It’s Swaggy Approved and Bieberlicious: Why You Want Your Kid To Go To Camp

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The question was simple, “What are you telling your friends about summer camp? I am still scratching my head at the 8th grade girl’s answer: “It is absolutely the only thing in the world that is both Swaggy Approved and Bieberlicious.”

I am writing to you both as a parent of teenagers, and as someone who is a little fuzzy on what it means to be, “Absolutely Swaggy Approved” and/or “Bieberlicious.” I am writing to share with you the way Chapel Rock’s summer Youth Camp experience has profoundly affected my children’s faith and lives.

Granted, as the diocesan youth director and one of the architects of our youth camping and leadership development system, I am a bit of an insider. But, anyone who has had children can tell you that the best way to make your kids not want to do something is to force them to do it. We live at Chapel Rock for three weeks during the summer, so my kids had less choice to be at summer camp than they did to eat vegetables or do their homework. On top of that, we came from a ministry that has “resorts” for youth, gives campers a money back guarantee, and has more students involved than there are Episcopalians. To say that my kids had a few reasons not to like camp is an understatement. So how did that  work out?

Ellie, my college freshman daughter sent in her camp counselor application this week saying, “My one priority this summer is to be a counselor at Chapel Rock. Chapel Rock was the best thing about high school, so I am going to make sure that I give others the gift of Jesus that was given to me.” (I should probably say that my daughter had a pretty good high school experience: good friends, was student body president, got good grades. Yet it is Chapel Rock that was “the best thing about high school” for her.)

My son is a typical busy high school kid. He has some fairly intense college goals that involve extra summer classes and summer sailing and scuba programs. When I suggested that maybe this year he might miss camp he said, “Well, that just isn’t an option, Dad. Chapel Rock is my grounding for the coming year. The friendships, the worship, the teaching, the counselors…I come back in a Christ-focused space, an others centered space. Experiencing God at Chapel Rock is what makes me who I am, Dad.”

As a parent, I cannot imagine anything better than to hear that my children are having transformative experiences with God…that they are having them in our Church’s camp is icing on the cake. Our camp is forming my children in a depth of discipleship that will bless them for their entire lives. Camp gives kids a healthy peer group, adult models of the Christian life, and “God-experiences” communicated not just in sacramental worship, but through a sacramental view of life. They do all of this while strengthening the affiliation bond with our “tribe.”

Here is the short version of how it works: Our church’s leaders take (rather than send) students from our church. Our camp leaders – a multi-ethnic, multi-denominational group – the envy of other camps, are models of Christian commitment. Students engage with God in Scripturally based talks, small group discussions, and relevant sacramental and experiential worship. They play and have good, clean, old school fun.

You can imagine how grateful I am for the effect Chapel Rock has had in my children’s lives. They now actively worship God. They now actively serve others. They live lives that respond in gratitude to God’s love, both in what they do and don’t do. If the measure of faith is whether it changes the decisions someone makes, then camp has been a slam-dunk for the other 11½ months of the year.

Chapel Rock Youth Camp is ground zero for changed lives. I have seen a lot of camping in my 30 years of youth ministry, but I have never seen anything with a program like ours. And I have never seen anything that has the disciple-forming impact ours has. For us camp is batting 1000! My reason for writing is simple: As a parent, I am asking you to sign your kid up for youth camp this summer. It is a week that will count. Absolutely.

By the way, I asked the girl what being “absolutely Swaggy Approved and Bieberlicious” means. She said, “It means Chapel Rock is really great and you should come, Duh!”

Duh!

“The Chapel Rock experience is a picture of what life should be like. We were made to live in community, be vulnerable, have fun, and love Jesus. Camp is the perfect opportunity to do all of those things and grow into who we were made to be.” – Bre Krall, counselor

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Life After “Cool Church?” Ancient-Future Youth Ministry, Part 3.

His name is Iliya. He was an atheist. At least he had been two weeks earlier when he had first come to youth group and (somewhat politely) mocked it. This night he stands up and passionately describes the love of God that has flooded his heart and passionately urges other students to give themselves more completely to Jesus. The most beautiful part: he was led to Christ, not by an adult leader, but by a student. In fact, he was the fifth generation of student to be led to faith by other students in the group. It is an example of remaking youth ministry as youth who do ministry.

