Tuesday, 18 March 2008

Christian Summer Camps

Following on from the recent doctrine slot on Christian Summer Camps a number of people have expressed interest in volunteering. If you're keen to be involved with the Pathfinder Camps [aged 11-14] contact Ed Drew on edward.drew@btinternet.com. If you're keen to be involved with CYFA Camps [aged 14-18] contact Richard Perkins on richardperkins@btinternet.com.

Every year thousands of children and hundreds of young adults go off on residential Christian summer camps. They are usually about one week long. They often take place in the public schools of this country and so 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 and do not replace it. Overall camp leaders should 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. They have organised teaching programmes and a wide range of exciting activities.

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 do camp?
Every year church leaders encourage their congregations to volunteer, camp leaders send out requests for help and friends commend the wisdom of doing so. But why would any right thinking individual give up a week of their holiday period, sleep in a dormitory of teenagers and return to work less rested than when they went away. Let me give you three reasons.

1. They reach children with the gospel
This is the primary reason for organising camps and therefore the most important. Children are not innocent and therefore if they are to be saved they need to hear the gospel and combine that with repentance and faith. It’s often hard to persuade teenagers to go to church or perhaps to a school Christian meeting but it’s easier to recruit kids to a Christian camp. The kids are at a stage in life where their readiness to listen to the gospel has yet to be tarnished by the cynicism that often comes with age. On a residential camp, whilst we want to distance ourselves from anything that whiffs of manipulation, teenagers are away from other distracting influences, they will experience a Christian community and can ask their questions free from unhelpful peer pressure.

2. They 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 Jason Robinson or Natasha Beddingfield. But the kids at camp come in all different shapes and sizes with 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. They equip us to be useful in the church
Church leaders will often say that the people that are of most use in their local church setting are those who have had some experience of camp. There are things that we can 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 spot 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?
The NT 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.

There are some camps represented at CCB. 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. It'll be the best week of your year.