Summer Camp? How do you know if he’s ready? What about all the people who’ll be there that we don’t know ? What if some older boy goes after my precious baby? Will our little girl make any friends? Over the years I’ve answered a lot of questions about summer camps. And parents of junior high, and for that matter, senior high students, do well to be concerned about what happens at summer camp. But that doesn’t mean they do well in not sending their child. Here are seven reasons to feel good about sending your child to summer camp. And if now is not the time for your son or daughter, here are seven reasons that you’ll want to think hard about getting your child to a summer camp someday:
The first is Christian education. The same reason you send your child to a Sunday School or Catechism class is the reason you send them to Christian camps and conferences. You want them to be taught in the word. Ask your pastor if the word is going to be taught. Will the teacher be responsible with the word of God? Can my child learn something from him? If so you have a motivation of the same kind for sending them to Sunday School. They get taught the same word by someone else. Having many counselors is a safer place (Pr 11:4)
The second is maturity. There’s a reason we start doing camps and conferences for the children when they hit age about age 12. This is the time where very clearly Jesus could be left alone (Luke 2:42). His parents may not have seen it, but He was ready. And though kids are at various places on the spectrum, it’s fairly typical that kids will start to develop an identity formed independent of the their parents about this time in life. They’re maturing, deciding their own tastes, and expressing preferences. Pastor-led, away-from-parent trips are a good environment for them to stretch their wings and especially to begin to take ownership of their own faith (Col 1:28).
The third is connecting. Our kids, like their parents, are social creatures. They were made for relationships. When we go to camps and conferences with other churches, our kids are broadening their pool of friends and relationships, but at the same time keeping it in the family (Eph 2:19–22). At our camps, we’re among the covenant community. While not all are regenerate, they are those being raised in the faith. It’s a bigger version of the local church. And these young people are by and large going to be same people who will populate the adult membership of our churches one day. They’re meeting future college roommates, deacons, presbyters, and spouses. All right there. They just don’t know it yet.
The fourth reason you want your child at camp…difficulties. What? That’s not a selling point, right? Actually it is. Your goal for your child is not to arrive at the age of 25 in pristine condition. They already missed on that count (Ps 51:50). They’re already spoiled and corrupted on the inside. What you want for them is to arrive at adulthood sanctified. Sanctification is a process that comes through pain (Rom 5:1-50). Camp is full of splinters and spats, blisters and bad food, cattiness and cramps. They all hurt and have to be dealt with, resolved, endured, and learned from. And on the other side, with the Holy Spirit, shepherding, parenting, and prayer, they are better, stronger, wiser, and more Christ-like. We’re not called to avoid that kind of pain, but to give thanks for it (James 1:2-4).
The fifth is independence. Certainly different children are ready for independence at different times and an individual child will be ready for independence in one area but not another. But parents need to remember this: God has made your child to grow toward independence. The goal for every believer is to be that “tree planted by streams of water” whose roots reach out to find the water source (Ps 1:3). They don’t need all their water brought to them. Having mom and dad out of reach and at least a couple of hours away is one of those hard but good things.
The sixth is perspective. When you join with other Christians from other churches you get different perspectives. Some worse and some better. But in either case, because some things might be done differently, camp creates an opportunity for self-examination and deepening of understanding (Rom 14:4). “Why don’t we sing that song when we worship?” There’s an answer for that question. Wouldn’t you rather your child ask it at home, while they’re living at home, than for them to have no idea later why we do what we do?
Seventh is memories. Yes, happy memories are a great blessing when it comes to the church. Our good memories can haunt us as much as bad memories (Lam 1:7). Over the years, I’ve had plenty of people tell me that their happiest memories were in the church and they couldn’t get away from that fact. It convicted them that the pleasure-seeking life they were presently living wasn’t competing well with the warm memories with their believing friends in the body of Christ from days past. Our summer student rituals have more than a few things in common with Old Testament feasts. They have a way of sticking with you, and most often for the good, and even the bad experiences can get better with time.
Last year, at Junior High camp, we did something new. We went off the reservation, went for a waterfall hike in uncharted territory∗, and got hit by mountain gully-washer that threatened us with hypothermia in late July. We all lived. And then we went to a Chinese buffet. Some kids ate octopus. We lived through that too. And we look back fondly and tell our war story. But that’s part of us now, with the friends, and teaching, and place, and knowledge that we can do hard things.
I make no guarantees. Camp itself is a living thing. Of course we work hard (very hard) at safety and having quality teaching. But each camp has its own unique personality. Because of the varied persons that comprise it, the weather that besets it, the pastors that preach to it, and the leaders that organize it, how could it be completely safe or the same? But the vast majority of our kids navigate it very well and come back better for it: challenged, strengthened, and yes, on many occasions, converted to faith in Christ. That should come as no surprise. They’ve been taken out of their routine, they’ve heard the Gospel preached, and they’ve had to hear it for themselves. Who wouldn’t want that for their child?
∗ – By uncharted I simply mean, this was our first time to do it.
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