Camp Roundtable Pt 1
by Rob Brower • Editor, interlinc • Franklin, Tennessee
Camp is when we experience the results and rewards of months of daily ministry to teenagers. We work hard going into camp and expect that God will let us see the fruit of our labor: changed lives. interlinc editor, Rob Brower (RB), sits down with a panel of seasoned experts to discuss the importance of camp in today’s world and share some practical tips. Through their collective insights and experience, you’ll gain valuable knowledge on how to create a positive and impactful camp experience that will shape young hearts and minds for years to come.
TM: TobyMac – Christian Artist
DB: Dan Britton – Chief Field Officer, Fellowship of Christian Athletes
NF: Norman Flowers – Executive Director, Highland Lakes Camp
G&A: Geoff & Arianna Eckart – Never The Same
RD: Rick Dubose – Assistant General Superintendent, Assemblies of God
JH: Joe Hicks – FUGE Camps Manager, Lifeway Christian Resources
BW: Ben Warrell – Director, Gaspar River Catholic Youth Camp
A&B: Art & Beckie Melli – Pastoral Care – Europe, Youth for Christ Internatonal
JC: Jaroy Carpenter – Camp Director, Lakeview Camp
BJ: Bob Johns – Retired Youth Pastor (40+ years), Woodway First Baptist Church
RB: As a pre-teen or teenager, what part did camp play in shaping your personal faith journey?
TM: Summer camp played a huge role in my childhood. As a matter of fact I became a believer in Christ and a follower at a camp in Pennsylvania. A youth leader presented the Gospel to us in our cabin after all the camp activities, and I got up out of my sleeping bag and went into the other room, and asked him if he could pray with me. And I asked Christ into my heart. And that began my journey as a believer, walking through this world. That’s why I will always have a heart for youth pastors, and youth workers, and youth leaders everywhere. If it wasn’t for him reaching out and inviting me to that camp and then presenting the gospel in our cabin late at night I might not be a follower of Christ today.
DB: It was July 22, 1982 at a Word of Life summer camp in Schroon Lake, New York, that I completely surrendered everything in my life to Jesus. To symbolize my decision, I threw a woodchip, representing my life, into a bonfire. With tears streaming down my face as a 14-year-old, I turned my life fully over to Jesus Christ and realized that living for God is 365 days a year, 7 days a week, and 24 hours a day.
Since then life has never been the same. I still have the little yellow card I signed that evening at camp that says: “All I am, all I have, and all I ever hope to be, I now and forever dedicate to the Lord Jesus Christ for His use and glory, absolutely, unconditionally, now and forever.”
NF: The experience of going to camp impacted my life in a significant way. It taught me how much Jesus loved me, how to spend time with Him, and how to share my faith with others. In addition, it was a great time to share this experience with old and new friends. I also learned how to make a difference back home and in my schools.
G&A: Arianna was called to full time youth ministry in high school at our Wesleyan district youth camp. I grew up going to camp every year in middle school and high school. It was one of the most important times of each year. I was able to connect with God on a different level as I was away from the distractions and normalcy of home for a significant amount of time, I was able to worship with a lot of students in one place reminding me that I was not alone in my faith, and I was able to make life long friends who had the same desire to love and serve God. We often ask youth leaders across the country how many of them were saved and/or called to youth ministry during a summer camp and it is an overwhelming majority.
RD: Christian camps for youth and children may be the most important event-oriented ministry of the church. That one event creates more of an atmosphere and opportunity for children to believe in and receive Christ as their personal Savior than anything else the church does. For me it was the place year after year where I was reignited for Jesus and recommitted myself to purposes of the kingdom. I attended a good church and even came from a good Christian home, but there was something about being away from my normal predictable surroundings that allowed me to experience God in new life altering ways.
JH: As a pre-teen and a teenager, I went to camp every summer of my life with my family. My parents would attend the adult conference and I would attend whatever they had for my age group, Day Camp at first, but FUGE Camps eventually. I remember these as some of the most memorable days of my life! I always looked forward to our time at camp. It was at FUGE Camps between my Junior and Senior year of high school when I heard God calling me into ministry.
