5 Potential Dangers of Youth Christian Camps

I wrote earlier this week on some of the benefits summer camps can offer your youth or children’s ministry. Often times they do provide great opportunities for discipleship. However, despite their benefits, summer camps have potential to be dangerous. Most of these dangers can be avoided by selecting a good camp and through some careful pastoral care along the way. Yet, these potential dangers must be spotted less they because to cause destruction in the spiritual lives of your students. So to help I’ve identified five potential dangers of youth summer camps.

1. The Christian Bubble

One of the dangers of Christian camps is that it is a week long Christian fantasy world. It is a bubble and while in that bubble it is easy to live for Jesus because everyone is living for Jesus. Many young people can become adapting to the Christian camp bubble and can often put on their Christian mask to fit in with the crowd. In addition to the temptation to hypocrisy many Christian young people have a hard time adjusting going home at the end of the week.

Many of these young people live in difficult situations such as unchristian homes and lost friends. Sometimes a Christian camp is like training a solider at a kids laser tag party. At the Christian camp it is easy to follow Jesus. Everyone is doing it, no one is trying to hurt you, and it is a lot of fun! However the real Christian life is a spiritual war zone with real danger and temptation lurking in every corner. Many students fail to make any real changes in their lives when they get home because living for Christ is much more difficult in the battlefield of life than the laser tag game of Camp.

2. Spiritual Manipulation

This one varies from camp to camp, but spiritual manipulation is common and a regular occurrence at many of them. Because the students are in the Christian bubble and emotions are running high, it is easy to twist some one’s arm into making a forced decision for Christ. With loud worship music and a dynamic speaker who cares more about notches in his evangelistic belt than your students, spiritual manipulation is common. Unfortunately in our pragmatic church culture we are so tempted to forcefully fabricate a work of God so we can feel better about ourselves. All the while we miss that conversion is a great work of God. It is the Spirit who saves, not us. As a result no amount of manipulation will ever bring someone to Christ. It is the Holy Spirit who converts as we faithfully proclaim the Gospel and call for a decision, which camps should do. Yet I want my students to respond to Jesus not to the camps “worship experience”.

Another danger of the heavy spiritual manipulation at camps is their tendency to cause the faithful Christians in your group to doubt their salvation. I can’t tell you the amount of counseling I’ve had to do with some students who evidently follow Jesus who begin to question their salvation. The perseverance of the saints is a wonderfully encouraging and comforting doctrine, yet the spiritual manipulation tends to just damage the faithful Christians and often fails to see genuine conversion in the lost.

3. Conviction is Confused by Emotionalism

I had one of my students tell me one time “Why does this girl get emotional and cry every year at camp only to go back living in sin as soon as she returns home?” Camps can be very emotional experiences. The last night at camps tend to be the most emotionally intense. It is so easy to confuse an intensity of emotion as a true spiritual experience. Yet an intensity of emotions is no sure sign of a work of God as Jonathan Edwards helpfully explains in his book Religious Affections. Similarly, Thomas à Kempis said:

“Don’t think highly of yourself, or consider yourself to be especially loved if you have strong feelings of devotion or sweetness, for it is not by these feelings that a true lover of virtue is known. Nor does the spiritual progress and perfection of a man consist in these things.”

Heavy emotions are an unreliable sign of true spirituality. As a result biblical, Holy Spirit wrought conviction is confused by emotionalism. Many students might be heavily grieved over their sin and weep, then they find themselves engaging in the same lifestyle as soon as they get off the church bus at home. Yet the Scripture is clear that “Godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation without regret, whereas worldly grief produces death.” (2 Cor 7:10) True biblical sorrow and mourning over sin leads to repentance. An emotional experience at camp that doesn’t lead to true repentance isn’t godly grief but a wordily grief that produces death.

4. A Perpetuation of a Roll Coaster Christian Life

Many Christian young people (and adults!) immature in their faith often find themselves living an a spiritual roll coaster. Their spiritual life tends to center around big Christian events that lift them up to the mountain of spiritual ecstasies then real life hits and they go into a spiritual valley of disobedience only to zealously look for the next event, camp, or program to take them to the spiritual mountain top again. This is spiritual immaturity. How do I know? Because I’ve been there.

