The Summer “No” Rotation

I’ve recently made a ministry decision that has put me at odds with convention. That’s not normally something that bothers me, but this particular decision is, I feel, coming with a need for a little extra explanation. It is, in youth ministry in this part of our country, unfathomable:

I’ve decided to encourage my high school kids to not go to camp this summer.

There, I said it. Out loud for everyone to hear… well, at least in print for everyone to read. I want my high school students to skip camp this summer! Fathom it. I’m all for the tipping of sacred cows (aka, idols)… when they’re sacred to other people. This one chews his cud pretty close to home, though, so I have definitely not taken it lightly.  I have been praying about this for months. Actually the concept I’m moving toward is something I’ve prayed about for years and for which I’ve sought counsel and feedback from parents, my elders, & my students.

The beauty of summer youth ministry is the ability to take advantage of extended blocks of free time that students aren’t spending in class. You can’t just take a pack of kids out of school for a week and head for the hills (though, as I write that, I wonder if it’s really true or just an untested assumption – hmm… maybe a future experiment). My summers in ministry have included essentially 4 types of catalyzing experiences: trips to camps, mission trips, trips to conferences, & a backpacking/wilderness trip.

Each of these experiences have proven to offer a unique set of circumstances and challenges through which God has worked. There is some overlap, but none of these 4 experiences is duplicated in the others. They are each valuable experiences, but due to demands on time and money, it’s not possible for most of my students to participate in all 4 weeks during the course of one summer. So, as a ministry, we always say “no” to something. Which means, my students are missing out on something good every year. Last year, for example we went to camp and coldwater (an incredible mission trip I finally got to do where no one but God knew where we were going until we left – check out my posts and follow up from that trip). We said no to conference and wilderness. A couple years ago, it was camp and a short backpacking trip. We said no to a mission trip and a conference. Another year, we attended camp and CIY summer conference, saying no to backpacking and mission trips.

I’m sure you notice the trend there. Camp has always been the non-negotiable. We say “no” to everything else, and I’m still at a loss as to why. So this year begins my experiment with adding high school camp to the “no” rotation. There is no sacred, un-cuttable program.

I still love camp. I will still be spending a week there this summer with my Jr. High students. I will miss hanging out with the students and youth leaders I would have gotten to see at High School week. I will be sending my own younger progeny to Junior week. But as the leader of a student ministry, I’m responsible for making the most of every opportunity I have to reveal God to students. Sometimes that means doing what other youth ministers shake their heads at… sometimes it means letting them think I’m crazy and in jeopardy of losing my job… sometimes that means bucking the assumed order of things and doing what’s different… sometimes it means firing up the grill and cooking up some summer time sacred cow burgers.

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