Ministering in the Great Outdoors
Steven P. Lummer has pastored Discovery Church in Prescott, Arizona, for 18 years, but the congregation today looks a lot different than when he started.
Eight years ago, the renamed Discovery pivoted, shifting its mission. Rather than continue as First Assembly of God catering to traditional churchgoers, Lummer and his wife, Brenda, decided to concentrate on the growing local demographic that loved the outdoors.
Prescott is a magnet for recreation-minded residents, at the crossroads between major hiking and mountain bike trails. So, Lummer resolved to seek those who resonate spending time in places such as Yosemite National Park, the Grand Canyon, or Zion National Park. For his 60th birthday, Lummer hiked the Grand Canyon rim to rim for three days and 23.8 miles with his daughter, Natascha Kling. She and her husband, Adam Kling, are lead pastors at Urban Hope Church in Flagstaff.
“Our approach was to be a little bit John Muir, a little bit John Wesley,” says Lummer, who just turned 63. “Some people peeled off when we shifted and the tradeoff was painful, but we feel like it was what God wanted us to do.”
In addition to pastoring, Lummer became a U.S. Missions Outdoors Nations Network chaplain. Subsequently, Discovery Church has become outdoor-driven — hosting rock climbing, hiking, canoeing, kayaking, and biking events. Lummer has baptized people in rivers and parks. Lummer currently is raising funds to purchase a food truck that would be stationed at trailheads through the Outdoor Nations Network.
Like other recreational chaplains, Lummer has found that getting to know people over time is a necessary prerequisite to discussions about Jesus.
“Going to the trailheads and building relationships is a unique niche ministry,” Lummer says. “They are more open to talking when not boxed into a service.”
S. Brad Sasser says Lummer has mentored him in his recent endeavor to become a U.S. Missions outdoor chaplain. Sasser is in a similar hot spot for recreational enthusiasts, based in Damascus, Virginia, considered Trail Town USA. He builds relationships with Appalachian Trail hikers, cooking for them at hostels along the way. He also sets up at road crossings or gaps, providing fresh fruit, socks, and adhesive bandage strips to hikers.
Under his ministry Trail Servants, Sasser offers devotional content on an app that can be downloaded.
“It’s a lot of seed planting and watering,” says Sasser, who recently baptized three people he befriended. Sasser says he’s gleaned a wealth of wisdom from Lummer.
“To work with people in outdoor space really requires building relationships. It’s not, Hey, let me tell you about Jesus the first time you meet them,” says Sasser, 40. “As a church planter, Steve had to have tenacity and a tough skin to connect with people.”
Sasser, who has earned the trail nickname “Shep,” as in shepherd, says Lummer impressed upon him the need for compassion and empathy as an outdoor chaplain.
“A lot of time must be spent layering relationships with people,” Sasser says. “When people see that I care about them and what they do, they begin to ask questions about what I do.”
The Lummers, approaching their 40th wedding anniversary in August, met at Westside Assembly in Davenport, Iowa, when Tommy Barnett pastored the church. Steve accepted Christ under Barnett’s ministry.
After serving as a youth pastor in Iowa, California, and Ohio, Lummer planted Lakecrest Assembly of God (now Redemption AG) in Wentzville, Missouri, where he stayed for 13 years before moving to Arizona. Today, Brenda is a preschool teacher and Steve supplements his income as a real estate agent and adventure photographer.