The Great Let-Down (Defeating The After-Camp Blahs)
by Tony Jacobs • Original interlinc WriteGroup Member • Vancouver, Washington
“Camp was the most amazing experience to ever captivate young hearts, minds, and souls.”
“The leaders and students will be talking about this camp for years to come.”
“The teaching was dead-on, the Holy Spirit pierced hard hearts, and the students were yielding to God.”
And then you find yourself and your students settled into the same old comfortable ministry routine just a couple of weeks later.
The quandary of dealing with the end-of-event spiritual tsunami quickly fading into dull ripples on a familiar shoreline is an issue that has plagued youth ministers for as long as youth ministry itself has existed. I’ve often contemplated this dilemma. I see two prevailing factors that tend to power this concern.
Developing camp activities that keep students from wandering to the bigger-better camp at the youth ministry down the street, or that prevents them from mentally wandering while they sit in front of you, is a challenge. So, we create bigger-better productions, flashy worship music, and extravagant games/activities. By the camp’s end, students have played, sung, and studied into exhaustion. Too often students make decisions of commitment to faith based on emotional impetus rather than rational considerations. These same students find themselves days later wondering where the luster, excitement, and emotional passion went.
I was recently the speaker at a youth retreat that was so action-packed that the retreat center’s recreation room went untouched all weekend. The foosball, ping-pong, and other games remained idle simply because there wasn’t any “downtime” for relaxation and casual conversation. Often these casual interactive times with leaders and students develop some of the most significant discussions and ministry opportunities. It’s a shame that the leaders are so worried about getting to the next activity, meal, or session that there’s no time to think purposefully about which student to catch a moment with and connect about God. In a musical composition, the silence between the notes is as important as the notes themselves. Likewise, free times may be some of the most significant moments. Wonderful things can happen, and both campers and leaders tend to be more refreshed.
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Even with keeping external influences and stimuli to a minimum, something is special about getting away and focusing on God at camp, when many genuine and lasting decisions are being made to make Christ the LORD of students’ lives. Yet, how do we help adolescents maintain focus and vitality away from the context of the camp?
There are several practical methods to continue spiritual momentum and motivate youth in areas of faith. Many ministries reserve special events such as baptism or communion for camps. Try making these particular events frequent occurrences in ministry rather than occasional incidents during unique outings.
I noticed that a significant catalyst for spiritual focus at our camps and retreats was the distinction of having purposeful devotional times set aside with practical application. Upon return from camp, I decided that I would continue this by developing a daily devotional guide for students, which consisted of a short Scripture passage and one clear application question. Over 50% of our students used that guide throughout their youth ministry experience. Today, this can be easily done through the Internet. Every student loves to get mail, even email. If you have a youth ministry group text or email list, send out a short daily Scripture accompanied by a simple question. Another option is to have someone help you set up a page on your church or youth ministry website that would accomplish this same task.
The great letdown following the after-event spiritual high is inevitable. There is no cure. Keep focused on the big ministry picture rather than the exhilarating stimulation of yearly camps. Do what you can to continue the momentum and sustain moderate enthusiasm. Above all, continue to pray for your ministry.