The Heart of Camping
Christian camping is a wise methodology perfected in the last century for the purpose of effective, spiritual impact on every camper through the preaching, admonishing, and teaching of Jesus Christ through God’s Word and the work and example of God’s servants empowered by the Spirit. This wise methodology has five key ingredients that comprise the heart of camping. Without all five, camp would cease to be camp, and its effectiveness diminished.
Hearing the Word of God
Eliminating Worldly Influences and Life’s Distractions
Away from Home Overnight in a New Setting
Reflecting on the Word and My Life in a Creation Context
Trained Staff Leading Unique, Organized Activities
Hearing the Word of God
And thou shalt teach them diligently unto thy children, and shalt talk of them when thou sittest in thine house, and when thou walkest by the way, and when thou liest down, and when thou risest up. Deuteronomy 6:7
This verse gives parents two key truths dealing with teaching the Word to young people. The first is to teach diligently, or piercingly, so the Word will get through to their brains. The second is to teach constantly—no matter the situation, in casual and formal teaching—using each teachable moment. An effective camping program will have formal and informal teaching and preaching times to present the Word to campers.
Eliminating Worldly Influences & Life’s Distractions
Believers will never live in a perfect spiritual vacuum—an earthly life without the temptation to sin through the lust of the flesh, the influences of the world, or the attack of Satan. However, Christian camps attempt to lessen the pull of the world. Not all distractions pulling campers away from considering the gospel are sinful, so distraction elimination is two-pronged.
First, eliminate as many offenses as possible—Christ identified them in Matthew 18:5–10—stumbling blocks and things that entrap, entice, or cause one to sin. Eliminating a camper’s options for music and entertainment creates a break from the constant noise of the world. The camp environment disrupts normal habits, separates campers from old friends, disconnects campers from their gadgets, and allows them reach the point where they are ready to listen.
Second, address physical and personal needs that can distract campers from listening to the preaching of the Word and the Holy Spirit’s work—for example, camp food should be pleasing in taste and quantity. This allows campers to focus on the message during a service rather than looking forward to dinner at the snack shop. Other areas to scrutinize include cleanliness, cabin comfort, safety, and temperature of meeting rooms. We are following the lead of our Savior when He on two occasions fed the thousands with plenty left over, made the effort to get His disciples away for a rest when they needed it, and set up a stage (a small boat pushed out from shore) so all could hear and see Him as He taught them.
Finally, brethren, pray for us, that the word of the Lord may have free course, and be glorified, even as it is with you. 2 Thessalonians 3:1
Operations Team Distractions. The operations team has some direct control over the items on its top ten list. “No answers” may seem like an odd number-one priority, but we have found over the years that the worst thing we can do when a camper asks a question is to say, “I don’t know, and I can’t help you find out.” A staff member may not know the answer to every question that comes his way but should know how to find the answer and be willing to do so.
- No answers—beginning with “When is camp?” and “What does it cost?” all the way to “Where is the foosball?” When a camper has a question, the answer is the most important thing to them.
- No flexibility—a twenty-four hour schedule demands a bit of flexibility. No flexibility is like saying, “I don’t care about you.”
- Unsafe—whether real or perceived, if camp is unsafe, campers will not attend.
- Electricity—light, climate control, and curling irons. We have come to a firm reliance on electricity.
- Water—thirst becomes a huge distraction, and its constant provision makes you take it for granted until it is in short supply.
- Housing—a cabin, a place to lay your head, a place of protection. The first thing campers want to know when they arrive is where they are going to stay for the next few days.
- Dirty—no matter how nice the cabin may be, if it is not clean it becomes a distraction.
- Hot/Cold—whether referring to air, water, or food, people expect these things to be the appropriate temperature.
- Horrible Food—since camp spans a number of meals, the more horrible meals campers endures, the harder it gets for them to be patient, loving, and willing to listen and consider.
- Noise/Quiet—few things are worse than the distraction of a weed whacker during the morning
chapel invitation. Things become a distraction when quiet is expected, and it turns out to be loud or vice versa.
Program Team Distractions. For the program team, and showing no love for campers is the number-one distraction. Exhibiting a selfish or self-centered view is a sure distraction for the camper. An others-first love is an absolute must for ministers (a.k.a., servants) in the camping ministry.
