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Church Camp Putting Christ First


Church Camp: Where the Focus is Christ

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In America today, it is not uncommon for parents from all walks of life to send their children to summer camps that help them develop their athletic, musical, or other God-given talents. Parents know that the camp is an investment in their child’s future, whether it’s for the short term (help them make the team next season) or the long term (earn a college scholarship or even a professional career).

Yet, when church youth camp is presented, there seems to be a disconnect by parents. The purpose of church camp is similar to any camp’s focus, but is arguably more vital and typically less expensive than any other summer camp. Church camp is the one camp where eternity matters. Kids aren’t focused on what they (or their parents) want to do with their lives, but what God wants to do in and through their lives.

“There are several purposes for camp,” says Darin Stroud, Kansas Ministry Network/district youth director (DYD) for the past 11 years. “The main one is to really assist students in developing their spiritual walk. We try to teach daily disciplines — Bible reading, praying, quiet time, just walking with the Lord every day.”

Parker Dickerson, the new DYD of the West Texas district and a former youth pastor and missionary, says, “Camp removes the distractions where kids are able to connect with Jesus. Our focus is on what God does at the altars.”

Stroud believes it’s important for parents to actively listen to their children and, if they have questions about something they see in their child’s life, not to be afraid to discuss possible solutions with their youth pastor.

“As a youth pastor, I tried to help parents understand that they can’t release a 13-year-old child to go develop their spiritual walk all on their own . . . throwing it up in the air and saying ‘I hope this works out,’” Stroud says. “Instead parents need to help out through family devotions, asking about quiet time, offering help with devotional journaling — intentionality is the key.”

“Parents also need to ask their kids the right kind of questions,” Dickerson says. “Ask questions that are thought-provoking; questions that can’t be answered with a ‘yes’ or a ‘no.’”

Randy Hurst, director of communications for AG World Missions, is a strong supporter of church camp and recognizes the spiritual impact it can have on lives. “Many of our missionaries are called into missions at a young age,” Hurst says, “A significant number are called to missions during church camps.”

Tom Groot, director of Student Discipleship for the AG national Youth Ministries and the former DYD of the Ohio Ministries Network, believes church camp should be a priority for youth.

“Camps have been and will continue to be one of the most rewarding events on a youth ministry calendar,” Groot says. “The spiritual impact that camp has on students cannot be replicated in any other environment. Leaders invest their time, energy, and expertise into planning and managing summer camps. The ultimate impact camps have towards advancing God’s kingdom will only be fully realized when we all get to heaven.”

Stroud observes that God doesn’t limit His call to the mission field or pulpit. “I believe God also calls students to full-time ministry in the secular aspect, as Christian businesspeople,” he says.

Although Stroud and Dickerson agree that church camp is a place where revival can be launched and transformation in lives can occur, having opportunities in place for kids following church camp is also of vital importance. Instead of coming home to the normal routine, providing students opportunities to channel their excitement for the Lord and have the callings on their lives not only validated, but encouraged and nurtured, is key.

“During high school camps, we offer a session called ‘Explore the Call’ for students who feel they were called by God to some type of ministry,” Stroud says. “At that time, we go over the significance good and poor choices can make in future ministry. We also encourage students to connect with their youth pastor and pastor, volunteering to do whatever they can to help — even moving tables and chairs — while also seeking to be discipled.”

Stroud also offers district youth an annual “Lead from the Locker” event in January, where students are encouraged to participate in missions trips, get involved in Speed the Light, and for those called to ministry, to begin setting themselves apart. “This isn’t about pulling away from people, but in their behavior,” he explains. “There is more expected and more responsibility for those who are called to represent Christ.”

Although relatively new to his position, Dickerson says he has already identified New Mexico’s Student Ministries Director Jarel Dickenson as someone who understands the need for follow-up.

“Every year, Jarel offers a ‘Called Camp,’ specifically for those students who feel they have a calling from God to ministry,” Dickerson says. “And that’s something I hope we can start here in West Texas.”

Dickerson also makes a significant point about the importance of developing the spiritual lives of youth. “We call our youth the church of tomorrow,” he observes, “but if we don’t equip our students and offer them opportunities to be the church today, they won’t be in the church tomorrow.”

Even though church camp is viewed by many as a prime opportunity for Christian students to hear from God, it is also an opportunity for students who don’t have a relationship with God to experience Him for the first time. Dickerson says he saw that very miracle take place in the first week of camp.

“The first night service at church camp this year, God was moving in a mighty way and everyone was at the altar except for these two kids. One of them told a counselor he didn’t believe in God,” Dickerson says. “We have electives in the mornings, and these two kids ended up in the ‘How to Share Your Faith’ elective. The leader called for a volunteer so he could demonstrate. One of the atheist boys volunteered to be someone who didn’t believe in God. The demonstration began and the boy started asking questions, then more and more questions, when suddenly he stopped, wide-eyed and said, ‘This is real! This is real!’ The leader stopped the session and led the boy in a sinner’s prayer right there. When he was through, the boy turned to his friend and says, ‘Dude, you gotta get this! God’s real!’ That night, both boys went to the altar, his friend accepted Christ, and they both spent the rest of the week getting after God!”

Stroud says that he’s had many experiences at camp, but the stories that mean the most to him are the ones he hears after camp is long over — maybe even years later. “I love hearing about the kid who had an encounter with God here at camp and it stuck,” Stroud says. “That instead of the roller coaster ride that can occur following camp, from that moment on, they're growing in their walk with Christ — for me, that’s incredible!”

Dickerson and Stroud agree that church camp can be the catalyst for revival that could sweep the nation within the youth of the Assemblies of God. And from there, only God knows the impact of tens of thousands of youth who believe that God will use them to change the world.

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