Eight and a Half Reasons Why You and Your Church Need a CampDear Pastor!
You wrote to me that your parishioners whose kids have been to Christian camps have inundated you with requests to organize your own camp, and so you asked me why that could be beneficial for your church. Great question! From your letter I gathered that you needed at least three weighty reasons to be convinced. At first I thought I'd be able to come up with ten, but I'll admit up front: I don't have quite that many.
1. One acquaintance of mine, a Sunday school director, told me a secret: more of their kids meet the Lord during one camp session than do while attending Sunday school the whole rest of the year. Of course, that doesn't cancel out the importance and value of Sunday schools. But there is certainly no doubt that nowadays there are few methods of evangelism and teaching that can match Christian camping for it effectiveness.
2. In a camp, just like in classic dramas, there are three “unities”: unity of time, of place, and of purpose. As opposed to church services, revivals, and Bible studies, the camp experience is lasting and continuous: 24 hours a day, for several days or even weeks. People need time to learn truth and work out its practical application, to open up to others and build relationships, and to come to real life-changing decisions. There is time for that at camp. Also, camp is a special place, one that is free from the busyness, attitudes, and trappings of ordinary life. At camp, a camper is protected from the noise of the world: TV, relatives, friends, teachers, the “street.” Finally, all this goes on at camp with one unified purpose in mind. The camper is not just taken out of a godless environment – he is placed into a morally pure, uplifting, Christ-centered environment of care, love, joy, fun, and truth. In a camp, everything from the daily schedule, the structure of the group, maintenance, teaching methods, games, diet, worship, and a lot of other factors work toward the single purpose of bringing to each camper encouragement and growth in the Lord.
3. Pastor, you of course know that some people are led to God by their deliberation about the nature of life and their ambition to discover its Origin, and that others are led by a strong awareness of His presence. But the Lord doesn't want our Christianity to remain just rational knowledge or an emotional feeling. “And He said to him, 'You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind'” (Matt 22:37). Church provides for a person's spiritual needs, school develops the mind, on the track or in the gym the body is strengthened, and family and the workplace play important social roles. Camp is a unique ministry that engages all aspects of a person at the same time. At camp, belief cannot remain a matter of only the mind or the heart. Here it takes hold of the whole man.
4. Dear pastor, at camp you have the opportunity to reach people with the Word of God who would probably never darken the doorway of a church building. For a post-soviet man, an evangelical church is something unknown and terrifying, while summer camp is a pleasant personal memory.
5. For all the “weary and heavy-laden”, within the church as well as without, camp provides the opportunity to build wholesome relationships with the help and under the guidance of experienced leaders who follow the Lord themselves.
6. Christian camping is your best chance at grabbing the attention of young people. Youth value music, sports, adventures, new friends – everything that camp offers. Young people need the Savior who is offered at camp.
7. Camp is the most fertile ground for potential leaders in your church. At camp, even a young believer can find ways to serve others: if not with a sermon, then with attention; if not with teaching, then with a prayer; if not with guidance, then with love and care. The opportunity to cultivate their service to building the Kingdom of God right on the spot, without needing to be a certain age or at a certain level of experience, is a great encouragement for young Christians and often a powerful spur for further growth. Many of those whom I remember as counselors just starting off ten years ago are now missionaries, pastors, ministry leaders, and even chief elders of regional church unions.
8. God's creation has something important to say about its Creator. Come to camp and listen! God is not only speaking through His creation (Romans 1); He uses it to open our hearts. Walk along a forest trail, a sandy beach, or a calm stream. Have a seat on the side of a lake. Climb your way up a mountain. You will realize how sensitive your heart is to the truth of God: thoughts of eternity, of the nature of life, of the greatness of God will leap into your mind all by themselves. But take a look, right now dear pastor, outside. What do you see? Asphalt, the wall of the next building over, a smokestack? In a Christian camp, you have the chance to delve into that mine of truth that fed the Savior as He was teaching - with real life examples from nature. Camp, like no other Christian ministry, can put you back into contact with the precious and wonderful world of God.
8½. And finally, pastor, you could use some recreation!
Of course, Christian camping isn't an end unto itself. Just like any other ministry beyond church walls, it exists for the church and is valuable so long as it is conducive for both numerical and spiritual growth. That's why I hope to see representatives from your community at our upcoming CCI seminar or conference. And if you decide to come along with them, I'll be glad to continue our conversation.
With the utmost respect,
Your brother in Christ