Sunday, June 4, 2017

Step Out of the Boat!

A number of years ago, I was a youth pastor in a church that was surrounded by the homes of many poor families. The children used the church parking lot as a playground, and we spent time with them playing games and telling them about Jesus. I noticed that their parents never took them anywhere—they spent every day playing on our parking lot—so I planned a daycamp adventure for them. MacDonald’s restaurant lent us a bus and driver, and Whistler Mountain ski hill, venue of the 2010 Winter Olympics, agreed to let us ride up the mountain on their cable car for free.

On the day of the trip, about 40 children climbed onto the bus with a number of our leaders, and away we went. The kids were so excited, the bus ride alone was enough for them. We arrived at the mountain and got into the cable car, seven or eight children with a leader in each car, and their eyes became big as we left the ground and traveled up the mountain, forty to sixty meters in the air.

When we reached the top, we hiked everywhere and threw snowballs from the snow left over from the winter. As we turned back toward the cable car, I saw big dark clouds coming, so I hurried the children back to the building at the top. We got back into the cars and started down the mountain again as the wind began to blow and lightning flashed.

I was in the first car with eight children, and just as we reached the place that was highest above the ground, the cable car suddenly stopped. Rain and hail were falling heavily, thunder and lightning were all around us, and the wind was making the car sway back and forth violently, sixty meters in the air.

The children were terrified and screaming. I had them all sit down, and I told them that we were safe, because the door was closed and wouldn’t open. That was the wrong thing to say. Just as I said that, the wind came violently under the door—and it opened! I remember holding on and looking at the ground far below me. Everyone screamed, and finally the door closed again.

I said, “Okay everyone, we’re going to pray.” Their screams were suddenly silent as I asked God to get the car moving again and keep us safe. The very moment I said, “Amen,” we heard a click and the car started moving again! Everyone cheered.

But it wasn’t over yet. We traveled only a hundred meters along the cable and the car stopped again. This time the wind was furious, and I could see it tugging at the door again as I tried to hold it closed. Through the screams I heard one little voice yell to me, “Pray!”

So I did. I prayed and once again, to my amazement, the minute I said “Amen” the car started again. The children looked at me with wide eyes. This time the car carried us almost to the bottom of the mountain—and stopped again. The wind had died down, the clouds passed and the sun came out, and the children chattered excitedly about what had just happened.

After about twenty minutes of waiting, one of them looked up and me and said, “Hey, you didn’t pray!” So I did, and right on cue the car started again, and this time took us all the way to the bottom. When the kids got back to the church parking lot, I saw them run as fast as they could to their waiting parents to tell them about their amazing adventure—and the power of prayer.

If your camp offers adventure activities, your instructors know the difference between “perceived risk”—for example as a camper is belayed up a climbing wall—and “real risk,” which we work hard to keep to a minimum. I want to ask you: was that experience in the cable car “real risk,” or only “perceived risk”? Humanly speaking, when a cable car opens its doors at 60 meters in a thunderstorm, it is a real risk. But the answers to prayer that we witnessed suggest there was no real risk. I imagine that we were surrounded by angels that held on tight, and opened the door just to be funny. To ask to do have this experience again would be to tempt God, but he proved that there was no real risk on that trip down the mountain.

Think about Peter when Jesus invited him to get out of the boat and walk on the water with him. “Then Peter got down out of the boat, walked on the water and came toward Jesus.” What was that like, riding up and down on the waves? Perhaps from the boat it looked fun, but I am sure that once Peter stepped out of the boat, it was pretty frightening.

To step out of the boat into the storm—was it real risk, or only perceived risk? Did it only feel dangerous, or was it really dangerous? Humanly speaking, it was a foolish and risky thing to do. But because it was Jesus who called Peter out of the boat, and Jesus who was waiting for him to respond, there was no real risk at all. Peter was perfectly safe in a very dangerous place.

When God calls you into a place that is risky, he is responsible and faithful to guard you in all your ways. When trouble comes, he will need to give you grace to handle it. When there are obstacles, we will pray and God will overcome. Even if we stumble, as Peter did, he will be there to lift us up. We serve a faithful God.

