Camping: A Future with Hope

The future of Camping ministries in Missouri has generated a lot of discussion in the past few weeks. I’ve heard from several folks concerned about the changes and the process, read many e-mails and social media posts, been part of discussions with conference leaders, and tried to understand the issues as best I can. I’ve heard the emotion-laden stories from people whose lives have been touched through camp experiences at a conference site. And I’ve heard the reasoned analysis of the conference camping board as they’ve confronted many factors and developed a vision for next generation ministries that includes camping in different ways and places. So as your Conference Lay Leader I’d like to provide my perspective on this issue.

First, I’ll acknowledge that it’s hard for me to imagine camping without the “camps”. While I didn’t have a great experience at church camp as a youth (Boy Scout camp was better for me), my wife and children did. And I’ve enjoyed visiting Camp Galilee for various activities. So I get the important role an outdoor camping site can play in a transformative faith experience. And how future visits to the site rekindle the memories and provide spiritual renewal for new ministry. Of course, I also know that reaching young people today requires stretching the imagination beyond personal experiences to new and different forms.

As a business leader, I also understand the difficulty in allocating scarce resources – both financial and personal. Sometimes tough choices must be made. Two key concepts in allocating resources wisely are “Mission” and “Results” – or “Fruitfulness”. In other words, “how does this activity accomplish our organization’s mission?” and “what are the fruits, or the return on investment?” While this may seem a bit impersonal and heartless, as leaders in the church we’ve got to be concerned with these concepts if we want our organization to succeed or even to continue. That’s simply stewardship. So I appreciate the camping board’s analysis that includes mission and fruitfulness, especially looking toward reaching next generations in new ways.

I also hear concerns about process and communication, particularly the seeming suddenness of changes. Even folks who agree that changes are needed may feel that these are coming too quickly, without adequate time or discussion. In all my years of service with community, government, and church organizations, I understand how important process is, both to determining appropriate action and to developing acceptance of that action.

So the action and proposals regarding camping and the emotion-laden responses have caused me to reflect a bit on all these – camping memories, mission, fruitfulness, and process. And also to connect them with ideas of “hope”.

You see, in the past few weeks I’ve spoken on the subject “A Future with Hope.” We as Christians have a personal hope in our walk with Jesus; we must lead in our churches with hope; and we should overflow with hope in our communities and world. So I’ve wondered – how does that message of hope impact the way I look at the issue of camping ministries?

Then it hit me – it’s the “main thing” again. What’s really essential to our faith, to making disciples of Jesus Christ? Is camping ministries continuing at 4 conference-owned sites essential to our mission? What really is the role of camping ministries in our conference’s mission of leading congregations to lead people to actively follow Jesus – especially reaching next generations? A future with hope for our congregations must include a vision for growth -- reaching more people, younger people, and leading them to follow Jesus.

Then the question becomes “who decides” what role camping plays in our conference’s pursuit of the “main thing” – and what those camping ministries will look like to be most effective and fruitful. Including where they’ll be located. That’s some heavy lifting involving numerous details that our conference delegates to a camping board composed of some very interested, experienced, dedicated leaders – both clergy and laity. They’ve spent a lot of time researching, praying, visioning, and discussing. Now they’re explaining their findings and plans for a future camping ministry that looks very different from the past.

So my last question is this: how can we move forward together to celebrate God’s faithfulness in the past, while embracing a future with hope in God’s reaching new generations in a way that can best connect with them?

I’m thankful for all the great work done in the past in camping ministries by all the dedicated followers of Jesus. And I believe we need to acknowledge and somehow celebrate the significance of the camping sites in the growth of thousands of disciples. I’m also thankful for the dedicated work and vision of the camping board in laying out a future with hope, a new thing that God can do, through our conference’s camping ministries.

Looking forward, as we struggle with uncertainty while working through the details and changes in camping ministries, let us affirm together a common vision to reach new generations for Jesus Christ in a spirit of both thankfulness and hope.

“May the God of Hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in Him, so that you may overflow with Hope by the power of the Holy Spirit!” – Rom. 15:13