The Vineyard Canada Climb

David Ruis, Feb 15, 2024, 5:16 PM
David Ruis National Director
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I've been watching The Climb.

Legendary rock climber Chris Sharma and Jason Mamoa of Aqua Man fame, host this reality series which takes amateur rock climbers through a series of mental and physical challenges in some pretty gnarly and intimidating ascents around the world. I have never engaged in this sport at any level before, but I have been quite mesmerized in watching this program. Beyond just the raw skill and athleticism required, there are several things I've been observing which have quite amazing parallels to what we are trying to pay attention to in Vineyard Canada.

First off, the attention to non-anxious footwork  - what the climbing community describes as "quiet feet" - is critical. Sounds a lot like our constant challenge to each other to maintain a "non-anxious presence" as leaders in these zany times.

Secondly, a steady "step - reach - step - reach" rhythm, resulting  in consistent momentum appropriate for the surface and path beneath and ahead of you, is a must. Many times we sign off our various communications with the phrase "step by step." If there's been anything that we have consistently heard over and over again from our Listening Team, it's been that the Spirit keeps reminding us to pay attention to timing. Precision timing.

Another thing in climbing is paying attention to the way you move, particularly in keeping your movements smooth - fluid. This is commonly referred to as a hallmark of efficiency in rock climbing. Movement will become precise and graceful by learning to contract only the muscles necessary for the move you are currently executing. This is attained by alternating your focus back and forth between what is called "directing movement" and "directing relaxation." This not only sustains the momentum and rhythm you've attained to this point, but it allows for better decision making as to the next hand or foot hold you will need to reach for, or any pivots you must make in finding the best pathway upward. Even though the route may have already been pioneered and followed by many people ahead of you: lose rock; climate; wind; changes in vegetation; and other variables may require a shift in the way upward.

The need for gaining better chops in the area of discernment and the spiritual disciplines has been a recurring theme for us the last several years, and will continue to be critical in helping us navigate our next steps in Vineyard Canada. We have a growing sense that our national mantra of "health begets health" is far more than just a good slogan to brand some of our national initiatives with, but a guiding principle that we must not lose or stray from. Leaning on, and listening to, the Holy Spirit - as He directs our times of engagement and relaxation - will always be the mainframe of our guidance system.

Next, I have noticed that understanding pacing is a necessary skill. Knowing when to move more leisurely, and even pause, and when to kick into high gear, greatly increases the chances of a successful topping out of an ascent. Along with the attention to rhythm, awareness of  the interplay of the ebb and flow of exertion for the next moves ahead of you is important. I have watched with wonder when a climber will stop during an ascent and appear to just dangle from a rock face, shaking out their arms, or taking the time to settle. It can look quite perilous and unnecessary from the vantage point of an observer, but you quickly realize paying attention to this kind of pacing is key to the climb. There may be moments when we need to pause - which may have the same sensation as dangling off of a rock face - to recalibrate for the climb ahead. There will be other moments of - as they say in the climbing world - needing to kick into "high gear" to reach for a critical next hold before us. One of our local churches coined the phrase, "ready but not rushed" to describe how they were approaching the journey of leadership development and succession that is ahead of them. I think this captures our understanding of pacing very well.

Finally, but certainly not least, is the recognition of the need for good breathing techniques. When exerting the kind of focus and energy required for climbing, it is far too easy to erratically breathe - everything from taking breaths that are too rapid and shallow in moments of anxiety and exhaustion, to unknowingly holding your breath and stopping entirely when things get tough. A steady flow of oxygen is important for energy production and recovery all along the climbing route, including both the preparatory phase of the climb and the recuperation after.


Cultivating spiritual disciplines and practices that increase our capacity to inhale and exhale is something we want to be calling each other into. Learning how to breathe deeply through worship, prayer, counsel and communal discernment. Learning how to exhale with vitality through the examen, confession and places of vulnerable accountability are so important.

To borrow another insight from rock climbing, we may just be at a crux in the Vineyard Canada climb. A crux is defined as being at the "heart of a climb, marking the most demanding, arduous sequence of the line. Whether it presents itself at the route's base, at its peak, or intermittently, the crux demands your full attention." ( We are in a moment of giving our full attention to the rock face we find ourselves on. There is no going back. There is no way to stay in this place perpetually. There is a way upward, but it will take a non-anxious and smooth, step by step, discerning and "ready but not rushed" posture. We can do this. There is an ascent before us that we will discover is "good to us and the Holy Spirit."

We "seek first God's kingdom and His justice on the earth. The Jesus Way."

Onward. Upward. Step by step.

And - oh yes - breathe.