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The summer is almost over and as I recap the summer in my mind the highlight was definitely summer camp. And so, as I considered what to write today, my mind went back to a post I wrote last year about camp. All of it stands true once again this year and I want to share it with you again, and pray that even as the summer ends, you will (as a parent or youth pastor or youth leader) continue to prioritize summer Bible camp in your youth ministry calendar.
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A summer without going to a Bible/church camp doesn’t feel like summer to me. I am 34 years old and 26 of those years I have attended summer camp (either as a camper or counselor/leader). So, missing summer camp is very odd—I am sure many of you just nodded you head, because you know what I am talking about.
Well, this past June, my youth group arrived home from summer camp. We attend ASCEND CAMP. It is a camp of epic games, and clear Bible teaching. Over 600 students show up for this “camp” and it is non-stop fun, as well as life-transforming. I could not put on a better camp experience for my students. I am grateful for Mission Road Bible Church for putting this event on.
Anywho…. after I returned from camp (completely exhausted!!), I had a conversation with my youth leaders on why we love summer camp so much—particularly Ascend Camp. The reasons are below, and I hope that they are encouraging so as to send you students to camp and that you will investigate to find good Bible-teaching camps for your students.
Camp helps focus on the spiritual life.
There are so many distractions in our everyday lives. As an adult, I struggle with regular phone calls, texts, and notifications from a variety of locations and from a variety of people. There are also a ton of activities I want to do outside of my normal work/study. For teenagers, who are seemingly always attached to their devices, their distractions are 100-fold my own.
BUT, when we go to camp, all of those distractions stay home. We drive 7-hours away, with just the people in the van, with no other activities or phone calls or texts or devices that can distract from our spiritual lives. Students and leaders can take 5-days to actually take stock of their faith-walk because that is what the whole camp is working to do. And because the spiritual life is the focus, spiritual works can actually get done. Sin can surface and repentance can happen. Backsliding can be exposed, and strengthening can happen. Failed commitment to Christ can be seen clearly and recommitment can take place.
We all need special, intensive focus on our spiritual lives at some point. Summer camp is an awesome place to do just that. I know it has helped me in my walk with Christ, as well as with so many others.
Gives more intensive time with students
There are 168 hours in a week. As a youth pastor, I only get about 3-4 hours of the student’s time. Meaning, if I am not doing more discipleship with students, I get about 2% influence on their week. That lack of time not only makes me depend upon the sovereign grace and work in the lives of these students, but also makes me super grateful for camp time.
At camp, as leaders, we are with these students 24 hours. We see everything about them, from waking up, to cleaning, to how they get ready, to how they eat, to how the play, to how they think, etc. The whole of a student’s life is set before me and therefore I can shepherd them and pray for them better and more effectively, there and when we get back from camp.
What shepherd wouldn’t want to live with their sheep for a time so they can know whom they will give an account? I know sheep are messy and have serious blindspots (esp. teenagers). But effective shepherding is done when you know more about the sheep—their quirks, their habits, etc. At camp, I get to see all this and it is a blessing to know it.
Exposes bad habits because you live together.
When I was a teenager, one thing my youth pastor loved to do was find a way to see his student’s bedrooms. He wasn’t a creeper or a stalker. He knew that if he could see our bedroom, he would find out a whole lot about you we were in private. Our bedroom had posters and knick-knacks and trophies and things that were important to us. He could see if we had discipline to clean our rooms or if we were lazy slobs. All of this went into how he could admonish, or exhort, or encourage us.
Well, let’s say the youth pastor moves in to your room. Then, he not only sees your disciplines, but he is affected by them. That is camp. All of sudden a room of one or two at home is a room of 10 others, including your youth leaders (for the record: guys with guys, and gals with gals). Now, the teenager is exposed and we, as youth leaders, can shepherd more effectively, because who you are in private is who you are. The room is the most private place in our lives. Therefore, to live with another person, you get to see who they really are. What a grand opportunity to speak specific and helpful truth into the lives of youth, by pointing out their obvious habits & disciplines, and lead them to Christ.
Exposes students to other Bible teachers.
My students pretty much only ever hear me teach them the Bible. Now, after a while it can seem that I am the only one with a perspective on God’s truth. BUT, when we go to camp, students get to hear godly men preach from the same Word and re-enforce what I have been teaching.
There is something to say about hearing another voice teach and reason out the Scriptures. This is probably why Ephesians 4 says that God gave to the church “teacherS” (plural). We need multiple gifted men to speak into our lives and expose us with God Word. Camp is a great way to show students that God has gifted many men with the Word and that their truth is the same as I am teaching.
Furthermore, I think this is helpful later in their lives, because these students can know that they can find another church outside of their youth group that also has faithful pastors and teachers. We certainly do not have the corner on the market of good Bible-teachers here in NW Arkansas. Godly, faithful pastors/teachers are all over this world. Camp exposes my students to that and now they can look for men when/if they leave NWA.
Builds lasting memories with each other and leaders.
Memories are one tool that builds people together. Camp is full of games and activities to force memory-making. The lake-front, the blob, zip-lines, 3-way soccer, mud-volleyball, etc., etc., make memories because we are just being fun together. These memories, then, give us reason to be together more often because we are sharing life. My hope is that these temporary joys together then give reason to talk about eternal joys, which eventually becomes the reason for our gathering together.
Fun is permitted by God and I find to be a useful tool in bringing people together (like sports, or coffee, or food, etc.). Camp does just this and I love it!
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So, let me encourage camp. Not just any camp, of course, but a camp that will give your kids/students an opportunity to do real spiritual work and build memories with the youth leaders and each other. If you live in the mid-west, Ascend Camp is a great place to start (see video below for a recap of the teaching from our last week). If you live in the west, Camp Regen is great too.