I’ve heard many a student say to me, “I can’t wait to get to camp this summer so I can get right with God!” Wait, what? Do students really think they can only follow God or experience the joy of His presence at camp? Unfortunately many do. Camps can perpetuate a roller coaster Christian life in which young people look to the next camp, retreat, mission trip, revival, or ski-trip to pump them with enough Jesus to make it to the next event. They hope the momentum of the last big event carries them up the hill to the next one.

This sort of inconsistency long term can be very damaging to our spiritual lives. We must help our students learn how to follow Jesus every day and not depend on big events to get them through. We must teach them the discipline of studying the Scriptures, the habit of prayer, and the priority of regularly attending worship and participating in the life of the Church.

5. A Cynical Attitude Towards the Home Church

Camps are purposefully contextualized to the generation they are trying to reach. As a result the songs, style, and format is uniquely geared towards communicating spiritual truth to that age group. Many young people greatly connect with the modern style and then get frustrated at their home church. You may hear comments like, “I wish our worship band was like this” or “I wish our pastor told more funny stories like that speaker does” or “I wish we had cool LED lights in our sanctuary”.

Camps can create a cynical attitude about the home church. We must remind ourselves and our students that what unites a local church together is not worship style, preaching style, or worship technology but the Gospel of Jesus Christ. We should teach the importance of local church who exists for their discipleship and to send them out on mission. Keep an ear out for any cynicism about your church and quickly squash it with the truth.

There are Benefits, but Be Cautious

Camps again can provide wonderful opportunities for discipleship, yet there are some potential dangers which leaders should be aware. Camps are often a mixed bag and it takes a youth leader with a pastors heart to help shepherd his or her group towards the Gospel while correcting any errors that come along the way. I pray that as many of you may be taking your students to camps this summer that the Lord moves powerfully. I pray that the Gospel is heard, believed, and treasured. I pray that your lost students would be saved. Summer camps are used best as a catalyst for long term discipleship and life long mission. Don’t squander the opportunity and carefully disciple your students not only at camp, but especially when you return home.

Are there any dangers I missed? How can we best minister to our students to avoid these errors? Love to hear you thoughts in the comments below.

6 Ways Summer Camps Disciple Students

It is now June and that means camps are beginning to start up. The Christian camp world has become a wonderful opportunity to get students away for the purpose of discipleship. I spent many years attending camps, working on staff at camps, and taking youth groups to camps. I have such fond memories of these camps as they provide so many opportunities for discipleship.

Yet these camps require a huge investment. Not only do they tend to be fairly expense, averaging around $300 a person for the week, but it is a huge time commitment especially for your volunteers. Is the rewards worth the investment? Is the spiritual fruit of camp worth the cost? I certainly think so. Let me give you six reasons why you should be taking your children and youth to such camps this summer with your Church.

1. Camps Provide a Week of Separation from the World

Camps are one massive spiritual bubble for the week. The student is completely separated from his or her normal setting. They are away from their parents, their routine, the TV screen, and their normal friends. When a person is participating in or surrounded by such worldliness on a regular basis there is often a dullness and unresponsiveness to spiritual truth.

The great thing about camp is that it gets students away from the noise of their life so that they might focus their attention on Jesus Christ. That separation attenuates their ears to what God is speaking and teaching to them.

2. Camps Build Unity in your Group

Church unity is a constant struggle in most congregations. Youth group unity is just as difficult. Cliques and groups can so often form which divide students rather than unify them. Many of our students may not even like hanging out with each other. Yet, when you get them away for a week and they have no choice but to hang out with one another, it is amazing how friendships develop and grow. The cliques tend to fade and a unity in the Gospel grows.

In this sense camps can be great team building opportunities drawing your group of students together for the mission of God when they arrive back home. It is always wonderful to see the friendships that began at camp grow into a strong biblical relationship of accountability and spiritual growth.

3. Camps Provide Opportunity for Conversation

In my experience, students tend not prefer to talk much about spiritual things when they are at the church. (Isn’t that strange?). I find that before a church service or afterwards many are largely closed off or disconnected from deep conversation. Yet, when you are at camp and you are sitting on the bus, it is amazing how quickly the conversation turns to spiritual matters. Camps provide great opportunity for pastors and volunteers to disciple students. It provides a great atmosphere (since you are always together), to chat, talk, discuss, and pray. If pastors and volunteers capitalize on this opportunity it is amazing to watch the fruit from these conversations.

