How to Bring Camp to Church!
Do you remember your most powerful experience with God? That place and time when the love of Jesus captured your heart, soul, spirit, and imagination? When salvation became more than just an idea preachers talked about on Sunday mornings; it became a living reality in your life; your most vibrant relationship? Do you remember?
For many years I’ve been volunteering in the One Way Camps at Ceta Canyon in the Northwest Texas Conference of the United Methodist Church. In a time when other conferences are closing or selling their camps, and some ‘experts’ are saying that Christian Camping is no longer effective ministry in our digital age, the One Way Camps are at capacity and beyond. It is at these camps where I’ve consistently seen God change lives; where every year I witness people having their most powerful experiences with God. Salvations. Healings, Calls to ministry. You name it; God changes lives at One Way Camp. So here’s what I’ve been wondering: if lives being changed at One Way Camp is normative, why does it seem so rare, and even difficult, the rest of the year in our local churches?
Is it just that we’re in a different routine for a week? Is it our setting, close to nature, the beauty of the canyon, etc…? Is it disconnecting for a week, there’s no cell service or internet in the canyon? After twenty something years of doing this I can confidently say these things are wonderful contributing factors, but not the foundational ones. I am convinced that what God does to change lives at One Way Camps is what God desires to do in every local church, at all times, and in all places.
Here are the five things I regularly see at One Way Camps that I rarely see in local churches:
1. Intentional Focused Prayer.
This is the most foundational one, this one focus can change everything in our local churches. In every One Way Camp experience we have intentional focused prayer to invite the Holy Spirit, to anoint the preachers and leaders, to specifically ask God for salvations, healings, calls to ministry, and so much more. Yet, in so many local churches prayer is nothing more than the ‘organ recital’ (pray for so-and-so’s heart, kidneys, lungs, hip, etc…) and we rarely pray intentionally for God to change lives. A shift in our practice of prayer can change everything.
2. Overt Reliance on the Holy Spirit.
I sometimes think we treat the Holy Spirit as an embarrassing relative and we don’t want anyone to know that we’re related. And then we unexpectedly discover how much fun, how much excitement, how loving he is, and it changes everything. He’s no longer an embarrassment. And we can’t wait to be in his presence! That’s what I’ve seen at One Way Camps. The Holy Spirit isn’t downplayed. The Holy Spirit is front and center. Welcomed. We cannot do any real ministry apart from an overt reliance on the Holy Spirit. A shift in our focus from self-reliance to an overt reliance on the Holy Spirit will inevitably change how we experience ministry in our local church.
3. Clarity of Purpose
One Way Camps are about helping kids connect to Jesus. That’s it! That’s the purpose, the mission, the vision! Helping kids connect to Jesus; to experience the saving love of Jesus; to have their lives changed by Jesus. It’s not the music. It’s not the hiking, or the swimming, or the games, or the lights, or the …. whatever. We exist to help kids connect to Jesus. Our local churches greatly need to shift the focus from extraneous activities to the main focus: helping people connect with Jesus. We may have a multitude of good programs and ministries, but if they’re not helping people connect with Jesus they’re extraneous. It’s time for every local church to refocus on connecting people to the saving love of Jesus!
4. Expectation of Transformation.
There is a palpable expectation at One Way Camp that God will transform lives. It’s not a vague hope that somebody’s life will be changed. It’s not an unexpected byproduct. It’s an expectation. And it’s an expectation that is regularly fulfilled. Pastor, wouldn’t you love it if someone came to your office on Monday to tell you how God had changed their life on Sunday, and they had to wait because so many others were already there? Changed lives are not isolated and rare occurrences in the One Way Camp experience, and they shouldn’t be in our local churches. Change your expectations, change your church!
5. Life in Christian Community.
We’ve long understood that an individual kids experience of One Way Camp is made or broken in their experience of the small group. The small group is the primary experience of Christian community during the week of camp. We may see an altar full of kids at worship having a powerful experience with God, but that experience truly began in the midst of the Christian community developed in their small group. The small group is where they asked questions, explored Scripture, prayed together, and experienced the love and witness of fellow Christians. Maybe it’s time we admitted that lecture based Sunday school classes rarely if ever change lives, and the Christian community that develops in our class meetings, covenant groups, life groups, or community groups rarely fails to change lives. Yep, John Wesley knew what he was doing with those class meetings! Start some new small groups in your church and watch how God changes lives!
How will you incorporate these five into your local church ministry?
Will you decide today that ministry as usual is done? That you’ll live and minister with high expectations of God changing lives?
Let me know how it goes….
Grace and Peace, Rich