The Problem with Camp Christianity

It’s been just a couple days since a ton of people got back from camp; not only from our ministry but ministries all over during this summer season.  I’ve served in nearly every position on a camp staff; counselor, program director, worship leader, speaker, even camp pastor and I’ve loved them all.  It’s such a privilege to be able to share life with students and staff without so many of the distractions that make it difficult to stay focused on Christ in the middle of ‘normal’ life.

As much as I love camp there is a really big danger that I constantly teach, pray, and beg students to avoid.  The Gospel is a free gift from God to mankind that restores our relationship with a Holy God in spite of our wicked hearts because of what Jesus has done.  The Gospel doesn’t end when we pray a prayer or when we have an emotional night at camp; it is the good news of abundant life (Jn.10:10) that we are to live in every day of our lives.  What that means for students (and adults) is that we experience life change as a gift (phil.2:13) and byproduct of a changed heart.  I talk about the Gospel a lot because if we don’t get that the law is something we’ll never attain and the Gospel is the only solution we have no hope.

The problem at camp is that this message gets very muddy.  We’re good at the initial decision being a free gift, almost too good at it, at times not challenging our hearers to count the cost or consider their own sin as the thing that requires Christ’s sacrifice. We also stumble for our young believers looking to grow in their faith and we communicate that they do that by lots of do’s and don’ts, lists of all kinds and self-help garbage.  In other words we go from Gospel-lite alter calls to moralism and it’s a very dangerous regression.

For those who might read this and think that; rules, lists and self-help techniques are harmless let me put it another way; we create a new law for Christians to follow.  Paul spent the entire book of Galatians warning against exactly that error.  But because we are filled with pride and want objective progress that we can not only see but also take credit for, moralism becomes the default.

Perhaps the most tragic element of Camp Christianity is that the hyper focused environment of the week plays into the lie of moralism.  Students begin to try really hard to stop and start things in order to ‘grow closer’ to God or become ‘better people.’  But any student that leaves camp with that approach has failed; it’s only a matter of time.  Some will create elaborate systems and benchmarks to last longer but they will fail and others will fail almost immediately but the problem for both is the same.  When we make growing in God a work that we have to muscle out and not the gift of heart change that the Bible talks about, we take away the very source of strength that God supplies to bring Him honor in our lives.

I hope our students and many more hear the message of the Gospel at the point of decision and as disciples everyday in loving Jesus and letting Him transform us.  We don’t graduate from it; we graduate into it and need the grace of God more everyday.  The good news of the Gospel is that even though we can’t please God, Jesus died to accomplish it on our behalf and as He changes us to look more like Him, because He’s the one doing it, He receives the glory not us.  To God be the Glory forever and ever and ever…

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