He taps the great outdoors to turn men toward God

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)--Jason Cruise’s eyes light up when he starts relating stories about hooking trout in a cold mountain stream. His voice quickens describing the patience involved in outwitting and luring a tom turkey.

But it’s ministry that really gets Cruise excited -- ministry that connects disconnected men with their Creator God through the call of the great outdoors.

Cruise, former pastor of Belmont Heights Baptist Church in Nashville, Tenn., founded Outdoor Ministry Network three years ago to train other churches how to develop successful outdoor ministries.

Taking his sense of adventure a step further, Cruise now has joined with LifeWay Christian Resources to start a weblog (blog) to foster a sense of community among Christian outdoorsman.

The blog -– www.outfittingyourfaith.com -– is designed as a “year in the life” format and will include Cruise’s personal adventure as he transitions from the pastorate to concentrate fulltime on Outdoor Ministry Network.

“There has never been a place for Christians to go to connect with other likeminded guys on things they are passionate about -– from turkey calls to high-end ministry tools,” Cruise said. “The blog is a place where men can have community and share ideas as well as find outlets for adventure and ministry.”

The idea for the blog emerged from conversations between Cruise and Ben Stroup, special projects coordinator for LifeWay Christian Stores. The two -– who at one time served on church staff together -– were looking for ways to help churches grow their ministry potential.

“LifeWay is all about finding biblical solutions for individuals and finding creative ministry solutions and outlets for pastors and churches,” Stroup said. “It was a natural step for Jason to couple his life and ministry with LifeWay in a candid, honest way.

“Our hope is that this blog will become a hub of conversation for older pastors seeking continued relevance within a changing culture and younger pastors looking for a new ministry model,” Stroup said. “By watching Jason live out his calling in a cutting-edge and exciting way, we want to give pastors a place to dream big and go beyond the traditional models of ministry.”

Ron Pratt, national event planner with LifeWay Conference Center ministries, collaborated with Cruise in 2005 to develop outdoor events at LifeWay Glorieta Conference Center near Santa Fe, N.M. The first event drew men from as far away as Maine.

“Last year at our first-ever Glorieta Adventures fly fishing event, I saw firsthand how God is using Jason and his passion for connecting hunters and anglers with God,” Pratt said. “We had limited the event to 30 men and we sold it out. Not only were these men learning more about fly fishing from Jason’s expert advice and experience, but they were learning more about their walks with other men and with God.”

From the success of that inaugural event, Pratt expanded registration for the Sept. 27-29 fly fishing retreat this year to 50. “I am so thankful that Jason has the passion, the gifts, the skills and the talents to connect outdoorsmen with God,” Pratt said. “Jason and I are continuing to explore other opportunities in using the outdoors to touch men for God."

Cruise said the typical male is disconnected from church and spiritual things because there is nothing that appeals to him within the walls of the church.

“With churches, it’s like bow hunting,” Cruise said. “If you aim at nothing, that’s what you’ll hit. The marginal man is marginal because he’s never had an interest and the church is not aiming at him.

“Outdoor Ministry Network is about teaching men how to connect with men who aren’t believers. Sometimes the only connection you’ll have with a man is that you both love to shoot stuff.”

To reach the disconnected, marginal man, Cruise said, “We’ve got to get in his world and relate to him on his level and in his interests. Otherwise, he’ll continue thinking church is a place that is requiring him to give up his manhood.”

Cruise shares candidly on his blog about struggles and concerns of the ministry, explaining, “I never want to be one of these Teflon preachers -– someone who is a fake and never has problems. That kind of life gets exposed.”

Cruise is the author of “The Heart of the Sportsman” and “Into the High Country,” both from B&H Publishing Group, LifeWay’s trade books division. He also served as executive editor of LifeWay’s popular “The Sportsman’s Bible.”

In addition to this fall’s fly fishing retreat at Glorieta, Cruise will lead the 2006 Glorieta Adventures Elk Hunt in October in Colorado.


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