Just as a captain would steer the ship away from rocks and icebergs, today’s youth pastors look for ways to help their students navigate adolescence.
The sources of stress for many teenagers may take the form of padding their college portfolio with extracurricular activities and impressive academic résumés. Add learning how to socialize with peers, and it’s not hard to see the life of teens really does compare to sailing rough waters.
“For them to get away to camp eliminates a lot of those [pressures]” Ryan Smith, family life pastor at Grace Point Community Church, says. “It allows them to be able to focus and to really hear what God is going to say in their life. [Camp is] the time of year that they can really be able to put things aside that are often crowding out the more important things.”
There are a lot of voices speaking into students’ lives. Peers, teachers, parents, youth leaders and those in the media are all saying something. Going to a camp setting allows the noises to be turned down, and the act of true listening to take place.
“[Students are] able to just breathe, and to get away from all that noise—emotionally, mentally, spiritually,” he says.
In fact, Smith and his fellow youth workers encourage their students to not use technology during camp. The results are life-giving.
“It seems as if they are lighter,” Smith says. “They walk lighter, they act lighter and it’s as if those burdens of being connected—expectations of answering a text immediately or knowing what’s going on every second in every moment in a friend’s life—that pressure’s taken off of them. They realize this feels fantastic. It’s more of a burden than they think.”
With the chance to remove the pressures of daily life, the camp experience can bring benefits that will go beyond the week at a camp. Building community is one of the points Ryan brings up. He says, “This is an opportunity to get away and to get to know someone in a very real and authentic way.”
In our culture, Instagram, Twitter and Snapchat can make authenticity difficult. Many teens gauge their own value by these social media platforms, but it’s when they engage in face-to-face relationships, like those forged at camp, that they can truly know those around them—and be known themselves.
Coming Full Circle
Smith’s parents were camp counselors before him, and they encouraged him to attend camp when he was a kid. It was something he lived for each summer. He accepted Christ at camp, and he says, “I know in my own life that I wouldn’t be where I’m at—period—if camp wasn’t there.”
As a kid who went to multiple camps a summer, he developed a respect for the role counselors played in the lives of campers. Seeing counselors and leaders intentionally investing in the lives of students inspired Smith. After seeing their examples, he said, “Man, I want to have the same impact in the lives of teenagers as well.”
Years later he found himself in youth ministry and going back to summer camp—this time with a different role. In Smith’s life, camp comes full circle. “Camp has always been a very integral part of my life and faith journey.”
Photo Courtesy of Grace Point Community Church