BW: I actually never went to church camp when I was a kid, although I wish I had. It would have helped me come to know Jesus at a younger age and be more open to my faith. But I did go to scout camp. The funny thing is I can remember almost everything I did for that one week of camp that summer years and years ago. I don’t really have any concrete memories of the rest of my summer. I know I did things, there just aren’t that many real memories for me. That is the power of camp! If we can combine those memories with faith, young people will always have a connection to their faith no matter what they are going through in life.
A&B: My first experience at camp was as a twenty year old new Christian. I was BLOWN AWAY that week at the effectiveness of Christian camping and so excited to see the guys in my cabin grow in Christ. That was 50 years ago, and I’ve been taking teenagers to camp ever since.
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RB: Especially for those who aren’t in full-time camp work, what role does camp play in your ministry?
TM: Camp for me is a time to step off the stage and talk to students one on one. So many times when we play big arenas, we walk onto stage and walk back to our bus. We don’t get to personally get in the trenches with students. We don’t always get to hear about what their troubles are, what they’re experiencing, but at camp it’s way more down and dirty. Way more in the trenches. Literally hands and feet. Music obviously gets me there and I play a set each night at golf camp. But it’s broken down, not even on a stage, on the floor right where they are. And we’ll have different kids come up sing parts of songs or beatbox. It’s just everyday hanging out. Going to the range, watching them hit golf balls, and at music camp it’s stepping into the songwriter’s workshop and telling them how I write songs. It’s way more personal and it’s an honor to hear their stories and get to share with them.
JC: Extremely important. I always say everything I really needed to know in life I learned at camp. Camp taught me how to listen to the voice of God and His call on my life. How to build meaningful relationships that still encourage my Christian faith today. A week of camp reflects a week of real life. Camp teaches us what’s really important and how to put God first in everything we do. Camp really taught me balance in life. That what happens in the play time is a direct result of what happens in the pray time. We have saying at our camp, that what happens at camp truly changes the world.
BW: Camp provides a safe, fun space for young people to grow, try new things and encounter Jesus Christ. You can’t answer the phone if you don’t hear it ringing. Likewise, you can’t answer God’s call if you can’t hear Him. Camp provides a space outside and away from the noise of everyday life. Once you have that encounter with the Lord, you can never be the same! We work directly with our parishes to have come kids here, encounter Jesus Christ and go back to their home communities to live out the gospel. Camp and our larger Church go hand in hand in ministering to young people.
BJ: The impact of camp on kids continues to be invaluable. Some might discount the camp experience as being an emotional week with a “camp high” that quickly fizzles. I say rather that camp represents a kind of monastic experience, where students gather together in a positive, compressed spiritual environment and are able to move upwards in their spiritual formation. As Oswald Chambers put it, “If you have ever had the vision of God, you may try as you like to be satisfied on a lower level, but God will never let you.” That is definitely what you hope will happen in the lives of these kids. Not everyone gets it, but many do—and the spiritual momentum you witness in their lives and the cumulative benefit you see in your own youth ministry can have lasting effects.
A&B: As a missionary in Europe my wife and I ran camps in Germany, Switzerland, Italy, Romania, Slovakia, the Czech Republic, Poland and Hungary. We’ve seen literally thousands of teenagers come to know Christ at some kind of camp. We believe in camping ministry where the gospel is shared effectively and clearly from God’s Word, and there is a chance for teenagers to respond – so much so, that when we moved from Europe after 28 years on the field, we settled in a large Christian camp (Hume Lake) in California to serve.
DB: For nearly 70 years, the Camp ministry has been the catalytic program that has produced a harvest of followers of Christ. We have ministry yearlong that reaches coaches and athletes annually on the professional, college, high school, junior high and youth levels. Through this shared passion for athletics and faith, lives are changed for current and future generations. Camps are foundational for us. It is a time of “inspiration and perspiration” for athletes and coaches who want to reach their potential through comprehensive athletic, spiritual and leadership training.
RD: Later after I became a pastor and eventually an organizational leader of a denomination (with a position that carried the responsibility of interviewing potential ministers) I discovered that camp was the number one producer of new pastors and missionaries. Again and again, I heard the ministry candidates say, “it all started at camp.” I also noticed that our churches that made the Christian Camp experience a priority attracted and kept their youth and children at a much higher level than those who did not. The bottom line is the American church would have a smaller footprint today if camping had not been embraced by so many of our historic churches and leaders. That also says that if we want to increase our footprint, we need to make Christian Camp even more important than we do today.