A few weeks ago I sat down to catch up with three high school students that I have been pastoring for the past seven years. When I asked them how their relationship with Christ was going, they told me that they were struggling big-time! As we talked, they each kept bringing up our youth group’s summer camp seven months prior. They explained how, at camp, they all felt close to Christ and that spiritual disciplines, like Bible reading, came naturally. But as time passed each was finding it a struggle to read the Bible, pray or spend time with God in general.
It is no surprise that our students (or anyone, for that matter!) feel as though they are experiencing God more fully in a retreat setting. By simply attending a retreat or camp, students have removed themselves from common, every-day distractions for a certain amount of time. They hear the preached Word of God more frequently than normal and are surrounded by peers who are also, to use a metaphor, drinking from a spiritual firehose.
The problem is clear: how could these three teenage guys (and a host of other young people in our churches) have so much passion to seek the Lord one week, and then go for several months with little or no desire for Christ or His Word? In talking with others it’s clear to me that my youth group is not alone in experiencing this challenge.
With this in mind, here are two points that I often try to remind my students of (and remind myself!) when they ask me about this “camp problem.”
We experience God as we pursue Him
God does not play escape and evade games with His children. God is always with us. That said, we also must remember that, “if we draw near to Him [God], He will draw near to us” (James 4:8). There are practices that we engage in that practically help us draw near to God, and youth camps are structured in such a way that these practices are built-in to each hour, each day. All the participants consistently hear the Word of God and are encouraged through fellowship with other Christians. The camp setting also removes from our students their common, every-day distractions. At camp the practices of drawing near to God easily become part of the daily rhythm.
We as leaders need to think creatively about how to help our students make these practices part of their daily experience.
The “chase” is a gift
More often than not, students who tell me they are not “feeling” the presence of God also tell me they are not putting much effort into chasing after God. In my own life, one of the most helpful books motivating me to chase after God has been When I Don’t Desire God by John Piper. In this book Piper encourages Christians to recognize that the desire to chase after God is just as much of a gift as “catching” God. In the long journey of sanctification, we need to disciple our students in a way that they see the beauty, not the boredom, of chasing intimacy with Christ in their everyday life, not just the last night of camp.
What are some other ways that you have helped your students address the “camp problem”?