In Isaiah 55:8, God says to the prophet Isaiah that His thoughts and ways are not our ways. The familiar paraphrase to that verse is “God works in mysterious ways.” I am the living embodiment of that truth. For some strange reason, over 30 years ago, God called me into the ministry. Ever since I first stood in the pulpit at the awkward age of 21, I’ve noticed two constants for every Christian ministry: 1) THE mission of the body of Christ is to go into all the world and make disciples of Jesus Christ (Matthew 28:19). And 2) Most people underestimate all that goes into affective Christian ministry.
Let’s take the first constant. Regardless of the ministry, whether it’s a local church, a Christian homeless shelter or food pantry, a foreign mission, or a Christian camp, though every ministry goes about it in different ways, and the methods may differ, the ultimate goal is to introduce people to the grace and love of God in Christ SO THAT they would hopefully and prayerfully walk into a life and eternity-changing relationship with God. The local church holds worship services in hopes of helping people experience the presence of God. They offer Bible studies in order to teach the Word of God. Food pantries provide much needed physical support as a way of sharing the love of God. And Christian camps do all they do as a means of opening a camper’s heart to the Spirit of God.
In fact, I’m in the camping ministry now because over my 30 years in the local church, though hearts were changed on a weekly basis, THE most impact was made in lives (young and old alike) when people ventured away from what they knew, from the comfortable, and took time away. Lives were changed on mission trips, weekend spiritual retreats, and especially week-long summer camp experiences. This reality is the reason the strategy of Camp Rockfish is to create a fun environment that will bring people to camp. Once they’re here, we connect them with sold-out-for-Christ staff, SO THAT we can move them toward faith in Christ. However, that life-changing experience doesn’t become a reality by the push of a button. Putting together a Christ-centered, life-changing summer camp experience takes months and months of work, planning, sweat, tears, hopes, and prayer. Hence the second constant: Most people underestimate all that goes into affective Christian ministry.
I learned very early in the ministry that the predominant belief about pastors is they work one to two hours a week. They may put in a few extra hours here or there if they do a funeral, or make a hospital visit. But for the most part, the perception from the pew is preachers stand up on Sunday morning and just shoot from the hip. As one parishioner said to me, “That’s what the hymn of preparation is for, isn’t it?”
About 15 years out of seminary, I was serving a church near Winston-Salem. It was a growing and exciting church with a thriving youth program. One Sunday afternoon, I was outside with the youth while they were playing some high-energy game. Those who were “out” in the progress of the game had to stand on the sidelines. I was standing on the sidelines giving encouragement to those waiting to go back in for the next round. While I was there, one of the sixth graders who had just gotten out walked over and stood next to me. I had known this young man for a number of years and had learned that there was very little filter between his brain and mouth. You never had to wonder what this guy was thinking. When he sided up to me, I suspected something interesting was about to happen. He waited a few minutes for dramatic affect and then nonchalantly asked, “How much do you get paid?” Because it was him, the question didn’t surprise me, but the timing did. I don’t remember what motivated me to do it, but the prior week I had calculated what I earned hourly. I turned to him and said, “About $5.50 an hour.” I’ll never forget his face. His eyes grew wide and he looked up at me with a mixture of shock and concern and asked, “How can you live off of $11 a week.”
Though I was surprised by the timing of his original question, his assumption didn’t surprise me at all. Despite the fact that I had already seen him two hours that morning and had been with the youth another two hours to that point, pastors only work two hours a week. I smiled at him, and in my best deep, pastoral voice replied, “The Lord provides.” That seemed to appease him and we returned our focus to the game. People tend to underestimate all that goes on behind the scenes in affective Christian ministry.
The real question of the moment: Why am I starting my first blog this way? First, I want to make sure there’s no question about the mission of Camp Rockfish. We exist to help others experience and grow in the love of God through Jesus Christ. Period! Second, I’m setting the stage for where this blog (at least my personal entries in it) is heading. I intend to document (journal, wax eloquently, etc.) what it takes to create and execute a dynamic, life-changing, Christ-centered summer camp experience. The idea for blogging about the journey to a Christ-centered summer came to me (I hope by the Spirit) just a week or so ago while I was taking a few days off during Christmas. While the myriad of things that need to be done between now and June were running around in my mind, the thought occurred to me, why not share the process. Sharing the process would do two things:
First, articulating the process will help keep the Rockfish staff and me focused on the goal (the important) and not become side-tracked by the urgent (things that come up).
Second, walking through the preparation process will give parents and church leaders a more informed and clearer understanding of all that goes into what we believe God is calling us to accomplish this summer at Rockfish, and hopefully make them feel comfortable and assured that we are doing everything in our power, and especially in the power of the Holy Spirit, to create a life-changing summer camp experience for the children and youth under their care whom they will entrust to us.
Over the course of the coming months, I’ll be dealing with a myriad of topics, everything from how we’ve come up with a theme and how it will be applied, to staff recruitment, programming, discipline, pastors in residence, worship, and everything in between. Though there will probably be too many topics to cover in the available time, I’d still like to invite readers to submit specific topics they’d addressed. Maybe a parent wants to know more about how we train the staff, or a youth director would like to know how what we do at Rockfish can go hand-in-hand with the discipleship process at their church. If you do have a question or topic, I encourage you to either comment on this blog, or write me personally at firstname.lastname@example.org.
I’m looking forward to not only the process the Rockfish staff has ahead of us as we work toward a Christ-centered summer, but the journey with you through this blog.
Director, Rockfish Camp and Retreat Center