Following Jesus is not a safe thing to do, as you have likely already discovered, but it is good and worth the risk. When we are truly following Jesus, it is only a perceived risk, like in the high ropes course, because Jesus is holding the rope and he will not let us fall.

Is there some action that you believe God wants you to take but it seems to carry too much risk? We hesitate because we don’t know will happen if we step out of the boat. We are afraid, perhaps even more afraid than Peter.

If Jesus is truly calling you to do this thing, if he is the one who has put this idea in your heart, then it is only a perceived risk, not a real risk. Step out of the boat! Obey his call! Jesus is there, holding out his hand.

Friday, June 2, 2017

Disciples Make Disciples

A backpack always feels a bit heavier on those last few kilometres before reaching the parking lot at the end of the trail. You trudge your way out of the bush into civilization—sweaty, dirty and beat. Then you see all those newbies beside their cars, just getting ready to set out. Their expensive gear is clean; their bags are packed to perfection. Suddenly your weariness and body odour take on new meaning. Exhaustion is actually a badge of honour, strenuously and bravely achieved. You try not to strut past the newbies, but you have been there and back again. And seen a thing or two.

That is how a summer camp worker feels at the end of their time at camp. Whether it is a week or a whole summer, on that last day there is a deep satisfaction that something timeless and significant was accomplished. Tired and entirely out of clean t-shirts? Yes. But so very worth every late night, every homesick camper, every pot washed. A week at camp is a glimpse of heaven, and no one knows it better than the one who came here to serve and made it to the end.

Perhaps the thought has never come to your mind – to serve for a week or more at a summer camp. Don’t you have to be a particular kind of person to do that, maybe even a peculiar kind of person? In my experience, the people who love camp and arrive year after year are simply those who were brave enough to give it one shot—and got hooked. However, you are right to think that serving at a Christian camp requires a certain kind of person.

Let’s imagine that, instead of going to camp, you decided to go work at a shoe factory for a week. What would that take? It would be important to have an understanding of your end product. You would need to know what a shoe is and the process for making one. So what is the end product of a Christian camp? Jesus told us: As you go, make disciples (Mat 28:19). At the Christian camp, disciples are what we do.

In the original language the words “make disciples” are actually one verb, so perhaps a closer translation might be, “Go and disciplize all nations.” If that is too technical for you, try this: Disciples produce disciples. This is no shoe factory; it is more like a sci-fi flick where robots replicate themselves. Wherever there are disciples, you should expect more to appear over time.

So if you want to “make disciples” at camp as Jesus commanded us, you need to first be one yourself. The essence of discipleship is to say to someone, “Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ” (1 Cor 11:1).

This is the kind of person a Christian summer camp needs. Are you someone who is willing to simply do life with a bunch of kids, confident that as they follow you they will learn to follow Jesus? Then we want you at our camp. Your identity as a disciple of Christ is more important to camp leaders than your ability as a chef, your lifeguard certification or any level of youthful energy.

By the end of the week, something timeless and significant will be achieved. Your weariness will be an eternal badge to wear alongside your fellow camp saints. You will have seen God do a thing or two in the lives of kids. You will re-enter the everyday world trying hard not to strut. And I am pretty certain that we will see you back here again next year.

(Published in Light Magazine, April 2017)

Friday, May 12, 2017

Camp is God’s Idea

I am always amazed at the level of loyalty that people have to their camp. Everyone seems to think that their camp is the best in the world, and is scandalized at the thought of attending another. As one who has served at a number of camps over the years, I am pretty sure that everyone is right about this—every camp is the best in the world. Here’s why: Camp is God’s idea.

From the Garden of Eden in Genesis to Heaven in Revelation, God shapes a concept that today we call “camp.” He calls us from the familiarity of our homes into a unique environment where he meets with us, provides for our needs and achieves some purpose of his that is best accomplished there. Whether it was at the base of Mount Sinai or the mount where Jesus preached his longest sermon, people had an experience with meaningful and lasting effect. Today’s Christian camp is a hybrid of the revival tent meetings of the 19th century and the outdoor schools of the early 20th, and carries traditions such as chapel speakers and archery instruction. But at its root, camp is still God’s idea.

