About two years ago, the Rev. Anthony Trevarton shot his first boar.
Not only did he take away a boar from that hunting trip, but Trevarton said he also felt God’s call to start a new church.
Trevarton was one of a handful of pastors on a hunt organized by Ministry Outdoor Adventures, an organization that stands apart from many pastors’ ministries.
There’s little formal teaching, no conferences.
Instead, lessons are learned and relationships are built while hunting deer, around a campfire or at the organization’s regular clay shoots.
“Just like a church, it’s all about the relationships,” Trevarton said. “That’s the huge difference: I’ve been to tons of conferences and you learn something, but you don’t take a friend home.”
With support from the pastors he met through Ministry Outdoor Adventures, Trevarton now pastors a church in Haysville that was founded just a few months ago.
Ministry Outdoor Adventures was formed about three years ago in south-central Kansas by the Rev. Rob Schmutz, a full-time evangelist, and his friend Jeff Ochs.
The two loved hunting, fishing and spending time outdoors, and realized that pastors need a way to get away and be rejuvenated.
Pastoring isn’t easy. A 2015 poll of 1,500 pastors at evangelical and historically black churches found that 54 percent found the role of pastor “frequently overwhelming,” while 48 percent “often feel the demands of ministry are more than they can handle.” A majority of pastors (80 percent) said they expect conflict in their church, while 84 percent said they’re on call 24 hours each day.
“This is our way to give a reprieve so they can kind of recharge their batteries, be able to get their focus back on Christ, put them in a circle of peers where it’s kind of a safe environment we create to talk, bounce things off each other, cry if we need to, just praise God and have fun doing it,” Ochs said.
Hunting trips — sometimes boar, pheasant, elk or deer — usually involve a handful of pastors led by Schmutz and Ochs. Clay shoots are open to anyone, with about 30 adults and a handful of children attending one in late April.
Schmutz is a Nazarene minister. Pastors at the hunts have been Baptist, Methodist, Church of Christ and more. They’ve also spoken with Catholic priests about involvement.
All the pastors who now go on the hunts are men, but Schmutz says he hopes a female pastor with outdoor interests will either join the leadership or start a comparable ministry for women.
At the recent clay shoot, Schmutz read from Psalm 19: “The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands.”
“Guess what you’re doing a lot when you’re out here shooting clays?” Schmutz asked the group. “You’re looking up to the heavens, amen, and you’re hoping you hit something. … But we also hope that as you’re looking up at the heavens, focusing on the target, you’re also thinking about the reality that God put you on this earth for a reason.”
The hunting trips offer ample learning opportunities, Schmutz says. Sometimes pastors just share ideas. Sometimes they learn how to process animals they’ve killed. When out hunting and unable to find deer, Schmutz sometimes compares it to how churches can’t stay stagnant in order to draw people: “What do you do? Do you just sit here? Or do you go after, change where you’re at, so you can find where the game is?”
And after the hunts end, the pastors often keep in touch, Ochs and Schmutz said. Conversations range from getting ideas about pastoring a small church to sharing stories about a rabbit shot on a trip to Tucson.
“No one’s trying to be Mr. Super Pastor. We’re just being guys and laughing and joking,” Schmutz said. “I always think, man, I wonder if it was like this with Jesus and the disciples, just hanging out, talking, sharing life?”