Summer Camp, the “Spiritual High,” and the Ordinary Means of Grace

What are your thoughts about the summer camp "spiritual high"? (images courtesy of pixabay.com)

What are your thoughts about the summer camp “spiritual high”? (images courtesy of pixabay.com)

Over the past 9+ years since being in student ministry, I estimate that I’ve been involved with around 50 camps/student conferences/Dnows/mission trips, etc., and one common factor we see at the end of any weekend or week of these types is “the crash,” when returning home, from the dreaded “camp High.”  Typically, for both students and adults, we come back from summer camp on a “spiritual high” full of energy and fresh commitments to Jesus. We say that, after camp, we’ll “Love our neighbors and friends more; we’ll attend church more; pray and read our Bibles more; we’ll witness more…” Yet during their drive back to their houses, or maybe on the following Monday, here comes the crash! You begin arguing with your parents or your sibling is getting on your nerves and you all start fighting and screaming.  Or maybe it’s a little direr and dad still has lung cancer and you’re uncertain how much longer he’ll live.  Regardless, reality hits and the “spiritual bubble” you were in pops and “real life” begins to set in. Is there a way that we can create our own “spiritual bubble”? Or, maybe a better question is this: What happens at camp that we can replicate in our regular lives?  Or, What are the elements within camp that help to facilitate this “camp high” outside of camp? And I really think that this is less about imitation and replication as it is about sticking to some of the “ancient paths” and the means of grace that God has given us to use to draw near to Him whether we are at camp or at home.  This is not meant to be a theological treatise on summer camp, but just some thoughts and reflections about it.

The elements that make up camp that help to facilitate this spiritual high are the following: Bible study, prayer, worship, devotional time, serving (depending on the camp), and Christian community.  As we look at that list, we really see nothing different that we do not have or cannot replicate back at home. What’s the difference? If we can replicate these elements at home, then why do we not experience this “camp high” at home as well?

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THE SET SCHEDULE

First, let’s look at the set schedule. Everyone at camp has a lanyard on and this lanyard runs the day with a schedule on it. Included on this schedule are the spiritual elements mentioned above, which I’ll list again here: Bible study, prayer, worship, devotional time, serving (depending on the camp), and Christian community. At camp, you are being driven, like a herd of cattle, to the next element on the schedule. This idea of being “driven” to the next element creates both urgency and discipline. While you may be tired because of the schedule, there is an urgency that drives you to the next element, and thus discipline is produced in spite of your tiredness or sluggishness.  What if we could put ourselves on the same type of schedule back at home as we follow at camp? What I mean is, what if we could incorporate the spiritual elements above in our lives, at least minimally? Imagine what our spiritual lives might look like should we attempt to actually calendar and plan, by the hour, the spiritual disciplines above? Click To Tweet There’s no need to get legalistic about this, but I do wonder if our spiritual lives would be more enriched if we actually planned it the way we plan everything else in our lives; the way camp is planned.

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SURROUNDED BY A CHRISTIAN COMMUNITY

Second, at camp, you are surrounded by a Christian community. Being immersed within a Christian community will encourage you in your walk with God since you are, at least theoretically, surrounded by others that desire to walk with God as well.  Now, of course, you cannot take 1500 people home with you and have them all hang out at your house and all talk about Jesus to you all the time. I think what this element teaches us is the importance of Christianity community, Christian friends that we see regularly, back at home. How regularly are we going to church, attending Bible study, or even hanging out, or being informed by, our Christian friends back at home? While this does not replace the absolute immersion that camp offers, it is a means of grace that God has provided to sanctify and to encourage us. “Iron sharpens iron, and one man [or woman] sharpens another” (Proverbs 27:17). Hebrews 3:13 also supports this idea of Christian community: “But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called ‘today,’ that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.” Being encouraged “every day” would go a long way in furthering our encouragement in the gospel as well as softening our hearts so that the deceitfulness of sin would not overtake us. Camp provides Christian community, so we should seek our own Christian community at home.

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A CHANGE IN ENVIRONMENT

Third, camp is a change in environment. Now, within this environment are the spiritual elements on a set schedule and you are surrounded by a Christian community. But I do believe that the change of environment is, itself, a factor. We have called these types of events “retreats” in the past because we are “retreating” and getting away for a “change of scenery.”  This is a practical observation. I have noticed that for me, in the past, when I’ve changed environments I’m usually able to concentrate more and I am a little more creative and open to whatever it is I am trying to do. There is something refreshing about setting your eyes on different scenery. When we see new trees or new buildings or new people, we tend to experience creative juices a little more. At my last church I would often leave my office and go sit in a wooded area, or I would go sit at a table in a restaurant, to change scenery to get away from the “every day” and the “mundane.” I think that camp has this same dynamic working as well. Students get around different people in a different environment, and/or in a different state, with a different schedule, and this can tend to open them up in ways that being back at home cannot.  So, what can we do back at home to “change environments” from time to time to and replicate this concept at camp? Possibly, we could plan and go on more retreats! Or we could do some simple things, every day, to change-up our routine and change-up our scenery, if needed.

PRAYER AND ANTICIPATION LEVEL

Fourth, our prayer and anticipation level. Is it possible that we pray more about God working at summer camp than we do during our normal church services? Click To Tweet. Why is it that our anticipation level for God to move at camp is higher than it is during our normal worship services? Isn’t God the same God at camp as the one at our regular Sunday or midweek services? When we are going to camp, do we supply some type of prayer list to the “prayer warriors” at our church to pray, say, every day for a month for God to move at camp?  What if we created that same type of prayer list for everyone within our church to pray about our church services back at home? Could it be that we trust in God's means to change His church at camp, but we have come to a place of mistrust in God's means to change His church at His local church? Click To Tweet

The elements that make camp, well, “camp,” are the same elements that we have back at home. We certainly can’t (and probably don’t want!) to have camp all year, but maybe by helping our students (& ourselves!) to set a devotional schedule, foster Christian community, change scenery, and pray with as much anticipation at home as at camp, that the infamous “camp high” can be replicated and sustained! Hey, but maybe I’ve missed something! What do you think I’ve missed in my evaluation of the “spiritual high” at camp?

YOUR TURN! (Comment in the “Leave a Reply” section below)

  1. What are your thoughts about camp/retreats and the “spiritual high”?

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