- No Love—no love for another means that there is love for just one—a selfish love. Camp only works with people who love each other instead of themselves.
- Inconsistency—our walk and talk should be the same. When they are the same, it is a powerful testimony of God’s way working; when they are not, our walk will undermine our talk.
- Unknown Purpose—why are we doing camp? If a camper thinks camp is only about fun and a time to make friends, he has missed what the purpose of camp is.
- Unknown needs—not knowing the needs of your camper produces a one-size-fits-all mentality to camp.
- Communication—talking, listening, and thinking all must happen constantly.
- No preparation—no organization and no planning may work for a few minutes, but it won’t take long to become obvious when flying by the seat of your pants.
- Staff-centered—the camper must be the focus and not the relationships or ease of the staff team.
- World Influence—the program team must work hard to keep the worldly influence out of its program including skits, games, and general interaction.
- Unmanaged Risk—not everything fun is safe, but the line must be drawn where the balance of risk is firmly on the side of safe.
- Never Go Individual—a program team that just sees camp as a crowd misses the opportunity to minister in a personal way.
Away from Home Overnight in a New Setting
Being away from home overnight in a new setting is one of the most important aspects of camp and is often ignored without realizing its value for both adults and youth campers. Although a series of nightly meetings at a church or meetings scheduled at a nearby hotel can be effective, it is not a true camp methodology. By going home every evening, participants do not get away from their familiar settings, and the group going to a hotel will discover a host of distractions to occupy their minds.
Disrupted comfort zone and habits. According to Nielson, the average American television viewer watches 151 hours of television a month—an all-time high. Life often becomes an unthinking routine. When routines or comfort zones are disrupted, adults and young people are more likely to focus their attention on their new surroundings, pay closer attention during preaching and teaching times, or spend time immediately after a service thinking about the message and its impact on their lives.
Senses on alert. Campers not only have new surroundings but also are around new people and have a new schedule. The new surroundings aspect of Christian camp methodology leaves a lasting, eternal impression. When God’s Word is preached or taught, campers are more alert and their focus can switch to reflecting on the Word as it relates to their lives. When asked, many people remember fondly events at camp as well as key spiritual decisions, while the week before and after disappear in the routine of life.
Reflecting on the Word & My Life in a Creation Context
Often campers come from cities where they are surrounded by paved streets, sidewalks, buildings, power lines, cell towers, bridges, high rises, billboards, and shopping malls. Stars disappear because of all the streetlights, headlights, security floodlights, and brightly lit houses. Camp provides campers a view of creation and an opportunity to get close to it, reminding them the Creator is powerful, interested in them, and loved them enough to die on the cross for them. Having time and opportunity to consider God’s Word and one’s life in the context of creation is an absolute essential of camping methodology.
When honestly considered, God’s creation always points to Him, but the gospel must still be presented. Without a clear gospel presentation, campers may see the Creator but not their Savior. Looking through the Gospels reveals that 80% of Christ’s illustrations were from nature. In Psalms the imagery regarding God, His power, and His majesty comes from descriptions of creation and the laws of nature. Campers are in awe of God when they ponder the vastness of the universe, the power to create from nothing, or the fragile beauty of an intricate wildflower growing only when conditions are ideal. When campers consider the testimony of creation, they have no excuse for not considering God’s Word and believing in Him.
When I consider thy heavens, the work of thy fingers, the moon and the stars, which thou hast ordained; What is man, that thou art mindful of him? and the son of man, that thou visitest him? Psalm 8:3–4
Know therefore this day, and consider it in thine heart, that the Lord he is God in heaven above, and upon the earth beneath: there is none else. Deuteronomy 4:39
Because that which may be known of God is manifest in them; for God hath showed it unto them. For the invisible things of him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even his eternal power and Godhead; so that they are without excuse. Romans 1:19–20
In Matthew 6:24–30, God’s creation shows He is a loving and providing God. He created and provides for the lilies of the field and challenges believers to have faith in His care for His children. Verse 30 says, “Wherefore, if God so clothe the grass of the field, which today is, and tomorrow is cast into the oven, shall he not much more clothe you, O ye of little faith?”
