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!


5 Reasons Why Youth Ministry Can be Dangerous

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As a Student Pastor, I've spent a lot of time reading, studying, and doing youth ministry.  I've been doing this for several years now.  While I have been in the trenches of youth ministry, I have seen some huge potential dangerous in the youth ministry culture in America.  These dangers are real dangers that might even be found in your youth group.  To be honest, I see some of these dangers in my own.  Take an honest look  at five reasons why youth ministry can be dangerous:

1. Youth Ministry can cause Parents to Outsource Discipleship to Paid Professionals

Discipleship is first and foremost the responsibility of Christian Moms and Dads.  Youth Ministry, originally created to be an evangelistic outreach to non-Christian teens has quickly become the new norm for discipling teens of Christian parents in the church.  Many Parents have the idea that if I just send my kid to youth group, then I am doing my job as a Christian parent.  However, nothing could be further than the truth.  The one who God will hold for the discipleship of your child is you.  God will hold Dads and Moms accountable for how they disciple their children. We have created a culture in our churches where we outsource discipleship to paid "Youth Ministry Professionals" and let them do all the work in discipling our children.  The only problem with that is the Bible.  You can't delegate discipling your teens to someone else, when it is God who expects you to do it. 

Many Youth Ministries try to disciple students without the involvement of the parents.  In fact, I have heard some youth pastors claim that parental involvement is a bad thing.  More than ever youth pastors need to see themselves as "Family Pastors" not "Youth Pastors".  A Youth Pastor must aim to disciple the whole family, not just the students.  Youth Ministries should aim to train parents to disciple their children for the glory of God.  Youth Pastor, if you are going to create lasting disciples, you need Godly parents who have been trained to take the lead on discipleship, and not just outsource it to you.

2. Youth Ministry can be a breading ground for Moralism devoid of the Gospel

Moralism is a constant danger in youth and children's ministries.  Many students leave well intentioned churches and youth ministries burned out on moralism.  They have heard the list of dos and don'ts and they are tired of it.  They've been taught not to have sex, not to get drunk, and not to lie, cheat, or steal.  They have been taught moralism without grace.  They have been taught Law without the Gospel. More than ever, we need youth ministries and youth pastors who will preach the Gospel into the lives of their students.  Students need to hear the Gospel and need Godly leaders who can help apply its truth to their lives.  Youth Pastors much always teach holiness, but it must always be understood in response to the Gospel, not in the place of it.  

3. Youth Ministry can Disconnect Students from the Rest of the Body

I love Paul's passage in 1 Corinthians 12 when he talks about the body of Christ.  Did you ever notice how many bodies Paul talks about in this passage?  Are their two?  Nope, just one.  A local church is one body, not two, not three, not four.  One of the greatest dangers of age segregated ministry, including youth ministry, is that we unhealthily divide the local church into multiple bodies of Christ.  A tendency in Youth Ministry is to alienate the students from the rest of the church.  As a youth ministries we have our own room, our own building, and our own services.  I've seen many youth ministries operate like a separate church within a church.  This is a unhealthy and Biblical way to do youth ministry.  As the body of Christ, we need each other, and this means we need a multi-generational approach to ministry.  

I love the ministry that is described in Titus 2. Older men are discipling younger men.  Older Woman are discipling younger women.  If we want Titus 2 to happen in our congregation than we must tear down this wall of division between youth ministry and the rest of the church.  Rather than creating a separate youth sub culture within our church, why not be the bridge to bring all generations together for the health of the body and for the advancement of the Gospel.  

4. Youth Ministry can become a "Safe Alternative" rather than Missional Training  

Youth Ministry becomes a "safe alternative" for students.  Rather than teaching students how to missionary engage with the world, we encourage them to leave their busy schedules and pick up the busy schedule of youth ministry.  However, busyness doesn't necessarily mean godliness.  Many youth ministries have activities that compete The authors from the book Creature of the Word write this about youth ministry:

All three of us serves in student ministry at one point in our ministries; therefore, we know that many churches put pressure on student leaders and ministries to "keep the kids busy" with a myriad of programs, events, and activities.  The motivation is to provide constant alternatives for students so that they are helped in avoiding the trappings of the world.  But busyness is not next to godliness.  Students don't need their social calendars planned; they need their hearts continually transformed. (pg.148) 

They would later write, "when the focus becomes the events or the activities rather than Jesus, the only thing that is changed is the calendar."  So often this turns into an entertainment model of ministry, devoid of the transforming power of the Gospel.  So often the trip to the theme park or the concert or the bowling ally become the focus of the youth ministry rather than the Gospel.  Youth Pastors  and ministries must see themselves as Gospel equippers not just alternative safe entertainment for teens.  

5. Youth Ministry has Proven Inconsistent at Making Long Term Disciples of Jesus

One of the great critiques of Youth Ministry the past few decades is that Youth Ministry has failed in producing long term disciples of Jesus.  Statistically, this has proven true time and time again.  This indicates that something about the current direction of youth ministry is failing in its purpose to produce disciples.  I believe some of these dangers listed in this blog are a reason why youth ministry is floundering in producing life long disciples of Jesus.  Many other leaders in Youth Ministry are beginning to recognize that as well.  Wayne Rice, one of the founding members of Youth Specialties said this:

We got what we wanted.  We turned youth ministry into the toy department of the church.  Churches now hire professionals to lead youth ministry.  We go relevance but we created a generation of teenagers who are a mile wide and are an inch deep. (Cited)

In Youth Ministry we need are renewed focus on teaching our students the entirety of the Scriptures.  We need to give them the Gospel first and foremost.  Although Youth Ministry does have some potentially dangerous problems, I still believe that it can be used powerfully to disciple and train students.  As a fellow Youth Pastor, I have seen some these dangerous even in my own youth group.  However, we must remember that because we love these students, sometimes we must give them what they need and not what they want.  What they need more than anything is the glorious Gospel of our Lord Jesus.  Let's proclaim it to them!

