Making Camp

“Abide in Christ”. Words often used in scripture to speak of Christ living and working in the believer. A definition often used to define this is indwelling. As a former camp director getting ready to teach a bible study, an obscure definition caught my attention for the word abide; making camp.

I invite you as a camp ministry person (anyone really) to join me in making camp. Come to a place where you can sit a spell and we can consider ministry together. A safe place. A place filled with warmth and reflection. A place allowing you to pause and think with your ministry heart. Pull up a chair, grab a mug, the coffee’s hot, the fire is cracklin and the fellowship is good. Let’s dwell together and focus our ministries on pulling others to the fire to “make camp” with Christ.

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Let the Children Come to Me, Do Not Hinder Them

Our neighbor’s children are free to come and play in our yard. We’ve given them permission to do so. They bring their imagination, play and energy into our lives and we enjoy their laughter and the conversation coming from their eyes and world. A text message received from their mother once read, “I don’t know what is so attractive about your yard but the girls love to play there!” And we don’t mind at all.

Eating dinner after a Sunday service and a morning snow, we heard the youthful voices sledding in front of our porch. Then we saw the top of a blond little head making its way to our front door. The door bell chimed. When my wife went to the door no child was there. The game was on, with the youngest being put up to it by her older sisters. We watched another sneaky approach to our front door, heard another chime, saw another flight and listened to the giggles in the bushes below as we searched for the big bad wolf ringing our door bell. With the third stealth door bell ringing my wife proclaimed it was too bad that such a hungry wolf would run off since cookies and milk were inside! All the giggles came inside and we gave their mom a little break.

The fun times came from a few years of cultivating a relationship with our neighbors. We are glad the message is clear, “You are free to come and you are safe here. Bring your imagination to our pine grove, sled on our hill, play in our bushes and ask us question while we garden. Bring your world to us.

A foundation of camp ministry is that you provide a program designed for an age specific group. Many of life’s spiritual battle need to be won with our youngest campers. This requires that our programs let campers bring their world to us. It is far more difficult to create a program that engages a camper’s imagination, productive play expansive curiosity than it is to schedule a list of fun activities.

As you get ready for camp this summer, I encourage you to let your mind enter the child’s world. Camp programs give campers today the opportunity to live life for a week in their, a world that has been robbed from them at home by a culture of fear to go outside and captivating plasma screens.

I love to take hikes with kids and let my imagination run. I remember last summer picking up a rock on a river beach and proclaiming it a petrified dinosaur tear. Outrageous for sure, especially from an adult, but I was there to let them bring their world to me. One boy looked at me as real strange. Awhile later he returned with his own rock convincing me it was a dinosaur tooth. From there the conversation began, I had entered into his world.

My wife has a passion for children’s literacy. I’ve discovered through the books she brings home that I can enter a child’s world through reading good children’s literature. Reading Newberry Award winning books for children, I’ve found a glimpse into the questions they face, emotions they feel below the surface and the inspirations that motivates of the children that Christ said, “Let them come to me.”

I hope I’ve created a desire in you to be ready when the children come to your ministry this summer. What can you do to make your program inviting for imagination, productive play, and expanding curiosity? Take some time to remember the poignant moments and the lessons learned in your childhood, including the difficult ones. Are you ready to teach those same lessons? Our culture may change but the lessons to be learned never do.

Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of heaven.” Matthew 19:4  ESV

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Nature God’s First Missionary

Nature is God’s first missionary. Where there is no Bible, there are sparkling stars. Where there are no preachers, there are springtimes. Where there is no testament of scripture, there is the testament of changing seasons and breath-stealing sunsets. If a person has nothing but nature, then nature is enough to reveal something about God. As Paul says: “The basic reality of God is plain enough open your eyes and there it is! By taking a long and thoughtful look at what God has created, people have always been able to see what there eyes can’t see: eternal power, for instance and the mystery of His divine being” (Romans. 1:20 MSG).  – Max Lucado

What a privilege to use the assets of our Christian camps to proclaim the gospel message in the testimony of God’s creation.

When Christ Comes, p 104, Max Lucado, Thomas Nelson, 1999

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Successful Failure

We spend a lot of our lives doing the impossible – trying to perform for God. This became real to me sitting on a hillside a few years back. The moment is still indelibly etched into my memory.

My mind was rehearsing the words from my personal physician and friend, “you are in a state of extreme fatigue and you are on the verge of entering into a deep depression.”  Constant striving combined with physical defects led my body to shut me down. Ministry as I knew it came to a crashing end.

