How Camps Help Churches “Make Disciples through Healthy Local Churches”
By Mike Hess
Summer is here! I remember two exciting aspects of ministry as a pastor that came to fruition during the summer months: Vacation Bible School and camp ministry. Two of the highlights in my family’s life were the children’s week at camp and my opportunities to speak at a family camp or retreat. As both a pastor and a parent, I’m deeply indebted to the impact camp ministry has had on my family.
This past March the Resource Center staff was blessed to host directors from the National Association of Regular Baptist Camps. Camp directors, along with their wives, representing camps in the states of Iowa, Wisconsin, Illinois, Michigan, Indiana, Ohio, and New York, met together for networking and mutual encouragement. Jon Beight, executive director of Twin Lakes Camp in Hillsboro, Indiana, does a fantastic job of organizing and leading this event. Jon, along with all the other camp directors, indicated a strong desire to strengthen the ties between the NARBC and the GARBC. It was my joy to present my passion for our fellowship to these choice servants of God.
It is my firm conviction that the GARBC’s relationship with the NARBC plays an important role in “Making Disciples through Healthy Local Churches.” Allow me to share with you five reasons I believe you personally and your church corporately should wholeheartedly, prayerfully, and financially support camps that network with the GARBC.
More important than the activities of camp is the message campers will hear—the good news of the death of Jesus Christ on the cross, His burial, and His triumphant resurrection from the dead, and eternal life to all who repent and believe. Every camp that networks with the GARBC is fully committed to faithfully proclaiming that gospel message. Throughout the week campers will be saturated with messages of God’s love for them in Christ. Whether that comes through the chapel messages or during counseling times or conversations, the hope of the gospel will be constantly shared. Many who are reading this article came to faith in Christ as a result of camp ministry.
No camp that networks with us is looking to replace the local church’s central role in helping people grow and change into the image of Christ. Each does, however, desire to come alongside local churches in this process. Camps provide a getaway from the normal stresses and schedules of life. Jesus modeled this kind of intensive discipleship in passages such as the Upper Room Discourse (John 13—17). This interaction involved Jesus and His followers in a setting that was disconnected from the distractions of life to teach His followers what would be expected of them after His departure. During their time at camp, students receive an intensive time of heart-focused discipleship as they’re challenged to memorize Scripture, hear preaching from the Word from dynamic speakers, serve others, and forge Christ-centered relationships.
Given our age of distraction, the ability of camps to take young people out of a constant online and gaming presence is huge.
Throughout my life as a Christian, my strongest relationships with other believers have blossomed when I’ve been disconnected from the constant distractions of the world. Through venues such as men’s and women’s retreats, pastors and wives’ retreats, family camps, and children’s and teen camps, individuals are able to disconnect from screens and social media to enjoy face-to-face interaction as they pursue God’s glory together. Christina and I still enjoy several friendships that were made while serving at family camps and different retreats. Many of those relationships began as humble conversations sharing the burdens and joys of life.
Consider for a moment your closest relationships. Did they begin and develop through the medium of Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, or Snapchat? Probably not. And that’s a good thing. God’s design for relationships is that they grow in the context of mutual encouragement in life-on-life settings (see Hebrews 10:24–25). Time away at camp helps foster and encourage meaningful relationships that point us to Christlikeness.
One pastor commented to me recently about how camps provide a haven for children in homes where there is nearly constant conflict. Camp provides a loving atmosphere in which a camper will be cared for physically and spiritually. The mind of Christ (Phil. 2:3–4) is on display when campers from non-Christian homes see Christians handle conflict, stress, disagreement, teamwork, and service opportunities from a Christlike perspective. Think of the difference it will make in the life of an individual who is shown the love of Christ from other committed Christians. Camp provides this exposure to those who seldom experience this in their own homes.
Local Church Centered
Camp ministry does not replace local church ministry. Rather, it reinforces it. I have found that when important heart-change decisions are made at camp, individuals come home more committed to local church ministry. Camps will only be as healthy as our local churches. Every one of the directors within the NARBC is committed to the GARBC’s doctrinal statement and his own local church ministry. The directors also understand that camps exist to glorify God and to serve doctrinally aligned local churches. Therefore, the workers at camp are faithful members of local churches who serve at camp in order to serve churches.
Let me encourage you to prayerfully and financially support camp ministry. I’d also encourage you to actively promote it by having representatives from your state camp present camping ministry in your local church. Another great way to be a blessing to the NARBC camps is to challenge servant-minded individuals in your church to take a week or several weeks to serve at camp. God has created us for His glory to love Him and to serve others. Christ-centered camps provide wonderful opportunities for His people to serve to that end.
Mike Hess is the national representative of Regular Baptist Churches.