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Keeping the "Camp Fire" Alive

Capitalizing on Your Students’ Summer Camp Experience

By Carey Huffman

Seldom will your students be involved in a more intense spiritual experience than summer youth camp. I’ve seen students practically dragged to the departure by their parents, sleeping bag in tow, only to return at week’s end ready to take their city for God. However, the abrupt reentry into the real world soon takes the vim out of their vigor and drains the determination to change their world. But it doesn’t have to turn out like that-—and your class can make the difference.

You can capitalize on the spiritual exuberance generated by youth camp and use it to initiate a time of intense personal discipleship with your students. There is probably not another time of year when students are more ripe for growth. Here’s how to make the most of it:

"Be Prepared"

Plan ahead. Have a general, flexible plan in mind of how to use your Sunday school or small group as an avenue of deeper discipleship following camp and leading into a new school year. Your class should always fit this bill, but the inspiration of camp may cause students to embrace your challenges more enthusiastically. This would be a great time to implement a 4-6 week special elective on discipleship themes including devotional life, growth and maturity, ministry involvement, and personal evangelism (A "PE" course is outlined in the youth section of the March–April 2000 issue of the Christian Education Counselor. Access the Christian Education Counselor at www.cecounselor.ag.org.) Confer with the youth pastor or staff about how your class could best be used as an avenue of discipleship following camp.

Check Out the Campsite

If at all possible, go to camp as a counselor with your students. It will provide you with prime bonding time and allow you to witness things first-hand. When you are a part of the significant growth and spiritual high times of their lives, students will respond more readily to your leadership beyond these events. Your encouragement during camp can begin to press their zeal far beyond that week. If you have a special discipleship ministry in mind, you can secure students’ commitment to participate even before you leave for home. If you are unable to attend, meet with those who did to discuss what happened and to confer about needs and strategies for follow-up.

Create Camp Chronicles

Have someone video various day-to-day camp activities, capturing silly spontaneous moments as well as ministry times. Clips from the video can be used as brief sight and sound bites before class and as reminders of the spiritual refreshing that took place. Inform students that camp highlights will be shown, and use the video segments as a tool to draw previously uninvolved students into class to relive the adventure of camp. In addition to this footage, record personal testimonies from several students during or immediately following camp. Use these, with permission, to supplement your discipleship challenges in class. The testimonies can rekindle waning passions and provide a unique means of accountability for living what was learned. At the conclusion of camp, students can also write letters to themselves about what God did in their lives and how they intend to respond. Collect these sealed letters and return them to their owners several weeks later, to be opened and read as a personal encouragement to stay (or get back) on track in their devotion to God.

Turn Enthusiasm into Experience

The camp speakers probably motivated students toward a more bold and active faith. While your instruction must cover foundational elements of growth in students’ personal relationships with God, you must also give immediate attention to preparing them for and releasing them into practical outlets of ministry. Pepper your lessons with ministry oriented messages—conveying the joy of participating in service to Christ—the very reason we exist. When students become involved in ministry their faith comes alive and they retain more of what they learn. Invite members of the staff, particularly the pastor, to share with your class the ministry opportunities available to teens in your church. Talk about responsibility and accountability to leadership. Work with youth ministry leadership to tie class projects for the remainder of the summer to combined youth ministry outreach efforts. Make plans and places for students to take more active roles in class and youth services and provide them with adequate training.

From Camp to the Classroom

If students’ spiritual stamina has not been thoroughly tested throughout the summer, it soon will be with the onset of the school year. Help them prepare for the weeks and months ahead to be even more spiritually invigorating than youth camp. If you have not already done so, return to students their self-letters as a reminder of their post-camp resolutions. Once again, utilize personal testimonies of how students would like to be used of God in their schools. Take time in the weeks prior to, or early in, the school year to highlight a campus missions strategy. Such a focus may have been the culminating challenge of camp and a reemphasis would serve your students well. You can acquire campus missions resources from the National Youth Department at 417-862-2781 or uth@ag.org. Remind students of their legal rights as a Christian on campus. Deal with the particulars of starting or becoming involved in an existing campus club or ministry. Help them determine a prayer strategy for their schools and unsaved friends, and facilitate student brainstorming sessions on ideas for personal evangelism and academic projects that would reflect a Christian witness. Be sure to convey the ultimate necessity of daily personal time in the Word and Prayer, and dependence on the Holy Spirit for enduring boldness and spiritual power.