Jul 24, 2012

Why I Still Love Summer Camp

Last week I had a very cathartic experience.  Since 1994, I have been taking groups to summer camp almost every summer.  Sometimes they were camps that I planned.  Often they were camps that other organizations planned that I signed my group up for.  In 1998, I developed a long-standing relationship with the guys at Student Life and began sending groups to those camps.  The Student Life offices were just a few miles from my church in the Birmingham area.  I spent many days stopping by to see these guys and gals.  I made friends that I am still connected to today through social networks even though we are all scattered miles apart.

I have lost count on how many times I attended a summer camp with a group.  For a stretch, our church was sending three groups each summer; a middle school group, a high school group, and a group of leaders to help staff another camp. When I left student ministry a few years ago, I had my first camp withdrawal as we sent off students to camp and I wasn't on the bus.  That lasted about three summers until I came to Sixth Street as pastor.

In the summer of 2010, I went as pastor, chaperon, and parent to our kids camp with Student Life.  I had the pleasure of now attending as a dad with my two oldest kids, Nathan and Drew.  It was their first summer camp as well.  They had a blast and had huge spiritual lessons implanted.  I went with the kids last summer as well.  However, this summer, I retired my camp pillow and the late night ushering of kids into their rooms and let some other adults help.  However, I did sneak away from the office one afternoon to drive to camp and check in on the boys (especially son #3 "Pete"; it was his first summer camp).  I got to sing the silly songs and hang out in the cafeteria for the camp food.  It was a great time.

I reflected a lot last week driving home as to why I love and still believe in the power of summer camp. After being at probably more than 25-30 camps, I have heard most of the same sermons, sung hundreds of songs, and seen dozens of camp drama skits.  Here are a few reasons I still send kids to camp:

1.  I want to put as many gospel hooks in the water as I possibly can.  I don't think you can overemphasize the gospel or the word of God in children and student's lives.  But I certainly think you can underemphasize it.   I think as parents we take too much for granted that because our kids attend church and Sunday School that "they are learning about God."  Spiritual lessons need to be reinforced constantly and from multiple sources and angles.  I heard a lot of "God-stuff" growing up as a kid, but it wasn't until I was 17 that I truly understood my sin and need for the gospel.

2.  I want my kids to understand that their spiritual development is my first priority as a parent.  I love that my oldest son Nathan is talented and likes sports.  However, I want him to love Jesus more than I want him to be an all-star.  I want him to be more excited about going to summer camp where he can learn valuable spiritual lessons than he is about going to a baseball camp or hanging at a friends house playing video games all summer.

3.  I want to give my kids some tools in their belt now to prepare them for the war their are about to wage as teenagers.  Parents, our kids are in a battle zone.  In their preteen and teenage years, they will do heavy battle with cultural and spiritual forces that we cannot comprehend.  What are we giving them to prepare them to deal with the peer pressure, the ungodly cultural standards and norms they will face, and the mounting pressure to conform to something very unbiblical?  It saddens me every year to see parents weeping over the choices that their teenage and young adult children are making.  Often when I talk to them about how they prepared themselves and their kids spiritually when they were younger, I get blank stares and religious cliches.  Good intentions will not prepare our kids, godly gospel centered dependency will.

4.  I want my kids to see that there is a place they can be free and have fun that isn't connected to an ipod, a video game, or Disney channel.  I want them to see that the body of Christ should be a fun place defined by grace, freedom, and seeking the glory of God and not just a boring place with people older than them.

These are just a few of my thoughts about why our family sacrificed hundreds of dollars to make sure our kids went to camp.  What thoughts can you add?