Written By John Sowers, Pastor at Leavenworth First Christian Church. Copied with permission from the June 17 “Sower’s Seeds” article in The Leavenworth Christian newsletter. Edited to fit Kansas Messenger publication guidelines and published in the 2021 July issue of the Kansas Messenger.
What is Your Experience at Church Camp?
Think about a conversation that changed your life or changed the way you look at things. That is, think of a conversation where the time before looks nothing like the time after that conversation.
I was interviewing for my first pastoral position in Franklin, Indiana. I was applying to be the associate pastor and the primary emphasis of the position was youth and family ministry. A member of the search committee asked, “What is your experience with church camp?” I smiled and said, “I have heard it is a good thing and I will support it as your pastor.”
In truth, I knew about church camp, and every year my pastors encouraged me to go. My pastors assured me that I would have enjoyed it. Yet, because we had not been a church camp family, I had no frame of reference. There were other members of the youth group who went every year, and seemed to enjoy it, but I did other things during the summer.
A Pastor’s Influence on Camp Attendance
I am convinced that if my pastors had said, “John, you will love church camp, and besides, we are going to be counselors there that week so you will know someone on staff.” I probably would have gone.
It is easier for a child to go to camp if they have the security of knowing their pastor is there as well. If a pastor says camp is vitally important and then prioritizes their attendance every year, it is a way of walking the walk so to speak.
Some pastors believe they “age out,” of youth ministry. However, it is important that a pastor is involved in children and youth ministry throughout their entire career. Sometimes it might be as a volunteer supporting the youth program or going to camp.
Camp Builds Connection and Relationships
I remember as a young child, I thought the pastors in the church were unapproachable and by extension the adults in the congregation. I did not dislike Dr. Bell or Rev. Blose, but I thought they were distant and not concerned with the affairs of children and youth. It seemed to me as a young boy that we had not a Holy Trinity, but Holy Quartet instead: God, Jesus, Holy Spirit, and Minister.
I go to camp every year because it reminds me of a truth that I sometimes need to be reaffirmed: I cannot out give God. The first year I went to camp thinking pridefully that I was doing a good thing and a sacrificial thing going to camp. Let’s face it, you’re away from the comfort of home, sleeping in shared spaces with people, outdoors most of the day, going to bed late, and getting up early. This in addition to abiding by a very full and active schedule.
For all intents and purposes, a counselor does everything a camper does, but often gets less sleep. Camp is many things, but restful may not be one of those things. Yet, even with all of that, I feel in debt to God when I come home.
There are always so many special instances when God shows up and is present. There are those shared moments with youth where you know you may be planting a seed that will bloom and grow long after you have ceased to work and till the garden of life and living. In the summer that is yet to come, there may be camps that still need counselors, and you could experience this joy as well!
Camp has changed my life, but I had to wait a little longer to experience its transformative power. The glorious thing is we never outgrow God’s gracious and giving nature. There are some camps that are only two and three days while others are a full week. Maybe summer isn’t complete until you have had a week at camp.