I sat on a log looking over a valley I often walked to and read the next Psalm.

“O Lord, make me know my end
and what is the measure of my days;
let me know how fleeting I am!
 Behold, you have made my days a few handbreadths,
and my lifetime is as nothing before you.
Surely all mankind stands as a mere breath! (Psalm 139:5-6 ESV)

Then I came to understand. What I accomplished was nothing but a vapor, a breath dissipating into the air.

I read this quote from Irwin Lutzer that so capably puts life and ministry, success and failure into perspective:

If you are like me, you will never reach all your goals. Your “real” self will never match your “ideal” self face to fact. Don’t live in a dream world, thinking of what you could have done or even should have done. Success, as we usually think of it, is simply not an option for everyone. But fellowship with God is! And if the chief end of man is to know God and enjoy Him forever, that goal is possible for you. Try it. You can’t go wrong.

 After all, you may not be accomplishing as much as you think you are!

Putting ministry dependence in Christ is counterintuitive, yet this is what Christ wants of us in ministry. Now I may do less, but I am satisfied in knowing I’m doing in Christ more. I’m learning more of what verse seven means.

“And now, O Lord, for what do I wait?
My hope is in you.

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Lost at Camp Amusement

I know a boy who went to camp for the first time last summer. He’s not going back. This makes me sad. Here is his story.

I got out of the house, away to camp and the great outdoors. Here there would be many memories for my parents of their days of fun and play. The friendships they made at camp remain alive today, I hear them talk together. And I hear them talk of the inspiration they got to live for God too.

I like Camp because its outdoors. I like the big places to roam around and the dark star lit skies at night. It’s all so awesome. I received lots of fresh air like mom and dad said would be good for me. Mostly from going from one attraction to another and another, I remembered thinking that I learned somewhere – maybe Sunday school – that God owns the cattle on a thousand hills, but I felt like I was the one being herded.

Mom told me she remembered thinking that going to camp was better than going to Disney World. After awhile I wondered why I couldn’t go to Disney World; it’s all so similar I thought. So many amusements to keep me busy.  I wanted camp to be an adventure like dad’s stories led me to dream. About things like playing in the woods, exploring a river bank, hunting frogs, building forts with really cool counselors…just doing the stuff I never get to do on my street at home.

The camp counselors and staff were nice, like I was told they would be, but I never really got to know them. It seems they were always supervising at one activity or setting up for another while I stood in line. That is of course, when they weren’t herding us all out to check off the next big thing on the “must be done at camp list”.

The main reason for going to camp, I was told, was that it’s such a great place to find God and get to know Him better. Thinking back, I don’t think I had time to find God, if He really was there. I had no time to get to know my counselor, how would I have time to get to know God?

Oh, I heard about God. They taught me about God. Chapel made a big deal about making a decision for God. It’s the right thing to do I kept hearing. It’s kinda the same as making sure you follow all the camp rules and getting along with everybody, then everything is better. So if you make a decision for God, then everything is all right with Him too.

I thought about making a decision for God. But it seems there really wasn’t a choice to make. I’m already doing the right stuff. I have all this fun stuff to do. Everybody is good to me. Well, everything is good, so why all this fuss about deciding for God?

There you have it. He’s staying home this year. No hassles. He’s well taken care of and any amusements at camp can be found elsewhere.

 Sad. This is not camp as I hope it to be. I hope it isn’t yours either.

(It is true that there is a boy who made me wonder why he wasn’t going back to camp this year. He won’t say why, but as camp people we should be asking that question.)

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Memo to Camp Directors: Know When to Call a Time Out


To: My Camp Ministry Friends (anyone in ministry at some point in time)

Re: Busy Summer Schedule

Fr: A Friend Who Knows

Da: Start of Summer Ministry

I miss being in your shoes. It’s camp time; the time camp worker’s live for all year. Adrenaline flows through your veins. It your unsubscribed drug of choice for ministry highs. Meeting deadlines, overcoming obstacles, watching a good plan come together and then…results!

Its NBA finals time too. I know you’ve little time to pay attention, but there are 10 guys soon to be running up and down the court in controlled frenzy. They remind me of my camp staff heroes. But they have one advantage over you folks. They have a coach who knows when to call a time out. When the focus is lost, the legs are gone and a break is needed, time out is called to catch a breath.

Will you call a time out when you need it? Most of you are worn out before the first camper ever arrives. You’re tired from fixing the pool, spring cleanup and endless prep. Then staff arrives and you train them. Now you are exhausted. Who will call your time out?

