We just finished our middle school ministry’s summer camp on Sunday. After a good two days of recovery, most of which was me sleeping on the couch and drinking hot tea for my thrashed vocal cords, I found myself in major reflection mode. In no particular order, here are one youth pastor’s reflections from another completed summer camp.
Youth ministry thrives when done by body of united people. It may take a village to raise a child, but it takes a church to do youth ministry. There are no other places where the importance of having a youth team is more obvious than at summer camp. This week, I watched my 20 person youth ministry team work with passion, intelligence, love, and sacrificial service. I watched my shepherd leaders lovingly endure multiple nights sleeping on the hard ground just to be around the students they serve. I observed parents helping prep and clean for meals and even get dirty in some of the games themselves! I saw my very skilled interns lead devotionals in the morning and game throughout the day. I was blessed to know that if I bowed out for a few hours to review my night’s sermon, my leaders would be handling everything fine without me. It was a fresh reminder for me that gospel ministry is a team sport. Jesus saved and commissioned the church to ministry, not a smattering of individuals. I am convinced that if I had to leave my church tomorrow, our middle school ministry would continue to thrive without me because it is the work of the Spirit through a group of believers, not an individual. So, thank you Ride leaders. Your efforts are not unnoticed or unappreciated.
Songs are powerful means of teaching and responsive worship. Our teaching series was called, One God: The True God Among Imposters. The series was focused on the biblical teaching of idolatry and how the True God calls us away from our idols and toward Himself. Along with the preaching, our song leader Steven Shaw (of The Surrender) made sure to sing this excellent song by Ghost Ship after every sermon. After I finished preaching, it was a very powerful experience for me to hear the students sing lyrics like these:
Prophets proclaimed to our fathers long ago
To turn from your statues and your idols made of gold
Rise from your knees, stop worshiping
The splinters of broken gods, turn and see your King
There is one God over all kings and rulers
And he reigns alone
By the end of camp, the students seemed to have memorized the entire song by heart and I couldn’t be more excited. Don’t ever underestimate the power of songs as a means of teaching. Knowing that kiddos will most likely memorize the songs you sing at church, make sure to make them worth memorizing.
Recreation is a good fertilizer for growing relationships. Although the Word of God is the primary means by which God accomplishes His will, we must make sure to not neglect or poo poo on other important aspects of human community and relationships. One of those things is the importance of playtime and recreation. Although I by no means think recreation should be primary in youth ministry, I do not think it is wise to avoid, deny, or neglect it. It was a blessing to watch old and new students alike bond with their friends and leaders in the front lines of a Water Balloon Launcher War or toes-to-head in the Hot Dog Relay or cheering on their team leader as he battled against the other leaders in the last night’s Gladiator Battle. The games helped acquaintances leave as friends and new students leave with a feeling of belonging. Further, I found the game times as a helpful means to prepare the students for more focused time of singing, praying, preaching, and small groups.
Parents are extraordinarily helpful and skilled for youth ministry (Duh). I will say it as simply as I can: parents are essential for any fruitful youth ministry both as the objects of ministry and the subjects of ministry. That is, parents should be a target that a youth ministry should seek to bless and they should be those who minister within the youth ministry to bless. This week at summer camp, I had the pleasure of partnering with four parents from our church in ministering to our youth. I was encouraged by their support and thankful for their service. No matter the need, they were ready to tackle it with diligence, skill, and passion. On a practical level, with their experience in raising children of their own, parents are readily equipped to handle the numerous/diverse issues that come along during camp (e.g. minor boo-boos, splinters, drama, etc.). Parents, you have much more to offer than you often think. Maybe think about helping your church’s youth pastor; he could use it. Thank you Trent, Mike, Peter, and Lorraine (a.k.a Mama Moose) for your sacrifice and service.
Camp booklets are the single most helpful tool I know of for leading such events. On a very practical note, making booklets for camp has become an essential to any overnight trip I do. For our camp we made booklets that contained schedules, mealtimes, camp rules, sermon notes, devotionals, songbook, camp challenges, extra articles, and even book recommendations. The booklets serve as the perfect information center for the students and also make fantastic keepsakes for the students to help remember all they learned and experienced at camp. If you’d like, here is the booklet we used for camp this past week.
Youth ministry offers experiences I know I will always cherish. Upon ending the week, although I was exhausted, I was sad to see the students and leaders go home. Not only was camp a blast for the kids, but it was for me and my wife as well. I know that I will always remember the games, the conversations, the sessions, the singing, the early mornings, the strong black coffee, the late night snacking/laughing with the leaders, and the students’ laughter and smiles with fondness. Although it takes a ton of work to pull off a successful camp, it is well worth and its value will ring out with clarity in the years to come.