Why Everyone (And the Church) Needs to Climb a Second Mountain

Chances are you want to have a life of significance.

A lasting legacy. A life well-lived.

But how do you get there? What does that life even look like?

I’ve been reading David Brooks’ The Second Mountain

The first mountain of life, Brooks argues, is about self. Climbing this mountain involves the pursuit of normal goals of finding success in work, getting into social circles, to be well thought of, have a nice home, nice family, good food, and so on. 

But then something happens where the person climbing that mountain realizes that it’s not as satisfying as she or he thought it might be. The person wonders, “Is this all there is?” Maybe something happens to raise this question. Maybe the person has a business, moral, or relationship failure, a cancer scare, a struggle with addiction. The person must face their shadow self, now broken open, the inner life exposed and often proven bankrupt.

Some people get bitter and resentful when this happens. They complain a lot. 

But others find something different in the suffering. They peer deeper into themselves, and perhaps discover something more fundamental about the True Self. They hopefully identify with a part of themselves that cares for others. They’re ready to be a whole person, inside and out.

Thus begins the journey up the second mountain. The first mountain is about building up self and ego; the second mountain is about shedding the ego and losing oneself. The first mountain involves more and more acquisition, while the second mountain is about contribution.

Climbing the second mountain means leaving a consumer mindset in order to be consumed by a greater cause. It’s about relationship and participation instead of narcissism and individualism. Brooks writes:

“You don’t climb the second mountain the way you climb the first mountain. You conquer your first mountain. You identify the summit, and you claw your way toward it. You are conquered by your second mountain. You surrender to some summons, and you do everything necessary to answer the call and address the problem or injustice that is in front of you. On the first mountain you tend to be ambitious, strategic, and independent. On the second mountain you tend to be relational, intimate and relentless.”

When Jesus was nearing the end of his ministry — the cross — he took his disciples up on the mountain. There he was “transfigured” before them, giving them a glimpse of who he really was. He shone with glory, and a voice from heaven affirmed Jesus as God’s beloved son. 

The disciples must have felt both humbled and privileged. They must have felt good at being part of Jesus’ inner circle.

Up to that point the disciples had been serving with Jesus, often thinking that his kingdom was something they would share in worldly power and authority. They focused on their own success — their place in the kingdom. They had zeal and bravado and even offered to call down fire on those who rejected Jesus. 

But after the resurrection, the bravado was gone. They had abandoned Jesus, tucked tail in his great moment of suffering. They were humiliated and broken and ashamed. 

Even so, Jesus forgave them. Before he ascended into heaven, he led the disciples to Bethany, on another mountain (the Mount of Olives), and told them not to leave Jerusalem until they received power from the Holy Spirit. Then they would be his witnesses to the end of the earth.

Jesus’s first summons was to follow him. His second summons was to go into all the world and preach the gospel. There was a second, bigger mountain to climb. And now they were different, ready for the second journey.

Maybe God is calling you up another, bigger, more challenging, more joy-filled mountain as well. Maybe it means a career change. Or a time investment. Or staying put and just living more for others.

The starting question is: what is the summons?

The next question is: what is the first, or next, faithful step in following the summons?

It’s a question for individuals, but churches need to ask it as well.

What does a second mountain church look like?

A first mountain church remains distant from one another, lacking vulnerability and passion. A second mountain church dwells in thick relationships, intimate and united in common work. 

A first mountain church focuses only on helping people achieve personal success. A second mountain church embarks on a collective mission of discipleship and community impact that can only succeed with God’s help.

A first mountain church obsesses over buildings, budgets, and attendance. A second mountain church sets its sights higher, to transformation, transfiguration.  

A first mountain church gives lip service to prayer. A second mountain church immerses in prayer, in all things.

A first mountain church creates an ethos of success not much different from that of the world. A second mountain church creates an ethos where people can both thrive and fail, support and be supported, through the unexpected and often unwanted challenges of life. 

That’s the kind of church — and the kind of people — that leave a lasting impact.