It’s a mistaken notion that you must sacrifice endlessly for the sake of the cause. Noble perhaps, but it’s foolish. Yes we are to run the race and fight the good fight for our Savior. But even these terms suggest proper training which includes rest.

It’s also a mistaken notion that you are indispensable to the ministry. It belongs to God and He will carry it on. When you go down, someone will finish for you.

If God has chosen you for ministry, please recognize that He ask you to perform it in His power and His ways. This means mindlessly pushing the limits of endurance is contrary to His concept of rest.

Bring on the help you need and empower them to act in your absence during camp. In your daily schedule plan regular breaks. Absolutely maintain the integrity of you personal walk with God. Call time outs and walk away when you need the break, regardless of your self felt importance. Listen to your spouse; they usually know when you need to call that time out. Leave camp. Yes, it will still be there when you get back and you’ll manage it with a clearer head when you do.

Six years ago I failed to call a time out. Now I’m in the stands cheering you on. I treasure the opportunities to come to the locker room and do some training and give a pep talk. But, it’s not the same, I’d rather be in your shoes.

And a last thought. Call time outs for your staff. You’ll receive much more spiritual benefit than pushing them on and on.

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A Family Camp Night Hike, Disappearing Heads and Owl Calls

A family camp night hike was a first for me. I’ve done a bunch with young people and adults but never a group with this wide of an age mix. It turned out to be a real hoot!

Hiking in the dark makes people chatty. The younger kids were all verbally transparent and very animated, speaking as if no else was around to hear their commentary. When doing an activity demonstrating our night vision capabilities, I was amused by  spontaneous responses. Circled up, the group watches the head of the person across  from them. “His head disappeared”, came the exclamation, “it’s gone black!” Our eyes see color to the center and black and white on the periphery. The amazement began and we were off to an energetic start. Another teachable moment for a marvelous creator.

Leaving the woods and entering a clearing, I stopped the group to circle up, explaining that this would be a good spot to do my Barred Owl call and perhaps even see one. Its rare, but  the ultimate experience when it happens. There’s always a good chance I’ll get one to call back.

After a half dozen or more Barred Owl Calls and no response we took some time to do some star constellations. About fifteen minutes past by and suddenly the void of the night darkness was filled with that throaty baritone return call. We heard it 3-4 times. It was  too good to be someone’s imitation. Then the magic occurred and out of the darkness the owl flew its silhouette across a dimly moon lit sky. AWEsome! A definite O WOW experience that needed no interpretation.It was another unforgettable memory to instill the creative delight of the Almighty creator.

It takes a commitment to keep camp and group size manageable for these kinds of memories to happen. It takes takes commitment and planning to preserved outdoor areas for these kinds of encounters to focus on Christ the Creator. A commitment to outdoor nature programming is needs to be desired too.

For my tastes, camps tend to grow and become little amusement parks. They develop outdoor areas needed to make teaching the testimony of the creator possible and replace it with artificial fun. Outdoor programming also has the added advantage of including strength of relationship in teaching and experience. Superslides are fun, but the common experience of shared discovery creates lasting impressions and memorable learning.

I love ministry outdoors in a the natural world. Lets work to preserve and keep these O WOW learning opportunities available.

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Summer Camp Speaker’s Prayer

Summer begins this weekend. Its the beginning of the summer camp season. Best season of the year. Kids come out to camp to enjoy the outdoors and hear about the message of the creator who takes a special interest in  their lives.

I was asked a couple of years ago to be a summer camp speaker. Switching from camp director to camp speaker challenged me, but rewarded me in special ways. This summer I have the opportunity to go to four camps and speak to four very different groups. The expectation of God creating in me a message to glorify His name and then experience it all coming together is a joy for which I really have no description .

This weekend I start with a family camp. My first as speaker. Again a new experience in this role. Ministry excites my soul in this wonderful opportunity to bring God’s Word to life. I wrote this prayer out last winter. Its been my guide and accountability in preparation for summer ministry and for opportunities given to me before now. You’re welcome to pray along with me. I count it a sacred privilege to have you join me in this ministry.

Dear Lord, prepare my heart, engage my mind to deliver your message, using your words spoken by my lips in the leading of your Spirit. Transform the lives you wish to touch with your grace. I need you to preserve me for this mission so that I may minister with a blameless heart. Thank you precious Savior, my Lord and friend. May your name be glorified. Amen

My blogging will be sure to slow down. It already has. But I’ll have new inspiration for future post, especially for the camping ministry that is so special to me. Keep Looking up everyone!

