What does skydiving have to do with Christianity and The Church? Surprisingly, quite a bit. Recently I have taken up skydiving and during my second solo training jump I began to recognize a lot of parallels between skydiver training and what discipleship should really look like.
A few months ago a friend invited me to go skydiving with him. He wasn’t inviting me to go with him to sit in a hangar and listen to a trained skydiver tell me about skydiving. No, he was inviting me to go experience skydiving for myself along with him. Now was there a hangar and a trained skydiver? Yes, but his function was not to simply tell me about skydiving, instead he was there to equip and prepare me for this exhilarating, life transforming experience. After giving me instructions and equipping me with everything I needed we hopped into a plane, went up 14,000 feet, he strapped me to himself and out we jumped together. This was truly a leap of faith. I had to trust the instructor and the equipment I had been equipped with. As a result of that trust, I faithfully committed to jumping out of my safety zone, a flying box typically filled with those conformed to it’s comfy seats by the fear of what lies outside of the confines of it’s metal hull. Skydivers, on the other hand, calculate the risk and face their fears and discomfort in order to embrace the absolute freedom that is “free” fall. However, I did not have to make this leap alone. I had my friend and also an experienced skydiver there to guide me, encourage me, equip me and even be present right there with me.
My first two skydives were tandem, in which I was strapped to an experienced, trained and certified skydiver. On my first jump I was allowed to deploy the chute at the proper altitude, fly around once the chute was open and land us. The instructor was right there with me the whole time though, guiding me if I started taking us astray and giving me the proper instructions to make a safe, soft landing. On my second tandem jump I was also allowed to turn us left and right and do some tracking during free fall. I was already starting to learn and grow, and the experiences were getting more and more exciting. After the second tandem jump it was time to spread my wings a little, but before I could do that I was required to take a four hour class. Once again, this was not simply about sitting in a room listening to a trained professional preach out of the Skydiver Training Manual for four hours. Immediately after the class I was taken out, suited up and equipped to put into practice everything I had just learned in those four hours. I wasn’t just sent home that Sunday afternoon with some teaching and instruction about skydiving, with a few personal stories to elicit excitement. With the help and guidance of an instructor I was not a hearer of the words I received in that classroom only, but a doer of those words. Except this time I jumped out with an instructor holding onto me, instead of being strapped to him any longer. The instructor was there with me during free fall, but once the parachute was deployed he dove away from me and guided me from the ground via walkie talkie. He was distant from me, but still maintained contact for my safety and security. By training jump three the instructor will let go of you in free fall. After that they will release you more and more until eventually all you get is a pat on the back and a “good luck.” Even then though, the instructor will exit the plane after you and has their eye on you from a distance the whole way down. The goal of the skydiving instructor here is not to get you to pay them to teach you about skydiving from a manual or tell you stories about their personal experiences skydiving. The goal is to train and equip you to become a skydiver just like they are and eventually you may train someone else to become a skydiver too.
“And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ.” (Ephesians 4:11 & 12) You see, it’s not about inviting your friends to go sit in a building listening to some preacher tell them about his experiences with Christ, nor is it about ministers simply preaching and teaching others from the Bible as a Christian Instruction Manual. It’s about inviting people to experience Christ and his kingdom for themselves along with you and then walking this crazy leap of faith out with them. Discipling others as disciples of Christ. Being present with others, preparing and equipping them to be disciples of Christ too. The purpose of apostles, prophets, evangelist, pastors and teachers is not to build personal ministry organizations, it’s to build up the body of Christ. It’s not to make congregations of followers, but rather to make disciples, preparing and equipping them to be apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers just like you are, in order that they too may make more of the same.
All of this started coming to me on my second solo training jump as we were sitting in the plane ascending to the heavens. I was looking around at the students and our instructors fixing to exit the plane two by two as Christ sent out the 70 (Luke 10:1). In addition, there was a team of four highly trained skydivers on board. They no longer needed an instructor to skydive, but here they were, jumping out and flying in perfect formation together in unity. That’s when it dawned on me, I really wish church was a lot more like skydiving.