Saturday, June 23, 2012


Our senior high students just returned from camp today, and as people do in this day in age, they immediately began flooding my Facebook feed with pictures and camp-related status updates.  It got me thinking about my own experiences at camp.

I first visited Village Creek Bible Camp when I was just a young boy.  In fact, I think my family started going when I was just barely old enough to begin forming memories that lasted on into my later years.  In other words, I was pretty young.  When i made it into third grade I started going to summer camps with other kids my age.  I kept going at least once every year through, I think, my freshman year of high school.  By that time, camp just wasn't my thing.  I was somewhat of an introverted loner, and needless to say, the camp environment isn't very conducive to introverted loners.  But although I stopped going to the summer camps, I still attended Youth Quake every year in the fall.  But the fact that I stopped going after I was in high school, and the fact that I was somewhat of an introvert through most of my life doesn't mean that camp did not have a significant impact on my life, both physically and spiritually.  I can still vividly remember most of my experiences at camp, my counselors, and the week-long friendships I developed over the years.  I can even remember many of the camp pastors that spoke to me as a child and teenager, even their faces and the content of their messages.

It kind of goes without saying that camp can be a huge part of a kid's life, and it can have a huge impact on the way kids are formed spiritually.  In recent years I have been honored to be down at camp several times, being that camp pastor that I can remember so vividly from my own experiences.  It's been my pleasure to go down to camp each year (several times per year, even) to preach to the kids that are down there.  I've been able to preach to senior highers, junior highers, and most recently, "Junior Campers."  Junior Campers are kids between 3rd and 6th grade.  Having been the camp pastor for multiple age groups, I can say that I prefer to be a part of the Junior Camps the most.  The kids are still young enough that they don't care about boys or girls, or how they look, and none of them are too cool to have fun and just be themselves.  It's fun to see the kids just let loose.

But one thing I've noticed at camp since I've been an adult, and particularly a camp pastor, is that the camp pastor bears an incredible responsibility for sound teaching and preaching when giving messages to kids in the camp environment.  Camp can be a very emotionally manipulative place.  This isn't by design, nor is it the goal of the camp's ministry to be emotionally manipulative - it just sort of happens.  Village Creek doesn't allow kids to have access to TV, MP3 players, internet, computers, etc.  Basically, the kids are stripped of all the modern accommodations they are accustomed to at home, and are forced to "rough it" for a week.  It really forces kids out of their comfort zones relationally, and invites them to use the time for spiritual endeavors and to build relationships.

Well, what tends to happen when kids are separated from everything they're comfortable with in their normal lives, including their parents, they're pretty much open to anything you have to say.  Literally.  I could preach for a week that God wants the kids to believe that the sky is green, and I'm pretty sure most of them would adopt that into their worldview by week's end.  Therefore, it seems to me that the minister has to be all the more careful about the message he or she preaches while at camp, because the kids will believe it.

Some camp pastors realize this incredible responsibility, but most, sadly, don't.  Again, I don't think this is necessarily the camp's problem, or that they could actually do anything to prevent this from happening - it just happens.  It falls on the minister to be aware of the emotional state of the kids, and what the camp experience does to kids emotionally, and then to preach in light of that reality.  I find it to be dangerous, and even irresponsible, to burden kids (which one can do even with the gospel message) with teaching about what they should do, or what they shouldn't do.  Kids in this situation often do and commit to things they aren't ready to do and haven't thought through.  Then when they leave camp and the emotional high departs, they feel either like failures or phonies, or because the emotional high leaves, their supposed commitment to the faith departs as well.  In the end, the only actual thing they experienced during the week was a surging of emotions.  I've seen this happen with every age of kids.

This leads to the most dangerous part of camp, in my opinion: the danger of creating false converts.  A false convert is someone who believes themselves to be truly converted to the Christian faith, but in reality, has only had an emotional response.  Camp is not the only environment where false converts are created.  A lot of "church kids" are false converts because they believe themselves to be saved due to their long-term attendance at a particular church, or because their families are Christians and they believe themselves to be saved by association.  People can also be falsely converted by emotional pulls at evangelistic meetings, concerts, Billy Graham crusades, etc.  The danger for false converts is obviously that they believe themselves to be saved but in reality they are not.  Such a person will most likely not be open or receptive to the gospel again because, according to the false convert, they are already a Christian (see 2 Peter 2.20)

Having been a camp pastor several times now, I can attest to the difficulty of preaching in the camp environment, and how hard it is to not play on the emotions of the kids.  Personally, I've made it my own policy to never have an "altar call" or give an "invitation" to believe the gospel.  I don't want to put kids in a position where they might more faith in the supposed sincerity of an emotional response than in the genuine conviction of the Holy Spirit.  Personally, I think if God can save kids who hear my preaching, he can do it with or without an altar call or an invitation.  It's not as though some kids will be lost to eternal damnation because the camp pastor doesn't invite them to say the Sinner's Prayer.  God can and will save those kids he is calling to himself in one way or another.

I have also made it a policy to accompany our Junior Campers from Riverview when they go to camp each summer, whether I'm the camp pastor for that week or not.  I figure someone needs to be there just to see what's going on, what's being preached, and how the kids react to it.  It's not likely that parents will get an accurate account from their kid when they get home (Parent: "How was camp?" Kid: "Fun!" Parent: "What did you learn?" Kid: "We learned about God.")  I'll be headed down to camp tomorrow for this very reason.  I won't be speaking at the camp (I already did that earlier this summer), but I will be there for our kids, and to see how they react to the gospel.

In general, I praise God for the ministry of Village Creek Bible Camp, both for the impact it's had on my life over the years, and also for the continuing gospel work they do in the lives of hundreds of kids who go there each year.  May they continue to follow God's leading and facilitate the preaching of the gospel in the unique ways that have been afforded to them.

No comments: