We’ve just spent the last week on Woolie 1. It’s a Pathfinder Venture for 11-14 year olds. You may have read about it here?! Ed told me I’d be a leader without portfolio. He didn’t warn me that I’d have to be the camp press officer. But I was delighted to show Ruth Gledhill around what I thought was a fantastic camp.
We took the whole family and they had a ball. The site was fantastic. We had somewhere great to sleep. JJ, Claudia and the team cooked delicious food. The activities programme kept our kids occupied from dawn til dusk. The heated outdoor swimming pool was nice! And the grounds were stunning. Our kids were included by the camp members in almost everything. Number one son started taking notes in the Bible talks. Number two son learnt to swim with armbands. Daughter discovered High School Musical.
I need to come clean. I love camps. I’ve been doing them for almost 20 years [I started young]! As long as the guys that run them think I can be useful, I plan on staying involved. Strangely, given the lack of sleep and sheer exhaustion of constantly being on the go, I find them so refreshing. Sure, you’re knackered at the end of the week but there’s something spiritually rejuvenating about them. It’ll take wild horses to drag me away from them even as I get older.
I know they’re not everyone’s ‘cup of tea’ but I thought I’d have a stab at trying to articulate why I enjoy them so much.
1. You get to do what you’d love your church to be doing
It’s not fair on churches to compare them to camps. Camps are an unusual environment; there’s none of the usual things to distract us from gospel ministry; there’s no work, someone else cooks your meals and the TV holds no attraction. It’s an artificial environment. It’s a leaner, streamlined version of church. But there’s something about camp that reminds you what you’re supposed to be doing as a church. And so often in church ministry we can forget. On camp, every leader spends a whole week looking after the kids in their care; giving them a great holiday and helping them think about the big issues of life. Some of them describe themselves as Christians and they were looking for encouragement. The leaders are all too happy to give it. Some of them don’t want to describe themselves as a Christians because they remain unpersauded. We don’t pressurise them into believing. That would be wrong and counter productive. But we do listen to their objections and help them see why Christian faith is credible and rational. One of the best sights on camp is a teenager sat next to a leader on a bench, Bible open in front deep in conversation. They set the spiritual temperature. And it’s consistently higher than it is at church. That’s fantastic. And it’s why so many kids make such progress whilst they’re away at camp. It’s why youth leaders are so keen to bring their kids along. It’s why parents are so keen to send them. And it’s why church leaders are so supportive of camps, even if it means losing 20 of your evening congregation for a week in the summer!
2. You get to work as part of a team with a shared ambition
Camp leaders are not like church members. They’re church members. At least they should be, otherwise they don’t get to come. You can’t lead on a camp if you’re not involved in your church. But that’s the issue, they’re involved in church. And so camp gets the cream. The leaders on camp are some of the very best that the local church has to offer. The leaders room is therefore a very talented group of individuals. This doesn’t mean that we were all the same. We were very different. We had complimentary gifts, temperaments, abilities and characters. Some were atheletic, others artistic, still others had great acting ability, a few were genuinely hilarious and many had teaching gifts. The really irritating ones have all those gifts! But that’s just envy. But like a well functioning church body we were delighted to join together in partnership for the sake of something bigger than ourselves and our own little projects; namely, the gospel. That was hugely enjoyable. We felt like we were all pushing in the same direction. We felt like we were all praying for the same things. That’s just so stimulating. There are times when we get distracted at church. We let the urgent replace the important. But on camp we’re focussed. We don’t neglect the urgent. But in all honesty there are very few things that can’t be put to one side for a week.
3. You get to see that the kingdom is bigger than your local church
And that’s so encouraging when it looks tiny in your own context. Our church isn’t that big. It’s growing. But slowly. But our children’s work is small. Creche is a growth area but that’ll take a few years to filter through! Our youth work is non-existent. We simply don’t have any teenagers. When you work week in week out in that environment you can end up thinking that the Kingdom of God in this country is a pretty small affair. And in some respects, it is. But throughout this country there are other small but faithful churches like ours. God has got people up and down the land who share our view of Jesus. And on summer camps some of them get together for a fabulous week. I’m now at an age where one of the highlights is meeting the parents before and after the venture. Obviously some of the younger, trendier, more useful leaders are a little bit intimidated by the grown ups. Not me. I labour under the misapprehension that I’m one of them! But talking to the parents can be so encouraging. They are so appreciative of all that we do for their kids.
4. You get to see how much fun it’ll be in the new creation
Forgive the eschatological terminoligical innacuracies; but ‘heaven’ is going to be great. How do I know? You get a taste of it on camp. Camp is the people of God living as His community encouraging one another in His service. And it’s magic. Not literally, obviously. It’s simply terrific. There’s nothing like it. Camps tend to attract some wonderful people. And this week was no exception. It was just so encouraging to be a part of it. I long gave up trying to explain to others what’s so fun about camp. Try explaining the wide game, it’s a washout or members-leaders crocka to a friend and the look of incredulity will say it all. You had to be there! But camps are full of laughter, friendships and shared experiences. Some of the most unlikely people end up being a hero. There’s a shared sense of community. Everyone is included, even the most awkward. Praying for things is instinctive and normal. Normal life seems black and white in comparison.
5. You get to live the Christian life as you’d love to all the time
This came to me on the way to church last night. The Christian life is so much easier when you’re on camp. I get to live the Christian life that I’d love to live every day. Jesus is front and centre. You think about him more than you usually do. He seems more precious and valuable on camp. You not only start the day with him but you continue it with him. There are reminders throughout the day that he matters more than anything else. And sin doesn’t hold the attraction that it sometimes does. Sure there’s accountability and you can’t hide behind the anonymity of busy urban life. But you just don’t want to enterain sinful temptations in quite the same way when the whole week is given over to serving the Lord. And so obedience is easier. I’m sure there must be ways to make normal life like camp. And that’d be a good thing. But camp is special and so we’d be unwise to expect the same experience for the other 51 weeks in a year.
If you wanted to know more about camps you could go here.