I think we’re screwing up at youth camp.
You never know what new, interesting, horrifying, surprising, terrible challenges will arise when you take your students to camp. There’s going to be a several quick decision moments you’re going to have to handle.
That one homeschooled student beat up a kid on crutches to steal their team’s flag. What do you do with that?
It’s day 3 and you’ve now identified two kids in your cabin as “the one who lies about wearing sunscreen” and “the one who never showers and smells like a 6 Flags trash can.” What do you do with that?
The pastor’s son has a girlfriend in every youth group. What do you with that? High five him because that’s pretty boss. AM I RIGHT?!
Turns out your worship leader is WAY TOO COMPETITIVE and cussed out the Rec Staff at the lake games because “that’s not fair!” What do you do with that?
A student who has been pretty quiet and reserved all week actually approaches you in the altar time. There’s tears in her eyes, something you’ve never seen before, and she opens up about what she’s been dealing with at home. What do you do with that?
This is an easy one. You pray. If God gives you something specific to say, you say it. Then, since it’s camp and camp is awesome, you’ll watch in awe as the rest of the youth group gathers around her. They’ll all begin to pray along with you as a real bond is formed.
This is what youth camp is all about. And you finally get to be 100% present in those moments. This isn’t your normal Wednesday night service. You didn’t just preach, so that’s not on your mind. You’re not thinking about the clock because there aren’t any parents waiting in the parking lot. Someone else is in charge so you can just be there with your students. That’s the best.
But what do you with this: there will be several moments sprinkled throughout your time at youth camp when students will come up to you with all the excitement in the world and tell you about what God spoke to them during service. They are PUMPED about the direction they feel God wants them to follow when they get home from camp.
I’m going to start a Bible Study at school.
I’m going to dedicate the rest of this summer to raising money for missionaries.
I want to start coming up to church before youth service and spend an hour praying for all of my friends who don’t know Jesus.
We all know that camp is a high that doesn’t last forever.
All that excitement and passion students find in the altar won’t sustain them all the way until next summer.
The sad truth is the majority of your students won’t follow through with their big post-camp plans. A few weeks after returning home, while the sunburns peel and a normal sleep schedule is restored, real life will settle back in and those camp goals will be forgotten.
Our students proclaim they’re going to do THIS or they’re going to become THAT when they leave camp but it doesn’t turn out to be true. They end up being liars. And I think it’s our fault.
I’m not accusing youth pastors of being dream killers. I’ve never heard something like “there’s no way you’re going to be pull that off” in the moment, so we’re good at being supportive.
“Yes! That sounds awesome! I’m so proud of you for listening to God’s voice and wanting to be obedient. That is so cool. Let me pray for you.”
But that’s in the moment. That’s at camp. What are we saying to them a month or two later? Are we saying anything at all?
What we have to remember is for a lot of these teenagers this is the first time they’re hearing and responding to something God is telling them. It’s a new experience. They don’t really know what to do or how to handle it. And they probably don’t know the camp high that led them commit to what they want to do won’t be there in a month. Or maybe they’ve experienced that last year “but this time it’s going to be different!”
These students need youth pastors, leaders, and mentors who will be there for them when the high wears off. We have to help them along by keeping them accountable.
Have you started putting together that Bible Study?
Hey, didn’t you want to start praying for an hour before service? I haven’t seen you the last few weeks. If you show up tomorrow, I’ll make time to pray that hour with you.
They’re going to become discouraged or lose interest. It’s not going to be as easy as they thought and they’ll try to turn their back on it. Not because they’re horrible Christians but because they’re human. I know because I’ve done this countless times! And I know in those moments I need someone to remind me of how I felt when I first decided to pursue that thing. I need to be reminded that it wasn’t my idea, but it was God’s. And if God’s taking care of it I can’t give up.
We can’t let our students become liars at youth camp. When they make a commitment to do something for God we have to commit to keeping them accountable. We’ve got to be there to encourage, challenge, and equip them when camp wears off.
Maybe the next time a student comes up to you with a big idea for God you could get them to write it all down. Write what they heard from God, what they’re going to do with it, and how excited they are. Then when they get discouraged and drift away you can pull out that paper and have them read their own words again.
Imagine what this school year would look like if students actually followed through with this big youth camp dreams. How awesome would that be? We’ve got to remind them. We can’t let them forget.
God’s people throughout time have had terrible memories and have been quick to forget. Why not take some time this week to read Joshua 4 and meditate on how this could apply to your students after youth camp.