The Why of Camp

It was June 14, 1990, in the middle of the Ozarks in central Missouri. I was 7 years old, attending a youth camp where my dad was leading worship. Sitting in the back row with my mom (as a true back-row Baptist) I was locked on to every word coming out of the mouth of the camp speaker. Conviction set in with the knowledge that I would not spend eternity with Jesus, for I had never put my faith in Him. That evening, with my mom and dad, I asked Jesus to become my Savior and Lord. Not even old enough to go to student camp, and yet God moved in my heart as a 7-year-old to make the most important decision of my life. I remember celebrating afterward by going to the “snack shack” and telling everyone along the way that Jesus had saved me! People didn’t know whether it was the joy of salvation or the sugar from the ice cream I was eating that was making me jump off the walls. But I knew that I had just gone from death to life.

It was June 14, 1990, in the middle of the Ozarks in central Missouri. I was 7 years old, attending a youth camp where my dad was leading worship. Sitting in the back row with my mom (as a true back-row Baptist) I was locked on to every word coming out of the mouth of the camp speaker. Conviction set in with the knowledge that I would not spend eternity with Jesus, for I had never put my faith in Him. That evening, with my mom and dad, I asked Jesus to become my Savior and Lord. Not even old enough to go to student camp, and yet God moved in my heart as a 7-year-old to make the most important decision of my life. I remember celebrating afterward by going to the “snack shack” and telling everyone along the way that Jesus had saved me! People didn’t know whether it was the joy of salvation or the sugar from the ice cream I was eating that was making me jump off the walls. But I knew that I had just gone from death to life.

More often than not, it is at camps and retreats that major life-decisions are made. All of the time and energy spent planning and preparing for camps is time well-spent for kingdom advancement. Consider the impact of camp in the life of a student:

  1. Camp gets us out of the ordinary. Camp places us in a more relaxed environment away from the regular routine. It eliminates many distractions we may face at home or school that vie for our attention. It is when students are taken out of their regular routine that they can focus and hear the voice of God more clearly.
  2. Camp enhances community. Eliminating television, work schedules and even Wi-Fi encourages students to focus on relationships over technology, community over busyness, and connections over distractions. New relationships are formed in camp settings as well as the deepening of existing relationships. Because our busyness has subsided, our focus can turn to developing stronger relationships with others who are pursuing Christ.
  3. Camp helps us become more spiritually sensitive. Within the environment of camp, students are brought face-to-face with the God of the universe. In this setting, God moves, softens hearts, and frees students from bondage. It is encouraging to see students surrender their lives to Christ; end a bad relationship; reconcile with others; follow in obedience through baptism; turn from a harmful addiction; rededicate their life to Jesus; or adhere to the call to full-time vocational ministry. Camp sets the environment for the Holy Spirit to convict and for students to take action.
  4. Camp can be a milestone. Remember Joshua’s calling the people of Israel to set up a memorial of 12 stones after they had crossed the Jordan River (Joshua 4:1–24)? It was set up as a reminder of God’s power as well as a sign to Israel that their God was faithful to His promise. It was to be a “talking point” to their children, that when they ask of the significance of the stones, the parents’ reply was “the hand of the Lord is mighty” and “you must fear the Lord your God forever” (v. 24). Camp is a milestone, a spiritual marker, identifying a specific place and time where God met us and changed our lives.

Successful, life-impacting camps don’t “just happen.” Details, phone calls, scheduling, paperwork, booking, and other logistical matters have to be addressed each year before we begin to promote our summer camp. However, it would be to our benefit to begin our planning by not focusing on the band and speaker, but to stop and reflect on the main factors of a God-honoring camp.

God-honoring camps are …

Backed with purpose. Programs with a purpose are programs with power. When it comes to your camp, do you ask the question “Why?” Why do you host a camp? Why is it important for students to take a week out of their summer for your student camp? Be sure to have a clearly stated purpose for why you do what you do. Know what you are trying to accomplish, for it will make all the difference. Your planning, activities and spiritual direction should all revolve around your defined purpose.

Backed with a plan. The old adage is true: If you fail to plan, you plan to fail. To start, prepare a flowchart. A flowchart is an organizational tool that divides responsibilities among many and holds everyone accountable. The purpose of this chart is to make sure that nothing slips through the cracks. When your team has been given clear expectations and responsibilities, they will generally rise to the occasion instead of falter under unexpressed expectations.

Backed with people. This is a no-brainer. Camps cannot be successful without the support of church staff, volunteers and parents. Who are your leaders that are bought into the purpose and vision of camp? How are you mobilizing them? Paul tells us in his letter to the Ephesians that our role is “to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ” (Ephesians 4:12). By empowering your staff, volunteers, parents and even students, you are sending the message that their service and input is vital to the effectiveness of your camp.

Backed with prayer. At Prestonwood, eight weeks before we hit the road for camp, we set aside time each week as a Student Ministry dedicated to prayer. Creativity in our prayer times progresses from week to week. One week we do a prayer walk around the Student Worship Center; on another week, we lift up specific names of students we know who need Jesus. The goal is to be unified in our petitions to God. Do you have a prayer team set in place for your ministry? Mobilize them to recruit others to join you in prayer. Know that the prayer of the righteous has great power (James 5:16).

If you are questioning the time and effort it will take to pull off your camp or if you are coming up empty on the motivation required to lead, remember the faithfulness of God in the camp setting. My life was changed at camp and I have witnessed many others experience the same saving power of Jesus Christ as I did many years ago. Understand that our end goal is not just to host a great camp, but most importantly, to see life-change happen through the power of Jesus. One life changed for eternity is worth it. Have this perspective as you approach camp and then stand in awe of how God will move in the lives of your students.