My first experience with church camp was the summer after my 8th-grade year. Just months after I was saved, I found myself surrounded by thousands of teenagers at Camp Wow. Many of these were familiar faces from local churches in the Fort Smith area. As a 14-year-old, my mind and attention were taken by so many things other than God, mainly girls. I had one of the best experiences up to that point in my life for a number of reasons: it was a week without parents, it was a week filled with friends, it was a week filled with girls that my awkward self would never have a chance with (thank God for the gift of growth!).
Yet, there was something different about this place. It was not the typical world in which a teenager lives their daily lives. It was a world in which there was no cell phone service. There was no texting, only actually speaking to one another. Thanks to the rules of camp, the girls that I vied for so desperately, were covered up modestly and I had no room to stumble. There was no room for cursing due to the code of conduct.
Simply put, the camp was an environment like none I had ever experienced before. Like some form of moral utopia for this eighth grader, I felt like I was in paradise. There were no distractions. There were seemingly no temptations. It seemed that nothing existed in this morally utopian society that would draw one away from Christ. It is easy to get tunnel vision and miss what else life may throw at you.
The Church Camp High
Any student pastor will be able to tell you that church camp presents you with both joys and challenges. Beware of the church camp high. You may be wondering what this church camp high actually is. In essence, it is an emotional experience that a student has in the highs of camp, only to return to the regular, daily life and fall back into the worldly routines and temptations that marked their life before. A student experiences a “high” on God at camp, only to return to ground zero when back home. Essentially, the students are interested in a One Week Jesus.
I have wondered for years why this church camp high occurs. I have only been able to come to one simple conclusion, the environment. Because the environment is so conducive for a gospel response, they so often happen. Too often, these are not genuine salvations. A “life of obedience” is so easy to live at church camp because there is nothing to tempt one away from Christ. There are no friends asking you to sneak out late at night and go to a party at which you know illegal things will be going down. Yet, when one returns to reality, and these temptations return, they wonder, why didn’t these things occur when I first was saved?
You see, the one thing that the Church Camp Gospel misses is that of reality, specifically that of the cost of discipleship. Anyone who has had to pay bills knows that nothing comes free. Our life in Christ has not come free. Nor does our continued life in Christ come at no cost to us. The Church Camp Gospel is not reality.
The Reality of the Cost
Jesus himself explains the cost of discipleship. To be a disciple of Christ is to follow Him. One sees the immediate response of call of the first disciples (Matthew 4:18–22). There is no hesitation. There is no question. There is only a response. It is a response of totality (Luke 9:67–62).
To all those around Him, Jesus declares, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me” (Luke 9:23). We can break this down into three simple truths: Denial of the self, Daily taking up your cross, and Departing from our desires, ambitions, and wants.
1) Denial of the Self
Culture teaches to make something of yourself as Christ teaches to make something of Him! To make much of Christ means to make little of ourselves. When people are big, God is small, but it works the other way around too! When God is big, people are small, and that is what Jesus is calling for! Teenagers are constantly told in every aspect of life that they should make something of themselves.
- Sports: Train enough
- Classroom: Study enough
- Music: Practice enough
The list goes on and on. Make much of Christ by making little of yourself.
2) Daily Taking Up Your Cross
The call to rededicate our lives is not to be in a Church Camp High, but daily. Each morning, we wake up and take up our cross. Just as Christ bore mocking and shame on His cross, we may bear mocking and shame amongst the culture. In peer pressure, we may be the odd one out. In materialism, we may not be the one with the latest and greatest gadgets and gears. Yet we have the ultimate and eternal joy of salvation in Jesus Christ!
3) Departing from Our Desires
The culture tells us that our ambitions are a healthy goal. The question is not what are we ambitious for, but why are we ambitious? Are our ambitions rooted in the furthering of our name, or in the furthering of the name of Christ? It is simple to understand, but so difficult to live out. When our friends are telling us to knock down the obstacle standing in our way, no matter whether or not it may bring harm, what will we say?
What Can Parents Do to Help This Problem
Parents can help a child maintain a healthy environment and be aware of the cultural temptation and trials that they will face when returning to the routine of life. When I returned to reality, it may have not been instant, but the reality of daily life tugged at my conscience. It was the temptations that had not been present at camp. Watch your children. Keep an eye on them. Provide an environment conducive for gospel-focused conversations. They do not need protection, but direction. Love them like they don’t receive love anywhere else!