Every year thousands of children and hundreds of young adults go off on residential Christian summer camps. They’re usually about one week long. They often take place in the public schools of this country. The word ‘camp’ is misleading. Only the very hardy continue under canvas!
Christian camps are different from many other worthwhile camps that operate over the summer because of the gospel priorities that underlie their organisation. They exist not only to give teenagers a great summer holiday but to help them engage with the bigger issues of life.
They support the work of the local church. They don’t replace it. Overall camp leaders go to great lengths to work in consultation with the local church youth group leaders. They work with the kids all year round and know them better than we do. The organised teaching programme should be designed to supplement the week in week out work done by volunteer youth workers up and down the country.
Over the last half a century they have had a significant impact on the evangelical churches in our country. Many of our senior church leaders were recruited, converted and trained on camp. The recent leaders of All Souls, St Helens and HTB were all involved with camps as young men.
Why would we go on ‘camp’?
Every year church leaders encourage their congregations to volunteer. Camp leaders send out requests for help. And friends commend the wisdom of ‘signing up’. But why would any right thinking individual give up a week of their holiday period, engage with a smelly dormitory of teenagers and return to work less rested than when they went away. Let me give you three reasons.
1. Camps reach children with the gospel
Though the primary reason for organising camps is to give them a great holiday, the ultimate reason for organising camps is to help them engage with the big issues of life. Kids are not morally innocent. They need to be saved by Christ. Therefore they need to hear the gospel and respond with repentance and faith. On a residential camp teenagers are away from other distracting influences. This a peer pressure free zone. They’re willing and able to engage. We’ll need to steer well clear of manipulation. But the experience of a genuine Christian community is a huge stimulus to careful thought.
2. Camps provide opportunities to serve
Summer camps are like a much more intense experience of church. The priorities are the same since Bible teaching, personal evangelism and encouragement to holiness are at the heart of both. However, the audience at camp is much more focussed in terms of age. Camps, like church, have lots of different opportunities to serve. We can often think that the only useful people on camp are those with sporting or musical abilities. But taht’s not true. The kids at camp come in all different shapes and sizes. They have all sorts of different interests. And so we need a variety of leaders. Camps need people with technical expertise, with sporting ability, with culinary flair, with artistic talent, theatrical tendencies, with financial acumen and with administrative gifts, to name a few. They need ‘up front’ people who can run games but they also need ‘behind the scenes’ people who make it all happen. It’s very unlikely that we’d be unable to make a useful contribution to a summer camp.
3. Camps equip us to be useful in the church
It’s often the case that the most useful people in a local church are those who’ve had some experience of camp. That shouldn’t surprise us. There are things that we learn on camp that are immediately useful in church. We can learn how to understand and teach the Bible and so we can help run a small group. Or we learn how to participate usefully in a small group because we know how valuable it is to have people who contribute. We can learn how to lead a meeting or run a seminar and so we can take on teaching in Sunday school, doing a kid’s slot or speaking at women’s breakfasts. We can learn to explain the gospel and respond to people’s questions and so we can begin to grow in confidence in talking to our friends and colleagues. We can learn how to personally encourage a teenager in their Christian life and so we can begin to be of help to others in our congregation perhaps reading the Bible with them one to one.
Who could get involved in ‘Camp’?
The New Testament requirements for leadership are giftedness and godliness. So if you could contribute something useful to a camp, your lifestyle will not bring the gospel into disrepute and you’re willing to get involved then why not commit to it. Pathfinders are camps for 11-14 year olds and CYFA are camps for 15-18 year olds. They happen at various locations throughout the country and they are spread over a range of dates. Most require attendance at a training weekend and at a reunion. If you’d like to find out more then look here.