I’m talking about teaching students for a week. I’ve just come back from our Pathfinder Venture, Woolie 1 in rural Berkshire. Together with a couple of brilliant female colleagues, I was responsible for the teaching programme for a dozen students whom we call Bereans (after the more noble characters in Acts 17). The students were converted and keen and consumed anything we put in front of them. And that made for a fabulous ministry experience.
I spent all week watching the lights go on as we worked our way through a load of material. We thought about the fruit of the Spirit in our morning and evening thoughts, the letter to the Colossians in Bible study and the skills involved in understanding and applying different types of biblical literature in our seminars. I used Jerry Bridges’ book ‘The Fruitful Life‘ to stimulate my thinking on Galatians 5:22. And I slavishly followed the excellent material in Andrew Sach’s and Nigel Beynon’s book ‘Dig Deeper‘ and then supplemented it with stuff I’ve picked up along the way in training expositors and Bible study group leaders.
One comment I especially enjoyed came from a young Cambridge male undergraduate who said, ‘I feel that I’ve learnt how to read’. I think that’s fair. And I was delighted to hear it. I repeatedly find that even our Bible Study Leaders at CCB don’t know, forget or choose not to read literature accurately and sensitively. I’m no expert. I’m still learning. My undergraduate degree was in Engineering and from what I can remember that was all equations and graphs. I’m pretty sure I gave up reading aged 14 when I finished the Arthur Ransome series about middle class kids’ sailing adventures in the Lakes and on the Broads. And since then all I’d choose to read was the sports reports. But then I went to a church that paid careful attention to the Bible. And I had to learn to read. I reckon that most of us read the Bible far too quickly and with insufficient care, perhaps especially when we’re in the New Testament. But when we slow down, paying careful attention to what the author has said and the way in which he’s said it, our experience of meeting with God in His word is deeply enriched. And so we tried to help the students do that in our seminar sessions. And ‘Dig Deeper‘ was a great help. We virtually managed to get through all sixteen of Nigel and Andrew’s tools in our six ninety minute sessions.
Camp remains my favourite week of ministry. And there are lots of reasons for that. But undoubtedly one of them is that it’s an unusually fruitful time. Many of the frustrations of church ministry are left behind. It’s ‘all good’. It has something to do with the intensity of the week and the stage of life that they’re at. And for sure, being together as part of a cohort of similar aged like-minded students generates momentum. No matter how keen our church members are (and most of ours really are), they can’t show quite the same appetite when they’re understandably giving their best efforts and hours to their employers up in town. And, although some of them need to find work to pay off student debts, these guys are on holiday. It’s a perfect environment for rapid growth in spiritual maturity. It’s like a greenhouse for godliness!
Normal ministry isn’t like that. It’s slower. People don’t usually make changes as quickly as they do when they’re just beginning their twenties. There tends to be less baggage at that age. Life is a little more straightforward. It’s easier to untangle. And it’s not so complicated. Of course, few of them realise that. I didn’t, even though I remember being told exactly that at the time! And for most of them, not much of the big stuff has gone wrong yet. But they’re willing to root out and tackle their sins rather than rationalise and excuse them. And so even the personal work on camp is constructive. As we get older, we struggle to retain the desire for genuine repentance. We’re a bit less optimistic about change. We’re a bit more cynical about sin. And we’re far too willing to call a truce with our faults and point the finger of blame at others for our own character flaws.
And so, camp ministry remains an abnormally fruitful but utterly unrealistic time for which I’m very, very grateful to the Lord!