Throughout the Bible, believers are encouraged to consider God’s creation and learn from it. In a creation setting, campers have an opportunity to reflect on what God has already done for them, the sacrifice of Christ upon Calvary, and His Word. They can also evaluate what changes are needed for them to align with His Word and will.
Go to the ant, thou sluggard; consider her ways, and be wise. Proverbs 6:6
Only fear the Lord, and serve him in truth with all your heart: for consider how great things he hath done for you. 1 Samuel 12:24
Consider the work of God: for who can make that straight, which he hath made crooked? Ecclesiastes 7:13
I will consider thy testimonies. Psalm 119:95
Now therefore thus saith the Lord of hosts; Consider your ways. Haggai 1:5
For they considered not the miracle of the loaves: for their heart was hardened. Mark 6:52
Looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith; who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God. For consider him that endured such contradiction of sinners against himself, lest ye be wearied and faint in your minds. Hebrews 12:2–3
Trained Staff Leading Unique, Organized Activities
Designing a program which aids accomplishment of the camp mission and on the surface appears to be simple is the result of decades of adjustments and fine tuning. Care is taken to balance fun activities and the spiritual impact goal of camp. Trained staff leading games and activities give the counselors a bridge of relationship when it comes time to discuss spiritual matters, as well as the goal of ensuring each activity is balanced in terms of competition, fairness, safety, and fun.
The combination of our summer staff team, who start summer with a concentrated time of training and interact most directly with the campers, and our resident staff team has far-reaching benefits—safety, knowledge of facility and activities available, skill in teaching the various specialized outdoor activities, understanding of the mission, and training in counseling for salvation, full surrender, and consistent Christian living.
Unique, organized activities—games not usually played at home—surprise campers and level the playing field for all. No young person has an automatic advantage based on prior skills and abilities. Many have little skill component that automatically gives the athletic male an advantage in the week-long competition.
In contrast to a public campground where everyone is camping out and doing his own thing in regards to timing, meals, and activities, an organized camp is organized around its spiritual goals, daily schedule, activities, and meals. Staff plan, organize, lead, and control activities are planned to be age-group specific in their skill level, fun quotient, and interest level. The schedule balances activity and rest to help campers stay awake when the Word is preached. Each day includes small group discussions, one-on-one talks, teachable moments, personal devotions, and preaching and teaching of God’s Word.
In planning the schedule, we consider nutrition, sleep, safety, excitement, new experience opportunities, adventure, quiet personal time, contemplation, individual youth group needs and goals, new friendships forming, and the overall purpose of reaching young people for the Lord Jesus Christ, strengthening families, and serving churches. Activities must stay in balance with spiritual objectives.
What Is the Heart of Camping?
In conclusion as we consider all aspects of the “Heart of Camping,” we must remember that in the end it is each camper’s responsibility to make his own decisions as the Word of God is sown and watered in his heart. Campers will either respond to the Word by accepting or receiving it as it is in truth, the Word of God, or they will say, “We will hear thee again of this matter ,” (Acts 17:32). While some will reject the Gospel, the effectiveness of camp is that the campers have a whole week to hear again the Word of God, all the while being drawn by the Holy Spirit. Camp is one of the very few settings here that kind of repeatability and extended invitation is a given. What happens at camp while they are considering the Word? We can boil that down in the camping methodology down to five simple things campers do at camp. They are meet, eat, sleep, play, and consider. These five things happen at every camp. Camp staff spend a majority of their time working to make camp comfortable and enjoyable. The program team is responsible for both meet and play, organizing the schedule around meeting times when a speaker shares the Word of God; playing is interspersed throughout the schedule through activities and game times. The operation team is responsible to make the camper’s sleep and meal time an enjoyable experience.
Of the five things, the one responsibility of the camper is to consider—to listen to the Word of God and then take the time and effort to ask, “What needs to change in my life in order to conform to God’s Word?” The work of considering can be uncomfortable and difficult. A camper is faced with truth that he does not meet up to God’s standard. Something needs to change. There are no excuses. A choice must be made. The camp staff and church leaders cannot make the decision. It is the camper’s responsibility to consider his own life.
A decision is the fruit of time well spent considering one’s life. Life at home is often so busy and full that we don’t have the time to consider. We allow interruptions and stuff to fill our every waking moment. Camp becomes the once or twice a year opportunity to consider the adjustments necessary to be more