Supporting Returning Camp Staff
It is hard to believe that this is the last week of August. For many of us this week will be full of helping prepare students for the upcoming school year. In addition to this some will be receiving students back from either attending or working at a summer camp. The focus of this short blog is to offer practical insights for youth ministry leaders to help the transition from camp to home.
Pass the Key of Responsibility: Staff and volunteers who have served at camp have more than likely pushed the boundaries of what they thought they could handle. Every summer young staff are in charge of a dozen kids for the whole summer, or are expected to lead chapel every day, or who cook food for hundreds of people, or are responsible for the safety of an entire organization. But when they come back to church after the summer, they are "allowed" to assist in Sunday school, or push the "next" slide on the powerpoint, or hand out bulletins. - the work they have done this summer isn't just "training camp for big church", the work they did was real service, real evangelism, and real kingdom advancement. Nothing will tell a student that you don't believe in their gifts and experiences like saying "Great, now you are all trained up to be a junior sunday school teacher assistant." While they probably aren't ready to plant a church on their own by October 1, they would probably love to help you do some sermon prep, or share in some responsibility like being on a board or a committee.
Pray and Meet with your Students: Take time to debrief! Especially with students who have served as staff/volunteers or completed leadership programs. Take them out for coffee and ask what they learned, what were they responsible for and how did it go? What did Jesus teach them? What were the challenges they faced? How can the learning be applied? And if you are brave: what could our church do better? Ask them to share their dreams with you and where they could be involved in the church more! They have gone from a place of intense community, non-stop activity, and being saturated by experiences that advance the kingdom. Then it all, well, it just stops. Suddenly. It is often very disorienting time, filled with emotions like loneliness, irritability, and confusion. Virtually all will be catapulted back into a school or university setting in a matter of days, and likely will not be returning to places where their work in the name of Jesus will be valued highly. Pray that God would use this season of "in-between" to give them rest, peace, focus, and preparation for what is next.
Give your local camp director a call - or even better, bring them a coffee. Most of them can give you insight into your students that only comes from the place of leadership. They will most definitely be happy to share what they saw, and would certain love to strategize about how your ministry and the camp can work closely together to continue the great work that's already begun.
Help them Bring the camp community back to the church: Create spaces for camp staff to invite their camp friends into your church community. One churches had "their" students invite a bunch of their staff friends out for a movie night - giving them a venue to gather together again, but also to affirm that the church is still behind them!
The transformation which occurs at summer camp is phenomenal and worth celebrating. Thanks to the amazing camp directors and staff who show the love of Jesus to thousands of the next generation. Our hope is that the above hints are helpful and practical for you in your context to best welcome back students to your neighbourhood.
Joel also had a chance to do a podcast with Jeremy Macdonald who is works with CYWC. Check that out below:
A special thanks to Josh Throop (Bayside Camp), Rev. Tim Carruthers (Green Hill Lake Camp) and Trent Raynard (Camp Penial) for their contributions!