trust. We are always more likely to succeed when we have both. The beauty is that by learning how to trust each other we also learn how to trust God more.
You must trust your fellow staff if you are to succeed in the mission of your group or organization. No church, outreach, club, or mission will be successful if the staff lacks trust. Here are several tips to grow trust among your staff.
The Interview. Use an interview process to filter out untrustworthy staff candidates before they even join the team. Ask a couple questions such as: How would you handle a situation if you were asked to do something you know is unethical but not illegal?” or “Would you report a dishonest co-worker to your manager?”
References. Be sure to actually check out any references they provide.
Probation Period. Give new staff some time to mingle and get to know current staff they will interact with regularly before making them permanent. Give them a trial period to ensure it’s a good fit for both of you.
Team Building. To build trust among your current staff, plan some staff only events. An afternoon filled with games and socializing is a good start. Tryout some classic team building games that encourage working together and get people out of their comfort zone just a little. Outdoor activities like an overnight camping trip are a great way to build interpersonal trust. A day spent learning to rock climb will build trust, guaranteed! Most importantly, make time to pray and worship together as a collective staff. Teams that pray together stay together.
A strong bond between staff will make for a great program. You may not have the best resources, biggest facilities, or coolest presentation, but if the social environment is positive then youth will want to be involved. And the social environment is set by the staff. So focus on building a quality team of people who trust each other. For other team building ideas and activities check out this article by U.S. News “The Best Team-Building Exercises” or the book 365 Low or No Cost Workplace Teambuilding Activities by John Peragine and Grace Hudgins.
*Names have been changed for privacy.
Written by David F. Garner. David is a youth ministry worker in Nashville, Tennessee and Web Publisher at www.outdoorlessons.com. He loves to use the outdoors as a medium for teaching Bible principles just as Jesus did. He has worked in youth ministry for over nine years and especially enjoys summer camp ministry.