Summer Camp and Youth Ministry Dreams

I really believe in summer camping. When I was a kid, a week at a Young Life camp changed the trajectory of my life. I have spent a lot of time since working at summer camps and taking kids to them. I love it.

Summer Camp & YM Dreams

Weaponized Truth

There is one thing about it that I wish would die, though.

One recurrent, disappointing fruit of an otherwise life changing summer camp experience is the in-your-face self-righteousness.

Kids step off the bus filled to overflowing with enthusiasm and freshly-dreamt possibility, and often enough they squander it by acting like jerks. Parents who are not in theological lock-step with camp pastor Craig (name chosen at random) get an earful. Peers that do not measure up are given detailed accounts of their shortcomings.

They say they are just speaking the truth in love, but the truth of self-righteousness is a half-truth. They are lobbing the truth like grenades from a place of safety. They “lovingly” drop these truth bombs on those around them while staying safely out of the blast radius.

I think it is annoying to be around, but the worst part about it is that it allows kids to avoid the real changes to their lives the Gospel wants us to be about. At best, it is merely shuffling one vice into the place of another.

I would like to think that churches would be the most welcoming of places, but people with disabilities often find that their welcome does not have much substance behind it as soon as their special needs present themselves. Their presence in communities is at once a blessing and a threat of change.

While some responsibility falls to the individual, I know some of the blame is ours. Just as summer camps create a type of space that gives kids room to change their lives, the communities they come home to cultivate the character of those changes. If we are honest, our communities are better models for this self-righteous sentiment than we would like to admit.

Dreams of Risky Generosity

The Christian Church is generous. We give tremendously. However, this loving generosity is often lobbed into needy situations from a place of safety. We want to help the needy, but we do not want the needy close enough to help us, influence us, or even affect us. We stay out of the blast radius. Instead of the Kingdom of God, where the first are last and the last are first and it is somehow better for all, we settle for a social club where we fulfill the expectations of that club, one of which is to give some of our excess.

Often our communities are not worthy of the dreams and enthusiasm of kids. We must dream bigger dreams for our communities so kids’ dreams can grow robust in the humility of striving for the Kingdom of God rather than wither in the self-righteousness of satisfying the expectations of a social club.

Dreams of Real Community

I am trying to dream bigger. I have a dream for my church and the kids of my youth group that I hope would be big enough to squash some of that self-righteousness.

When I dream for my community, it is hard not to think about my friends with disabilities I have met through my work with Young Life Capernaum (Young Life is a Christian youth ministry organization and Capernaum is the wing of that ministry that intentionally reaches out to kids with disabilities). I think about them because, when I notice our dreams for our communities are too small, it is primarily because I see how my friends with disabilities do not fit easily into the churches we come up with.

I would like to think that churches would be the most welcoming of places, but people with disabilities often find that their welcome does not have much substance behind it as soon as their special needs present themselves. Their presence in communities is at once a blessing and a threat of change.

I have a dream where each one of these people with disabilities is embraced.

It is a big community—one that can embrace all of these people.

It is a compassionate community—one that is so deeply concerned with the welfare of their neighbor that they might lay themselves aside to embrace people they would not naturally come into contact with.

It is a blessed community—one that has so many wonderful gifts in these people; gifts the world has in many cases cast aside, but that Scripture assures us are in each and every person.

It is a close community—one where the divisions that split them between able or disabled (Jew or Gentile, slave or free, male or female) fade with proximity.

It is a dynamic community—one that avoids the ruts that divert us from this life-giving work and the barriers that tell us it cannot be.

It is a vulnerable community—one that risks the changes closeness brings.

Make Your Dreams Come True

Perhaps there is someone else on the margins that comes more readily to mind; someone whose inclusion expands your vision of your church community. By all means, dream with them in mind. However, I challenge you to think about my friends and I pray you will challenge me to think about yours. Hopefully, together we will dream a dream so vast for kids we will cling to Christ and each other in humility as we step off the bus from camp. Hopefully, this dream will enable us to be more than a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal, but instead to nurture a community of love.


About the Author: Zach Grant

Zach Grant

Zacharias Grant works as the Youth Pastor of Grace United Methodist Church in St. Augustine, FL and as coordinator for Young Life’s disability ministry in St. Augustine. Zacharias got his undergraduate degree from Flagler College studying philosophy, religion and youth ministry. He received his M. Div. from Princeton Theological Seminary. He is most passionate about increasing the contact and conversation between the church and folks with disabilities for their mutual transformation.

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