This is part three, of three, of an open letter to all going to camp/those serving in a ministry this summer. In the first post we covered the heart. Essentially how important it is that you’re motivated by the Gospel, Jesus doesn’t need you, and that all summer you actively seek to stir your affections for Christ. The second post dealt with your co-laborers. That as a team you all are united in Christ, you do not see the whole picture, come single leave single, and be quick to repent. This is not just for people heading to camp but applies to anyone serving.
Now onto the last segment of this series: the campers.
Each week you will receive a new set of campers. If you are not a counselor then you may not have a new batch but certainly you have a ton of new campers to get to know. Either way, it is their—for most—their only week there. Most of the kids look forward to this all year long and some even pay their way to camp.
The camper’s aim is to have fun. Your aim is to show them Jesus. Because frankly if all a camper experiences is a fun time devoid of any fresh encounter with the Gospel, that is an exercise in futility. Fun is great. God created fun. He sustains fun. But fun for fun’s sake fades. Fun for the sake of appreciating and glorifying God further lasts.
Love on These Kids
My favorite weeks were the weeks when the inner city kids came. I loved those kids. There was a kid I had named Walter from the inner city of Chicago. He had serious attitude. Boy was a punk. Barely pushing 4 foot 4, he held his nose up high and declared that he could mess me up. I rolled my eyes and pushed him along towards the pier for swim tests. When it was his turn to begin, he just stared at the water for a solid 60 seconds. “Walter, you gotta get in bro.”
Walter stuck his chest out looked me in the eyes and said imma swim so fast you won’t even be able to see me. And with that he jumped in. Mid jump he realized he could not swim.
When his feet touched the water he yelled out, we thought he was yelling because the water was cold. Fully submerged, he panics and flails his arms and legs yelling imma drown. Help! So the lifeguard jumped in to save him so he didn’t…yunno…die. She grabed him and brought him back up on the pier. Walter, now fully composed, looked at her and said what the hell you save me for? I was swimmin’! I responded Walter, you yelled “I’m drowning. Help!” Walter looked at me and the lifeguard and retorted no I did not. And with that he walked off the pier back onto the beach.
These kids often put on a tough exterior but in reality they are hurting and broken. What they need is for you to love on them. Show them Jesus.
Your Aim is to Seek Ignition
One of the biggest things I had to get my head around is that I am not out for professions of faith. A kid professing that he or she loves Jesus on call night is great, but without genuine affections that profession is cheap.
Your aim. Should you choose to accept it. Your aim is to seek ignition. Beg God every week to save your cabin. Beg Him to move in them. Beg Him to use you to show the campers the Gospel. Beg God to make the freedom in Christ real to them. Beg God. Beg God. Beg God to ignite their souls for Him.
At the end of the day what your campers need is not a profession of faith. Professions of faith do not produce new creation. Having the heart changed by the Gospel produces new creatures, which gives them new desires. Navigating middle and high school, they desperately need the Gospel. Show them that. Seek the ignition of their hearts.
And one quick word. If your campers do not come upstairs, or however call night works, to make a profession of faith it is not the end of the world. It does not mean that you are a bad counselor. Again I say that it does not mean that you are a bad counselor. If it is God who saves, God who calls, (which he does) then it does not rest on you to save them on call night. It is all on the Spirit to move, woo, and call.
Matt Chandler explains our role (he specifically speaks to parenting but it applies to camp counseling). Our role is to gather kindling and gather kindling and gather kindling. And then we pray that the Holy Spirit will set their soul ablaze for His glory. We don’t need to feel the weight of converting. You herald and God converts. (Should you reverse it, the roots will be shallow and fire extinguishable.)
Moralism = death. Gospel = life
This one is probably the one that gets me the most fired up. Here is why: often we see a behavior we know is wrong and we try to stop that behavior. Or we know the potential wrong behavior will be faced so we try and deter them. So as we read Scripture we read the commands and teach those but at the neglect of the Gospel.
For example. For middle and high schoolers, our tendency is to teach the command against premarital sex or drinking to get drunk. On the surface this seems rooted in a desire to see the student flourish but these commands are devastating if divorced from the Gospel.
Consistently in Scripture we see the command but they are ALWAYS prefaced by the Gospel. In Colossians 3, it would be easy to jump to the commands about putting to death—“sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness…”—but what is the natural tendency actually acts against the Gospel. Paul, before discussing action, first says in verse 1 “If then you have been raised with Christ…” This is huge!
Paul, before attacking the sin to be put to death, prefaces it by saying if you are a Christian, if you have been so moved by the Gospel, if Christ has saved you and changed your very desires THEN! THEN put to death sin. Why? Because sin is rebellion against God and robs you of your joy. Paul constantly reminded his people of the Gospel (1 Corinthians 15).
Should we teach behavioral modification, that their problem is to just stop doing those behaviors and then God will really love them, it will put a weight upon them they were never meant to carry and being crushed under that weight is inevitable.
(Briefly, in teaching the stories in the Bible when we try to find our place, we cannot take Christ’s place. The story of David and Goliath is not about you defeating the giants in your life. I cannot tell you how many times I have had that taught to me. Moses crossing the read sea is not about how you can triumph over the surging waters in your life. In that story, you are not Moses or David: Christ is. Christ is the better David who has slain the giant of Satan, death, sin, and Hell. We are the cowardly troops too scared to show our faces for the fight. Christ is the better Moses who saves His people from impending doom and we are the grumbling and complaining Hebrews. Christ is the hero. Christ wins.)
My fear is that we teach “campers don’t drink, don’t have sex, don’t think have bad self esteem, don’t look at porn” and we assume they know the Gospel. (Yes, teach them how to live well. But be sure that you teach the Gospel first.) That God has already declared them just and He rejoices over them. Jesus knew all the bad, sinful, God hating actions I would commit AND HE WENT TO THE CROSS ANYWAYS!
There is life in that message.
I have confidence in the Lord that He will go before you and save campers. Go. Go participate with Him. It will build your faith and bring you more joy. Do all for the glory of Christ. Be motivated and encouraged by the Gospel daily and have fun with the kids. You have a great summer ahead of you.