Summer camps are a staple when it comes to Youth Ministry. They allow students to escape their life and get away for a week. The types of summer camps that are offered vary dramatically. Some are all about fun. They have jet skis, dirt bikes, paintball, zip lines, and massive pools or creeks to swim in. Others are very simple and don’t have a lot of activities but focus on the relationships between student and leader. Not saying that the “fun” camps don’t have relationship building. The simple camps just don’t have much, so that is what they are really bringing to the table when people are trying to figure out what camp to go to. As the title of this post suggests… Is going to camp really a good idea? Is it beneficial? Can there be life change that happens without just creating a “camp high” that fades away in a few weeks?
I have grown up in the church, as a Pastor’s son. Not only that but from the time when I was born, until I entered Middle School, my dad was a Youth Pastor. So I grew up going to camps since age 3. Even at that young of an age I saw people give there lives over to Christ that week at camp. There were people who would cry and give everything up that they had been holding on to. While I saw this as an amazing thing when I was younger, even doing it myself a few times, I am now asking the question that I think needs to be answered. Is camp a benefit or a hindrance to our faith?
I am going to look at the pros and cons of camp and then give you my conclusion at the end. That way , if you want to just simply read my statement at the end and see if you still like me or not… you can do that.
There are many awesome things about camp. It allows students to get away from some of the noise of their daily lives. They get to meet new people from other churches and connect with a new crew. Students also get a chance to, what I like to call, put their faith in a microwave. It is an intense week where they are challenged and forced to look at their lives from a powerful angle. There is a sense of belonging at camp that is hard to find. Even if you don’t know anyone at the beginning, you will know almost everyone by the end. Another great thing about camp, that I think gets over looked, is how active you are. There is not much sitting and doing nothing at camp. There is always some way to burn some energy off and to be physically into where you are. I could go on and on about the benefits of camp. But I am not going to try and persuade you to send your student to camp because I think it is a great idea. There are also somethings that you, as their parents, need to consider when choosing whether or not to send your child to a church camp.
Are you prepared to follow up with them? The reality of a “camp high” is a very real and (can be) a dangerous thing if not talked about. If you are unfamiliar with what a “camp high” is, let me explain… It is when all us church kids and leaders get together and share a special herb with each other……… YEAH RIGHT! The best way to describe a “camp high” is simple. Every time I go to camp, I am in a place where I am studying the Bible for a few hours a day. There are people around me that share the same beliefs as me and are encouraging to push myself in my faith. We sing songs and are emotionally connected to God for an entire week. I can’t stress enough how awesome that feeling is! But there in lies the problem. It is simply a feeling. It is emotion. Feelings and emotions can be very misleading. The biggest issue I see with summer camps is this “camp high”. Students go home and they are feeling really good about life and their walk with Christ. Then reality hits. Life isn’t like summer camp. It becomes difficult, very quickly, to keep up the same feelings that you had at camp. The biggest danger with this is that you begin to feel like you have let God down and now you are lost. This is because God is a feeling when you accept Him at camp. (WARNING very generalized statement) It is not a love commitment to be a disciple of Jesus Christ.
Now, I need you to know that I see camp as a GREAT thing! But we are going to have to make some adjustments in our thinking, if camp is going to be a P90X workout for our faith and not just throwing it in the microwave for a few days. Parents, Youth Pastors, and youth leaders alike are going to have to follow up with their students. Notice how I put those in order? Parents, you are the ones that see them every waking hour of the day. You have the most influence in their lives. As their Youth Pastor, I am here to help in anyway I can, but I am not the end all. I am simply a tool. We all have to work together AFTER camp to foster change.
This is my challenge to us as we approach camp in the next few weeks…