What makes a week of camp so significant in the life of a child, teen, family or volunteer? Let’s take an ancient example, the Garden of Eden. Adam and Eve could have lived anywhere on planet earth (I think Vancouver Island would have been a good choice!). But God placed them in a garden, a place with every condition for their physical and spiritual health. It didn’t go so well—they were the first ones ever sent home from camp—but in the Garden they met with God daily, enjoyed the wonders of his creation and provision, and joined him in his purposes for his new world.

Today’s Christian camps offer that kind of environment, one conducive to change, renewal, good attitudes, fun and release. In a temporary community of love and acceptance, campers meet with God, enjoy his creation and stretch their personal boundaries. For many campers, camp is a positive crisis of self-identity before a loving and holy God, and they make decisions that take them in a whole new direction. Ask any crowd of believers, and a large percentage will say that their most life-changing moments took place at camp.

Through God’s idea that we call “camp,” he removes us from our usual setting, relieves us from the usual pressures of everyday life, isolates us from the distractions and temptations of the world, provides optimum conditions for crisis and change, confronts us with our own condition and our need for him, spends focused time with us, teaches us life-altering lessons and finds response, accomplishes something extraordinary that otherwise would not have occurred, sends us back into the world with new understanding and perspective, and causes us to long for the permanent community of heaven.

To parents who are considering the many opportunities available to their kids this summer, a week at a Christian camp should be top of the list. It is, after all, God’s idea.

(Published in Light Magazine, March 2017)

Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Prepping the Camp Speaker

Camp speakers are unique people in the Christian camping world. They parachute into camp for a week and become the focus of spiritual instruction and pastoral care. Speakers can rarely get through a meal without deep spiritual conversations or impromptu counseling sessions. They become the brunt of upfront shenanigans, stay in that “special cottage” and often sigh when they receive their honorarium check (or just a free T-shirt!). Many people consider camp a holiday for a speaker, since he or she only works for half an hour twice a day. But those people probably think the same thing of their pastors. Camp speaker is a difficult and taxing role.

Where did we get the idea of having a camp speaker? This is a tradition that goes back to the revival tent meetings of the 19th century, when farmers and tradespeople would gather to listen to itinerant preachers while camped out around the big top. Back in the early 20th century, the church combined these events with the growing interest in outdoor recreation schools to form what we know as Christian camping today. Most Christian camps have a time in the day devoted to worship and the word of God, communicated in an engaging and relevant way by a camp speaker. 

Prepping the camp speaker is a delicate issue. You want to respect the speaker’s calling, gifting, experience and expertise. It may seem an insult to tell them how to do their job. But have you considered how seldom outside of camp your speakers are called on to present the Gospel to kids with an invitation to respond? Perhaps their only examples of this task have been at camp. We could easily self-perpetuate methods that are dated and ineffective.

Something shrivels up inside me when I am sitting around the campfire with dozens of campers—many from no church background—and the camp speaker begins to weave his magic. We have already primed the pump with action songs followed by emotional worship. Our eyes are on the fire, stars fill the sky, we are among fast-made friends. Where will the camp speaker take us? I don’t know, and it makes me nervous. Too often they have told stories about a camper who drowned the next day and lost his chance. Or used incomprehensible catch-phrases like “asking Jesus into my heart” or “receiving Jesus as Lord and Saviour” (try and find those in your Bible). I wonder also what it really means when a camper raises her hand, with every head bowed and every eye closed.

Have you ever fervently wished you had talked this over with the camp speaker before that night?

Here are some thoughts about how to do that diligently and respectfully:

1. Invest time when choosing camp speakers. You are right - speakers are sometimes hard to find. It may go along with what I already said about how demanding and thankless this role can be. But when you locate speakers whom you know are already on the same page as your ministry, you have made the best step toward their success in your setting. Stick with your tried and true speakers, because campers don’t mind hearing the same stories for the two to three years before they move on. Don’t be afraid to retire the tried and tired speaker, or the one who has consistently missed the mark. Be careful with referrals - how will you know if they will suit your ministry unless you hear them yourself? If you must delegate the job of finding speakers, choose someone who clearly understands your expectations and the tenor of your camp.

