A little context and brief commercial :) We just got back from an amazing weekend at Hume Lake for our annual winter camp. Every time I leave I am so thankful for their amazing ministry to our students and to our staff. With all complex issues that bear down on youth programs and Christian camps, Hume has managed to stay true to their calling and provide one of the most solid Christian Camping experiences out there.
Hume Lake takes what they do very seriously and strive for excellence on the two vital areas for any camp experience, recreation and chapel. As youth ministries seem to be moving more and more away from big fun, Hume still embraces recreation as a worthy investment of time and resources. And the result is a camp that is actually fun with tons of opportunities for interaction, memories, and casual conversations.
But it is what they do at chapel that continues to impress me. They consistently bring in quality speakers who communicate the gospel of Jesus Christ in a clear and compelling way and have worship leaders that actually lead students into the presence of Christ. It is their relentless commitment to sharing the Gospel that has made Hume Lake an invaluable part of our youth ministry calendar.
What I sensed intuitively was made clear in our counselor meeting:
On Saturday during our counselor meeting, Rachel Closs, the High School Director at Hume, was giving us an orientation to "decision night." (This is the night set aside every winter and summer camp for the Gospel to be presented and students invited to respond with some sort of physical action) As she was sharing, she mentioned that several people from Hume had been to a Christian Camping conference recently where the topic of "decision night" came up. When the facilitator asked if any camps still had an intentional "decision night," only a small handful of over 200 camps raised their hands.
While I was not surprised, because this has been my experience as well, I was saddened. It is amazing to me that so many Christian Camps and student ministries are moving away from "decision night" experiences with their students. I get that "decision nights" and baggage carry a ton of baggage for some people in some contexts, but as leaders we must get over ourselves and not let our own baggage hinder the spiritual growth and development of our students.
I am watching many of my peers in student ministry place their growing edges and complex questions on their students. While there is a place for nuance, listening prayers, subjective and artistic devotional experiences, and wrestling through unanswerable questions, we must not forget the true developmental stage our students are in.
They are adolescents who are just now developing their abstract thought life. But this abstract thinking is developing, not developed. This is the time in their development where they need clear expectations and helps for their faith and their faith development. They need water mark experiences where they can reflect back to where God has shown up and where they have responded. They need practical and simple tools to develop their spiritual lives. This includes Bible reading plans, the ACTS prayer, and yes, standing up among their peers to make a public confession of faith.
How can we be bored of the Gospel:
I love the staff's continual reminder that we should never be bored of the Gospel. More than ever, our students are living in complex times where everything is gray. To make Christian spirituality another gray area with never ending subjectivity and complexity does not do our students any favors. They need a firm foundation on which to build their house. And the foundation of that house is Jesus Christ!
Our students need clear communication so they can have a correct understanding of who they are. Sin is what is wrecking their life and is causing separation and hostility in their relationships with their peers, parents, and with God. Jesus is the only cure to this disease and humble surrender through is faith is how we are saved. It is when we are born again that we receive the Holy Spirit and can begin to have God transform and sanctify our lives.
"Decision night" is an incredible spiritual discipline for our entire Christian community. Because everyone at Hume knows the Gospel will be presented and students will be invited to respond, every staff person on campus, every supporter of Hume, and all of our leaders and parents are praying for students and to come to know Jesus. I am always encouraged and blown away at how God continues to honor these humble and expectant prayers. And for the Glory of God, even some of my students stood up and made a decision to accept the free gift of salvation through Jesus Christ.
It is the Gospel that is the clear roadmap to God:
We do our students a disservice when we don't communicate the basics of the Gospel or give them opportunities to respond. Without the gospel we are only continuing the American pop form of religion which is Moral Therapeutic Deism. It is in understanding our need for a savior and putting our faith in the one whom God has provided which saves us and transforms us, and then allows us to be partners in the expansion of the Kingdom of God.
Our students are just now figuring this out. They need a clear map with clear directions. As they grow and develop they will be able to add all sorts of complexity and detail to it, but for this time in their development, let us not deprive them of the basic Christian truths and realities that have transformed our lives as well.
May we continue to work out our faith with fear and trembling as we wrestle through the complexity of our own life and faith. And, may we also not put our own junk and baggage on our students so as to deprive them from the opportunity to stand up and make a decision to place their faith in Jesus Christ.