Whilst every generation has stories to tell about the life-changing contribution a Christian camp made to their walk with Jesus, those few days also have the potential to harm the spiritual formation of a young person.
I gave my life to Jesus on a camp, have organised and lead many camps in my twenty years of youth ministry. I am for camping and believe dedicated time away has an important role in our busy-instant-entertainment driven society. So here that first. But also hear that camps can be the enemy of helping a young person grow into maturity in their faith if we don’t remain vigilant in asking a few key questions.
IT’S ALL SACRED RIGHT?
We all know about the infamous ‘camp high’ and ‘post camp blues’. Forever immortalised in that final day ‘come down the mountain’ talk. And most of us are working real hard at mitigating it all by focussing on ‘follow up’. We instinctively know that following Jesus is about more than making a decision when the lights are low, the music just right and the speaker has identified just about every need anyone has ever had in their life. But what if we’re putting our energy into the wrong place?
Follow up yes, but also think through what you’re actually asking young people to respond to during camp. They need to learn to respond to Jesus but not just when there’s amazing music, great teaching and people with them. There’s no person with a guitar following them around at school. No leader to seek guidance from at break time. So where do we begin?
How about with acknowledging that everything is sacred on camp. The worship time is important, as are the talks and times of prayer. But then again, so is lunch and the ‘free time’ and the chatting when it’s ‘lights out’. We need to be careful that we don’t over-spiritualise certain aspects of the camp and under-spiritualise others.
It’s all sacred. We need to help young people see that and learn how to discover Jesus in those everyday ordinary moments on camp. After all, that’s where their faith is going to be lived out back home. If we only teach young people to discover Jesus during times of corporate worship and teaching on camp, we will reap a harvest of ‘Sunday only Christians’ for generations to come.
KEEP YOUR EGO IN CHECK YES?
The pressure to have a successful camp is real. At face value, it really helps when we see God working during camp. Would you hold another camp if everyone came back saying ‘It was only okay’ and ‘nothing really happened during those few days?’ But let’s think this one through a little further.
God is at work in the life of that young person before they came on camp. He is at work in the life of that young person during camp. And God will be at work in the life of that young person after camp. Whilst camp can serve has a catalyst for the Holy Spirit’s work in their life, and there may even be tangible manifestations of that work, we have to be careful that we don’t seek to manipulate the time on camp, pursuing a tangible outcome so that we can have evidence that God is using the camp to work in the lives of those present.
If we only indicate that God is at work in the tangible, we’ll possibly raise a generation of Jesus followers who don’t have a faith forged in the furnace of the ‘hidden work’ of God and who will constantly be seeking their next spiritual ‘fix’, failing to enter into the necessary acceptance of God’s time. After all, they would have learnt from leaders who seek to manipulate ‘the time’ and ‘the how’ of God’s working.
YOU DID PREPARE RATHER THAN PLAN?
So what’s the difference here? Planning is important. Even though God will often work even when the camp is badly organised, we shouldn’t be satisfied that God is working despite us. It’s also worthy to pursue excellence and desire to offer our best to Jesus but not when we place programme above people or when it leads to an inflexibility because the Holy Spirit already moved during our planning and hasn’t changed her mind.
Preparing is about a mind-set. We do organise and give of our best but then we offer those elements up to God for the few days of camp, asking him to use them according to his unfolding will.
So what are we teaching here then? Well simply, that God is in control and how to respond appropriately to that truth. If God is in control, it doesn’t mean we should just do nothing and it doesn’t mean we should try to wrestle control from him when it doesn’t suite us either. Young people will grow into maturity when they actively move forward in their faith, with the knowledge that the ‘forward’ may look different from what they first understood.
A generation that is satisfied with God working despite no effort will be apathetic and a generation that over plans without allowing the Holy Spirit to re-direct, will build a self-made kingdom believing it to be of God’s hands.
So go camping and keep camping but remember these three must remain. All is sacred. In God’s time and make every effort as the Holy Spirit leads.