What are some dangers that you have seen in youth ministry? How can we correct these dangers in the life of our churches?  Love to hear your thoughts in the comments!

What I Loved About Youth Week


This past week, churches from around Wilson County came together with their youth groups to worship Jesus.  It was an amazing week and God moved powerfully in the life of the Youth of Wilson.  As a sit here the day after and reflect on the week, there are a couple things that I just loved about it.

The Whole Week Was Gospel-Centered

Every night was focused on Jesus.  It was crystal clear to everyone the reason why we were meeting.  It wasn't for fun, it wasn't for entertainment, it was solely for Jesus.  The whole tone for the week was focused on the good news of the Gospel and equipping students to share it effectively.  I loved getting to hear my brothers, other youth pastors in Wilson, preach the Gospel.  I loved listening to Stephen Combs and his band lead us in Christ-Centered Worship. You can go watch the sermons from Youth Week here and see what I'm talking about.  Jesus was the hero, not any one church or youth pastor!

The Week provided a sample of the Unity of the Universal Church

How rare is it to see youth groups come together in the same city to worship Jesus? In my years of life and ministry I have never seen something quite like what happened this week in Wilson, NC.  Youth Pastors can be extremely territorial and often the attitude, particularly in small towns is Our church vs Your church.  The attitude of the churches and youth pastors in Wilson are far from that.  Each and every youth group that showed up this week proved that the Kingdom of God is not about any one church or one youth group, but that we are all a part of the Universal Church.  We all have our local congregations, but it was amazing to come together for a week and get to see in just a small sample of what heaven will be like when we worship together.

The Week Created Authentic Community

Relationships were built with students.  Relationships were built with the adults.  We got the privilege of getting to know other Christians from other churches seeking to advance the Gospel in our community just like us.  As a result, we made new friends and built a community that can better work together to advance the Gospel in the city of Wilson.  Students met other students in their schools who love Jesus just like they do.  It was awesome to see students hanging out and sitting with students from a different church.  It wasn't cliquish, my church vs your church mentality, but humble and authentic Christian community.

The Week was Multi-Ethnic

I hate that churches on Sunday morning are the most segregated time in America.  There are white churches; there are black churches.  Even in my own city of Wilson, racism and segregation runs deep in the psyche of people, even Christians.  I was so overwhelmed with joy with seeing white students worship with black students, eastern students worshiping with hispanic students.  It was a multi-ethnic blend, and it represented far better the multi-ethnic worship in heaven than our severely segregated churches on earth.  It demonstrates the unity and power of the Gospel to unite those who are different.  We are all saved by the blood of Jesus and we can worship him together regardless of our ethnicity.  Youth Week proved that.

The Week was Missions Minded

Whether giving food to the Hope Station, giving to the Wilson Pregnancy Center, or sharing the Gospel, Youth Week was missions minded.  The whole focus of the week is that we must put our faith into action, and our students did that.  It was amazing to see over 100 students go out into the city of Wilson to share the Gospel.  Their passion and enthusiasm were intoxicating and these students proved to their city that they are not content just sitting on the sidelines of the Christian faith.  These students demonstrated that the advancement of the Gospel of Jesus is something that they take seriously.

Youth Week was an amazing week, and I'm already getting questions about whether we will do it again next year.  In my experience nothing has quite brought a community of students together quite like God did with youth week.  For that I am thankful, and until next year may we continue to partner together to reach our city with the Gospel of Jesus!


YOLO, Live it for Jesus

YOLO. You Only Live Once. That is the cry of many teenagers as they tweet and talk about the choices of life. Just as Solomon tells us in the Bible, there is nothing new under the son. YOLO is just a recapitulation of the Roman philosophy known as “carpe diem”, which is latin for "seize the day". YOLO has caught on as a cultural phenomenon and captures the ideology of this younger generation.  As a result, Christian teenagers need to think Biblically about the philosophy of YOLO.  How should Christians think about the phrase YOLO? The thinking behind YOLO goes something like this. You are at a party and you are debating whether to pick up that first beer so that you can get drunk tonight. Should you get drunk? You only live once, so go for it.  Make the most of the moment and get intoxicated.  The YOLO philosophy continues in all aspects of life.

Should I have sex with my boyfriend? YOLO. Should I skip school and go to the movies? YOLO. Should I cheat on that test to get a good grade? YOLO. Should I pull this prank on this dorky guy? YOLO. Should I gossip about this girl in my class? YOLO.

You see, there is a root of truth in YOLO. We do only live once.  We have one chance to make the most of life.  You can't go back and relive tomorrow.  We must make the most of every day. For the Christian though, we don't use this truth as an opportunity to indulge our fleshly sinful desires. We don't waste our brief life on this earth indulging our every desire.  Rather, we live our lives completely for Jesus, and for the spread of the Gospel of Jesus.  You only live once, live it for Jesus.  Don't waste your life seeking vanity, seek Jesus.

Should you open up your Bible today and spend time with the Lord? YOLO. Should you share the Gospel with your friends at school? YOLO. Should you go on that mission trip at your church? YOLO. Should you sacrifice your own wants for others? YOLO.

Should You live a life of holiness and purity? YOLO.

You Only Live Once. Don't was your life on the pleasures of this world.  Live your life for Jesus.