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!

Youth Ministry: Daycare or Boot Camp?

Teenagers are fascinating.  After spending five years in youth ministry, they never stop amazing me. So often we write off students as dysfunctional, clueless, and rebellious.  However, over the course of this summer I've been amazed by students who take on responsibility, demonstrate the character of Christ, and serve in ministry at their local churches. Here are a few things that have just left me in awe of God this summer.

  • At my last church, the current youth ministry leaders are students in their late teens who I discipled and trained.  They are currently doing all the teaching, planning, organizing, and ministry.
  • Students at Forest Hills Baptist Church have given up their summer for ministry.  Whether it is visitation, making decorations for VBS, teaching children at VBS, or leading Bible Study.  They keep stepping up to the plate taking to heart 1 Timothy 4:12.
  • Last week was Youth Week 2013: The Search for Truth. After asking several students from different churches what their favorite part of the week was, I kept getting the same answer: The Breakout Session. Now if you click through and see all the breakout sessions that were offered, they covered some deep and difficult issues.  Classes like "How to Share the Gospel with an Atheist" or "Biblical Womanhood" or "What is Truth?" The amazing thing is these students loved these deep classes.  They want to be grounded in what they believe.  They want someone to treat them like adults and engage deeply and honestly about difficult issues.
  • As I'm serving as the Interim Senior Pastor/Youth Pastor at FHBC, a team of six students have stepped up to help plan, lead, and organize the youth ministry for the fall.  They will be doing things from managing our youth twitter to teaching on wednesday night.

Who says students are spiritually incompetent? This summer I have seen God use young people powerfully. As Alvin Reid says, we must learn to Raise the Bar for our youth ministries.  When we disciple young people with the truth of the Gospel and train them as leaders and then empower them for leadership, I believe young people will continue to surprise us.  I praise God for His work in these students lives.  One of the ways I measure "success" in my own ministry is when disciples I've trained start making other disciples.  That is happening, and it is incredibly humbling.  As I sit back and watch God work in our church and these students lives, I'm humbled at the power of God who takes the unexpected and does the remarkable.

Churches must begin to look at their youth ministries not as an adolescent day care services but a bootcamp preparing young people for advancing the Gospel to the ends of the earth.

  • Daycare babysits kids and keeps them out of trouble. Boot camp pushes, trains, and equips.
  • Daycare treats kids as consumers, always entertaining. Boot camp is hard work and teaches discipline.
  • Daycare prepares you for nothing. Boot camp prepares you for war.
  • Daycare is a waste of time. Boot Camp has a mission and purpose.

What kind of youth ministry is your church building? Are you baby sitting students until college or are you equipping the future ministry leaders for the decades to come? Are you just fostering the poisonous atmosphere of consumer Christianity or are you training soldiers for war?

I'd love to hear your thoughts in the comments below!

 

A Word of Advice for Students from Richard Baxter

Many students and teachers are currently getting geared up for school starting in just a few weeks. Many will be starting college for the first time exploring the intricacies of molecular biology, the beautiful rhythmic language of William Shakespeare, or the complexities of philosophy.   Richard Baxter wrote in his book The Reformed Pastor the following quote which hopefully will challenge you to seek God in all areas of study.  It does not matter if the pursuit is science, mathematics, literature, communications, arts, or religion itself.  The pursuit of academic excellence is a great and noble task, however it must be fueled with our desire to know and cherish God.  If not, it is all folly.  Here is the quote:

Your study of physics and other sciences is not worth a rush, if it be not God that you seek after in them. To see and admire, to reverence and adore, to love and delight in God, as exhibited in his works - this is the true and only philosophy; the contrary is mere foolery, and is so called again and again by God himself. This is the sanctification of your studies, when they are devoted to God, and when he is the end, the object, and the life of them all.

And, therefore, I shall presume to tell you, by the way, that it is a grand error, and of dangerous consequence in Christian academies, that they study the creature before the Redeemer, and set themselves to physics, and metaphysics, and mathematics, before they set themselves to theology; whereas, no man that hath not the vitals of theology, is capable of going beyond a fool in philosophy. Theology must lay the foundation, and lead the way of all our studies.