Let’s continue the dialogue about a youth ministry that starts from a new center: The view of what we want our students to be and do (both as individuals and as a community) when they leave us. This stands in stark contrast to attendance and conversion numbers as our primary goals for students. I have called it ancient-future youth ministry. Feel free to call it something else. What I am proposing is not new to me…or to any of the other authors that have been saying much of this same stuff. It is really the church for 2000 years called back to it’s roots, but embracing our place in our current cultural context. Here are the core values that we program from in our context…

Our Mission: To raise up a faithful Christian generation that is leading the church and changing the world.

Our Vision: To be Christ-centered youth ministers who use our spiritual gifts to build and equip teams of volunteers who join us in going where youth are to proclaim the gospel of Jesus and to guide, serve and disciple youth in the Anglican tradition.

Our core values are that our ministries will be…

  • Incarnational: We GO! We start in student’s world. We follow the Great Commission and “go” engage students. (Matt. 28:19-20, John 1:1-14, Col. 1:21)
  • Transformational: We Proclaim the transforming message that “Christ has died, Christ is risen. Christ will come again. (Eph. 2:8-10, 1 Pet. 3:18, 1 Cor. 15:3-5, Rom. 1:16)
  • Formational: We Walk…along side and teach students by our lives. Connected to the historic body of Christ, we stand on the shoulders of giants-back through time. As part of God’s family, we utilize the ancient wisdom and experience of the church…spiritual disciplines, the Christian year, monastic practices, etc.
  • Integrational: We Work to see youth fully integrated into the life of the local parish and the world. (Eph. 3:19-22, Eph. 4:12-14)
  • Sacramental: We worship with students and artfully engage students in worship, using both ancient and modern forms, to engage with God on the basis of his great narrative that rewrites both our very view of life as being birthed from (Baptismal) and sustained (Eucharistic) by God in Christ as revealed in Scripture.

Imagine what would such a group create in student’s commitment to the faith: In their commitment to the Scriptures, the unchurched in our communities, and the broader church community.

As a result of our Christian convictions we will do the following…

  1. Evangelize - We will Share
    1. Meet unchurched students in their world.
    2. Clearly proclaim a relationship with Jesus.
    3. Give regular opportunity for students to respond.
    4. Believe and teach that knowing God is the best, most joyful, purpose-producing gift we can give students! Way better than soccer.
  2. Disciple - We will Teach
    1. Theological method: Scripture,Tradition & Reason
    2. God-filled lives…taught by God-filled worship: shaped by ancient patterns, rhythms and liturgies.
    3. Sacramental understanding
    4. Prayer (all seven types, BCP)
    5. Scripture and being shaped by the narrative

-Open it & use it. (Get the same Bible for everyone!)

-Memorize it. (Ps. 119:11)

-Understand it. (Exegesis & hermeneutics)

-The Big Picture of God’s story starting in Genesis

-Teach passages rather than cherry picking topics

-Give them tools to read daily at home.

F.  Integrity: have “one life”

G.  Growth is joy producing and enjoyable (fun)

3.  Serve - We will Act

    1. Servant hearts: family, school, church, ‘hood, world
    2. Work for justice (Luke 4:16-21)
    3. Teach students to use their spiritual gifts
    4. Appreciate & celebrate other Christian traditions

4. Develop Christian Leaders - We will replace ourselves

A. Recruit leaders (from within and without the church)

B. Develop, train, serve and equip Christian leaders

With these principles in mind We will run high grace/high expectation groups in which:

-All are Welcome. A multi-ethnic, multi-economic community (John 17:20-23, Acts 11:19-26; 13:1ff.)

-All can be Transformed- Discipleship is for all (Matt. 28:19)

-All should become Evangelists (Rom. 1:16 )

-Our attraction will be the power of God on display. (Acts 2:42-43, 2 Pet. 1:16, 2 Cor. 2:4-5)

What might this look like?  I am not exactly sure. I would guess that it will be contextual and be a bit different in every different church. It wouldn’t be easily packaged as a model. Did the Apostle’s follow a script?

Swing for the fence- your students and leaders will surprise you!

It’s up to us.  What will you do?