Last summer I was with the students from our church at camp and the power went out in the whole camp for about an hour at around 9 PM at night. Cell phones were dying and there wasn’t much light to see so everyone just sat around and talked. Participating in these conversations brought me great joy. I’d walk around and hear a group of our students talking about youth ministry, scripture, and sharing the Gospel with their peers. That sort of chatter is sweet music to any pastors ears and camp provided an opportunity for that to happen.

4. Camps Allow Leaders to Model Mature Spirituality

Discipleship does not happen in a sermon but through relationships. When you are living every moment that week with your students they have a unique opportunity to watch how you live. They can watch your life and see what it looks like for you to do a quiet time, to pray, to listen attentively to sermons and bible studies, or to sing and to worship with the band. If leaders steward this opportunity well they can demonstrate to their students what it looks like to faithfully follow Christ.

5. Camps Engage Students in Worship and Preaching

The programing at most camps are top notch. The quality of the band or the pastor tend to be very high. All of the worship and teaching is geared towards students. As a result it is often easy for them to connect and respond too. Our Sunday morning services cannot just be youth rallies. We must contextualize the Gospel to all people in our church and our community. Yet, to take a week and have the Gospel contextualized specifically to them can be very beneficial.

6. Camps Provide Great Evangelistic Opportunity

The Lord often and regularly saves students at camp. It is not unusual to see some lost students in your group come to faith in Jesus Christ. This is what we long for isn’t it? The separation from the world and the focus on worship and teaching is often used by the Spirit to covert and save. Having conversion take place at camp also provides a wonderful opportunity for pastors or leaders to disciple, follow up, and train while they are still at camp. Seeing God move and save is what so often makes camps a place of joy and tears as we worship what God has done in the lives of our students.

A Myriad of Opportunities

Camps really are a wonderful tool for training your students to follow Jesus. The spiritual fruit to be reaped is enormous in these unique, once a year opportunities. If you are taking a group of students to camp this summer, treasure these moments and do not squander the opportunities the Lord will present you with while at camp.

Yet, camps also have some potential to be dangerous for our students. Not only have I seen great spiritual fruit at camps, I have witnessed many dangers that can be harmful to our students. Later this week we will look at some potential dangers of summer camps.

If you are pastor or leader at your church, how has summer camps helped you make disciples? Is there anything missing from this list? Share with us in the comments below!

Life at Camps

Well I'm currently at camp number two. Last week I had the privilege of getting to take our youth group at Forest Hills Baptist Church to Charleston, SC for MFUGE.  We had an amazing time serving the Lord together and growing more in the knowledge of Jesus Christ.  This week I am at Centri-Kid with our children's ministry having a great time!  Here are a few pictures from the past two weeks. [slideshow]

One of the things I'm always amazed at is how God works through students lives at camp.  I must admit, I am always very cautious about camps.  Having reflected on my own experiences at camps in my youth, I know that they can be nothing more than just emotionalism and not true repentance and faith.  Camps create a false reality for a week in which everyone you are around loves Jesus. I always try to warn my students that it is easy to live for Jesus at camp, it is much more difficult to live for Jesus back home.  However, none the less, God does work in their lives powerfully.

I think one of the main reasons God speaks to students so powerfully in camp is that they take the time to listen to what God has to say.  In their normal lives surrounded by twitter, Facebook, music, and TV there are so many distractions that most students don't take the time to sit quietly, study God's word, and ask Him to speak into their lives.  As always, these experience do have the potential to be dangerous.  Camps, retreats, and conferences can create a mountain-top spiritual immaturity in which we just look to the next big event to bring us back to that mountain top of spirituality all the while living in sin and disobedience in between those events.  For many teenagers and adults our spiritual lives look more like a roller coaster rather than a steady climb towards being consistent followers of Jesus.

As always when I leave camps, I'm thankful for the opportunity to get to spend a week investing in the lives of students.  I'm always thankful that they experience God powerfully.  However at the end of the day I pray that their affections for God would prove genuine as they live for Christ in the trenches of life, not just the mountain tops.  God works in our lives at camp, but he also works in our lives outside of camps.  We don't have to wait to the next conference or retreat to seek God.  Seek him today.  Pursue him with passion, and allow him to transform your life as you experience the riches of his grace in greater depth with each passing day.