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The Power of the Christian Camp Staff

Be imitators of me as I am of Christ.” I Corinthians 11.1

These words from the Apostle Paul set the challenge for Christian Camp staff each summer. They will be the real living gospel to campers each week.

Wally, Pete, Lyle and Jerry; these were my camp counselors. Forty years later I remember them and the impact they made on my life. The power of camp is in the personal touch that comes from staff connecting with campers and living the gospel message. When Christ ask the disciples to “touch me and know that I am real” (Luke 24:39), He was giving to them a personal reminder that His ministry, His sacrifice, and His message were all real and intimately personal.

And so it is for the camp staff to say boldly to campers, watch me and see that I am real; a living testimony of Christ living in my changed life. See the love of Christ at work in my actions and do as I do. The power of camp rests in the hands of godly young men and women who take the challenge of being imitators of Christ. It’s long lasting ministry of amazing impact with eternity consequence. Wally, Pete, Lyle and Jerry are living proof enough for me.

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O Wow! The Testimony of God’s Creation

Remember now your creator in the days of your youth. Ecclesiastes 12:1

When teaching camp counselors to take a nature hike, no matter what their experience knowledge was outdoors, I told them they only need to know the words, “O WOW”! The key  getting kids plugged in outdoors is not teaching a lot of facts (those can come latter) but to create a desire in them to explore with youthful curiosity the wonder of God’s creation. All you need to know is O WOW! If they found it, its cool. If they discover something new, its exciting. If they begin to randomly explore their newly found outdoor world then I’m really happy.

The beauty of creation, its intelligent design, intricate patterns and interwoven life cycles all point to the creator. The testimony of creation is God’s testimony found in the wisdom and handiwork and His sustaining power of the natural world. God’s power seen and handled by campers fosters an intimate link between what He created and those who will take the time to marvel at it.

A camp’s outdoor environment is a powerful connection to reach campers. Kids do not have the freedom to explore anymore. So at camp they enjoy the freedom of unstructured exploring time to engage the  natural world. Camp is a time to be away from normal routines at home. Exploring cool outdoor places is time away from the normal camp routine. These times become great relational connections. They become part of the shared experiences of camp. They offer a different pace. It’s during these times that kids have time to think, process and make connections between the messages they are receiving and life.

Is it any wonder that Bible time leaders were trained in the away places of the wilderness? Jacob, Abraham, David, Elijah, Paul, were prepared with outdoor experiences. Even Christ went to the wilderness. Much of the Psalms gives praise to the creator and Christ used outdoor spaces and illustrations to spread His message.

When campers come to camp their senses come alive. All the wonder and new experiences opens the mind to receive and understand the gospel message presented during the week of Christian Camp. Just as Christ used the senses to engage the disciples after his resurrection, we can too with the power of the testimony of His creation.

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The Power of Simple Camp Ministry

Camp in its outdoor setting away from daily chaos is meant to be a simple ministry. The example from the early church gives us a simple pattern for ministry. Camp as a ministry supports local churches and should reflect good ministry practice, and simple ministry reflects Christian camping at its best.

Acts 2:42 gives us a simple ministry template for the church and camp.  And they continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in prayers.”

First is the attention given to Bible study and doctrine. Doctrine brought to life with every day application should never be boring. Especially at camp where experiential application applies so easily.

Second is the power of sharing or fellowship. Giving testimony of God at work before and during camp bonds the Word of God to the heart.

Remembering Christ life and teaching the Gospel message in camp makes for spiritually healthy breaking of bread. Given the time spent at camp for this message to root, the example of Christ can take hold of a campers life under the guidance of the Holy Spirit.

Prayer and its work at camp. The consistent pattern and results of prayer at camp sets a wonderful example to take home. The Spirit of God grows and mature those who give attention to meeting regularly Him.

In the context of this verse the Holy Spirit is abiding and working in the church and in its believers. It is in fact the Spirit of God at work in simplicity and in the absence of complexity that should grab our attention. Complexity takes us away from the very ministry tools above that  God is asking us to employ. Complexity overwhelms needed time for Bible study, relational sharing and prayer focus that God intends His servants to use, work through and bring glory to His name.

To paraphrase J.C Macaulay, a Moody Bible Institute professor from another generation, “When we lack the fulness of the Spirit we turn to substitutes like religious entertainment and gimmicks to hold and attract an audience…so that we can compete with the world.”

What will you do to keep program complexity in check and simple ministry central in your Christian camp ministry this summer? Feel free to share.

Life in the Spirit, J.C. Macaulay, Eerdmans, Grand Rapids MI, 1955

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