2. Write up a job description or list of expectations for this role. Sending something official to a speaker makes it less like a personal insult. Many of you already have such a document in place, and I read some of them online. I have to say that I found them to be quite general, which makes me think we are a little afraid of camp speakers. Do your speakers a favour - give them more to go by, and do it well in advance:
  • What is your theme, and how do you expect it to be incorporated? What is the focus?
  • What do you anticipate the speaker’s typical day to look like? 
  • What is expected outside of chapel times? 
  • What is okay/not okay? Secular music clips? Use of phone/tablet for notes or as a Bible?
  • Where do your campers come from, socially and spiritually? Percentage of church/non-church?
  • How deep do you want to go? Gospel only? Discipleship?
  • What are the summer staff expecting of the speaker?
  • How do you want the Gospel message to be framed?
  • What are the best ways to allow campers to respond to the Gospel presentation in your setting? 
  • Are there expectations about memory verses, or discussion guides for cabin leaders? 
  • What is happening just before and after they speak? 
  • Do they have a copy of the week’s schedule and special events? 
  • Are there camp traditions they may not know? 
  • What is your camp’s theological orientation?

3. Have a conversation. Especially if this is a speaker you never heard in action before, have a personal conversation by phone or in person. Tell them about your camp. Have them tell you their story. See if they have any recorded demo talks. Talk about your theme. Ask them to share the Gospel message with you as they understand it, using the language they would use with your campers. This is not a time to critique or correct, but do take notes. It is appalling that we interview our cabin leaders but go by recommendation for speakers. Do your homework. Make a decision.

4. Ask for a plan. You don’t need a transcript or even an outline from your speaker. Many of them like to get to know the campers and see how the week plays out before finalizing their talks. But if they give you a plan of how they intend to approach the week, it means that they have a plan, and now you know they have a plan. Much better than the alternative.

5. Plan for your speaker. “It is great when camps plan their schedule so that if God moves in sessions there is a space and a way for kids to process or debrief what God is doing in their hearts” (Randy Carter, Straight Talk Ministries). A dance party scheduled immediately following the speaker’s Gospel presentation is perhaps an indication that we don’t really expect God to show up in chapel.

6. Let the speaker talk with your staff. If your cabin leaders and other staff know where your speaker is headed that day with the sessions, it prepares them to have conversations with campers in that same direction.

7. Pray with the speaker, every time. When it comes down to it your speaker is an ordinary person like you, in need of grace. I have often made a point of pulling the speaker aside for a moment during that last song, asking God to do what only he can do. I can tell how much it is appreciated, and often in the next twenty minutes I get to watch unfold the very things I requested.

Camp speaker is a tough job, but often very rewarding. Of all the many roles I have filled at camp, it might be the best. You can help make it so this summer for your speakers, by preparing the stage for God to do his work through them.

(Published originally in the May 2016 Newsletter of the Fellowship of Christian Camps in BC)

Friday, June 5, 2015

Thanks For Downloading Your Free eBook!

Quite a few people have taken the opportunity to download a free eBook copy of The Christian Camp Leader during the week that it has been up on

I hope you will also take the opportunity to read the book before you go to camp this summer! Even veteran camp people are in need of some pre-camp training that will get your mind and heart ready to join Jesus in his work at your camp.

Check out this great article, a description of what it means to be a camp leader.

May God bless your summer with clear evidence of his grace and gifting!

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Prepare Your Staff Before They Arrive This Summer

You have a narrow window of time to be involved in the discipleship of the young adults serving at your camp this summer. For some, this opportunity will extend well after the time they are with you at camp. But why not start even before your summer staff arrive?

1. Find disciples. The discipleship of your staff is an essential part of your ministry, because it is disciples who produce disciples. Jesus was selective in finding his disciples, and his choices were surprising. He looked for spiritual hunger, for those who were aware of their spiritual poverty. People did not follow him because they were interested, but because he called them. Look for people who have a calling to camp, not just an interest in camp. If they don't have a fire within them, you will forever have to light a fire beneath them. Look for character over experience and skill. It matters much more who they are than what they know or what they can do! Remember that your campers will aspire to be like them. Will you be happy if campers become like this potential staff person? Look for people who are chasing after God’s own heart.

