In rooms with moldy couches, 1950’s wallpaper, and mismatched mattresses on metal bed frames kingdom work is beginning in the hearts of the next generation. While spraying OFF, serving in KP, following the daily camp schedule, seeds are being planted and God’s heart is touching the hearts of students.
Quietly and powerfully, massive future missions are being born. Ministries are being birthed. Churches are being planted. Families are being fully developed into faithful followers of Christ. And though we may not see these things happen, God is awakening in students new ideas, paradigms and callings. The Word is taking deep root in the hearts and lives of students and children who are experiencing God at Christian Summer Church Camps.
I have just completed 19 summers of leadership in camping ministry with Harvest and a total of 25 summers in camping leadership all together. This summer, I have been asking camp directors (both volunteer and paid), pastors and youth pastors and others if “church camp is still worth it?” I’ve gotten answers all over the board, but for the most part, the people I have asked believe it is.
Attendance at many of the denominational camps was down this summer – from my limited geographical experience during 2014. And the reason I asked the question to so many people is because I wonder if there is another way to accomplish the goal of discipleship and sharing the Good News? Is there a better way to have those special moments? Has the idea of camping for students grown stale and old? What are we accomplishing at church camps? Here are five things…
1) Church camps allow the students to hear the message of Christ in a different setting, in new ways, from new people. I’ve said many times over, being in a church on a regular basis is very important. But many times, we get so used to the way the message is presented in our own church, that it takes being involved in a retreat, camp or conference to hear God’s voice in new and clear ways. Many pastors and Christian leaders have heard the call on their lives while they were attending a special event such as a conference, a retreat or a summer camp.
2) Students are away from the regular schedule. We all need breaks from every day life. And often, to hear the still, small voice of God, students need to be away from phones, obligations, schedules, practices and a million other things.
3) Awakening in students gifts and talents. A person has new experiences at camp. They climb. They boat. The play new games, hear new songs, experience new adventures. New things open doors and opportunities for students. They discover gifts inside them that may have taken longer to discover had they not been at camp for a week. They grow in confidence and in faith.
4) Leaders are developed. Most every camp I’m a part of is developing leaders. In the more informal setting, students, college students, youth pastors and adults have opportunity to try things – teaching, music, preaching, leading, creating, developing, counseling, praying, and more. The need for leaders is always present at camps – obvious entry points and positions to serve are always available.
5) Making Disciples. Church camps are nothing more than an extension of the ministry of the local church, another way in which we might be faithful in making disciples. Church camps need to preach the gospel, teach the Bible and plant the seeds for Christian faith development. The ultimate goal of any church is to invite people to begin walking with Jesus and continue to grow in their walks.