The purpose of this letter is to give you a glimpse into what happened last week at camp, your direct role in it, and where I feel God is leading us to go from there.
I first want to thank the 27 of you who volunteered to be prayer warriors for us in the time leading up to camp and while we were there. I have no doubt that all that happened with our group was a direct result of that. I also believe that the prayer focus is only the beginning of what we as a church can do to invest in the lives of students.
Here’s what happened at camp:
Crossing from Death to Life – This past week 5 students gave their lives to Christ (Tristan Mize, Hannah Tinsley, John Venice, Zach Hlava, and Sydney Roberts). All but one of them had previously made a profession but had realized in the time since then that it was not genuine. For those of you keeping score, that is now 11 from our student ministry who have given their lives to Christ (even after making a “decision” as a child). Over the next few weeks they’ll be writing out their testimony, going through some follow-up, and eventually will be presented to the church for baptism. My challenge is this: how many of you reading this, and how many more sitting in our pews, have never truly experienced what the Bible refers to as “new birth?” Examine yourself, let these teenagers serve as an example to you, to do as the Puritans did and do much self-examination to determine where your heart is before Christ.
Relationships – Not the cheesy pointless 5 day camp relationship, but the lasting kind. Every year I am intentional in room assignments, so that students can build relationships with one another and with a godly adult. The amount of time you spend together at camp is 6 months of the year for church events (camp: around 88 hours, year 182 hours). Because of that, there were lots of new Gospel-centered friendships began both within and without our group.
Commitments – One of the hardest things of student ministry is the lack of commitment from students. Church things often become the “last resort” if there isn’t a baseball game, school club, extracurricular activity, or job looming. But for those who came to camp this past week, there seemed to be a spirit of commitment to not only the things of God but also the people of God. Parents, my challenge to you is to encourage this and example it in your own life. Make fellowship with the Body a priority, and don’t be scared to pull your student from things so they can be more involved with the work of the church. That’s an eternal investment.
Difficult Circumstances – Several students shared some very hard circumstances they are going through. Confidentiality prevents me from openly sharing here, but know that there are many situations that I will be contacting people on to become involved in the process of redemption for some of our students. The difficulties could be summed up in 3 areas: friendships (many shared they have few friends, and the ones they have often are not kind to their faith), self-perception (in a culture of lies, many students have bought into lies about themselves, their appearance, circumstances, etc.), and assurance (students don’t know their place in the world, not sure what God would have for them, and some aren’t even sure about the love of God for them).
Spiritual warfare – I have no doubt that this was a direct result of us pleading with the church for prayer. When God’s people pray, He responds in His sovereign grace to do a great work. But also Satan comes behind to destroy that work. On the way up we lost a car in our caravan and had to drive 45 minutes out of our way each way to get a rental, leading us to get to camp 3 1/2 hours later than we’d hoped. While there, we had to deal with some potentially divisive drama. On our last morning, Rita woke up with shortness of breath and feeling “funny,” similar to how she felt before having a heart attack last year. Also along the way there were minor annoyances, POI times not going exactly how we’d like, fish biting in the swimming lake (yes, you heard that right), and other little things – all in an attempt to rob us of joy. By far, this has been the most difficult and draining week physically, emotionally, and spiritually – a sentiment felt by all five of us who functioned as leaders.
Vulnerability – Some of the share time after worship was very moving. We turned the lights off in order to protect those who wouldn’t share for fear of people’s faces, and several opened up about some very profound issues they were going through. One of the worst things we do as Christians is put on the “fine” face, instead of allowing others into our mess to be agents of healing, hope, and redemption.
Memories – God works in the ordinary of our lives, but every now and then the extraordinary provides an incredible opportunity. In those extraordinary moments, we tend to remember them much longer and they have a more profound impact on our lives. The beauty of camp is that it provides a catalyst for the extraordinary. It becomes a means by which God can do a great work and then give us a benchmark moment to look back on many years later and say “At camp in 2012, God did _______ in my life. I’ll never forget.”
Where do we go from here
1) Follow-up – There are some very real needs in the lives of our students, and the follow-up process with them is going to require many people in the church to come alongside and minister grace to them. Please pray about your involvement if I happen to call you to consider coming alongside a student in need of grace.
2) Recruitment – There are never enough competent, called, godly adults to work with students and invest their lives in them. God has primarily given parents, and especially dads, the role of discipleship. But we see the church as a necessary and good partner in their lives to help raise them up in Christ. I want them to have senior adult couples who can share from their decades of faithful witness of Christ, married couples who can share about the beauty of a Christ-honoring marriage, and more. The only spiritual requirement to work with our students is to be a maturing, growing, and fruit-bearing disciple of Jesus Christ.
3) Discipleship – We have several young Christians, some of whom are only a week old or less. I am in need of godly men and women to help disciple these students and point them to their Savior. Again, parents have that primary role, but the church comes along and supplements this calling. I would love to have 3-4 men and 3-4 women available to meet with these young Christians and walk with them as they grow in Christ. When I was a baby Christian, mine was a man named Mel Flannery who took me in and showed me so much of what a godly man was to be.
4) Expectation – God’s not finished yet. There are many more who struggled through the week to have assurance, clarity, and understanding about their lives. There are some who still need to make commitments, break off relationships, step outside their comfort zone, and some who need to yield their lives to God’s call. Expect God to do some great things.