2. Make the most of the interview. Show potential staff that you are ready to invest in them, even before the decision has been made as to whether they will join you for the summer. During the interview, help them reflect on their spiritual readiness for this role. Don't be afraid to challenge them, find them help, get them involved in Bible study or ministry before the summer. Interview everyone, including returning staff, just for the opportunity it gives you to speak truth into their lives. If you have to do it long distance, use Skype or Facetime so that it is more like a real conversation. Make your camp's purpose very clear. Ask: Can you be committed to where we are going?

3. Communicate well. When it was my job to find and recruit summer staff for several years, I found that one of the most common reasons staff chose our camp over others was that we were the first to get back to them. But that is not a good enough reason to be prompt in replying. This is: Let them know they matter to you! Make it your goal to respond to the emails and phone calls of potential staff within 24 hours, even with those who probably will not end up at your camp.

4. Employ social networking. You can’t fight it, so you might as well make good use of it! Create a Facebook group page for your potential summer staff. Not only will your posts on that page show up on their newsfeed, but you will also give them the opportunity to start communicating with one another before they arrive at camp. Do you find texting annoying and impersonal? Get over it, because the young adults you are inviting to serve with you expect this kind of accessibility that they have with their friends. Does your camp have its own Facebook page? Here is a rule of thumb for you: Do less, better. Don’t post stuff up there every day or they will simply stop following your page. Instead, post once a week or less, and do it up big. Always use a great original photo or video. Avoid simply posting links to cool stuff on the web – they can find that elsewhere.

5. Clarify expectations.Imagine that you went into a blind person’s house when he wasn’t there and moved around all the furniture. What a mean thing to do! The poor guy would stumble over everything, because it wasn’t where he expected it” (CCL, p. 27). You don’t want your summer staff to walk in blind. Clarify what you expect of them! Before they arrive, send them a job description and your staff manual. Also, ask potential staff what they expect of you as their leader.
6. Provide information. Ask your former staff about the things they wished they had known before they arrived at your camp. Give your accepted summer team a thorough list of what to bring, especially things that are specific to your camp or their role (e.g., close-toed shoes for washing dishes, or a wetsuit for your freezing-cold lake). Include your camp’s history, in the form of creatively-told stories from the past. Send them their staff shirt ahead of the summer, so that people who see it can ask them about their upcoming opportunity. Make resources available to them: books to read, community courses to take, people to talk to, financial sources and high school or college credit to check out.

7. Offer training. Here is a shameless plug for my book, The Christian Camp Leader. Check out the reviews on Amazon, where camp leaders describe how they are using this resource. Send your staff a physical copy (email me for discount bulk orders), or gift them the synced eBook and audiobook versions. If you can, invite staff to weekend workshops. Or create online sessions for them to review, like this one from Camp Imadene. Make sure you include spiritual fitness training. Offer encouragement and challenge them spiritually. Give them homework, like writing up several outlines for cabin devotionals, or writing out their testimony.
8. Pray for them. Maybe you have read this far and thought to yourself, I don’t have time for any of this! No worries. Just make sure you do this last one – pray daily for your summer staff before they arrive for the summer. You have opportunity in Jesus’ name to speak into being the very things you want for them - and from them - this summer. Plus, you will find that your relationship with each staff member will gain a huge head start if you have already been thinking about and praying for them weeks ahead of time.

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Kindle Edition + Audiobook

Your summer staff may be active young adults with little time or inclination for books. Amazon has a great deal or people on the go: Buy the Kindle edition of The Christian Camp Leader for $2.99, and the Audiobook edition is just $1.99 more! Both can played on any device - smartphone, tablet or computer - with the Kindle and Audible apps.

As well, the book is set up for Whispersync, which allows them to switch between reading and listening without losing their place. You can also "gift" both to your staff - a very good $4.98 investment!