The Real Heroes of Student Camp

“Pastor Trav, one of my students had something he wanted to say to you.”

The camp was officially over. I delivered the final sermon. The band had just finished the closing song. Any strength left in the students’ vocal cords was utilized for one last shout to commemorate an incredible week. Before we made the trek to the parking lot, this young student and his intentional chaperone stopped me for a short but meaningful conversation.

“Absolutely. What do you need to tell me?”

“You’ve made such an impact on my life. I’ll never forget it.”

I wanted to explain the theological ramifications of what really transpired at camp. I wasn’t the one making the impact. It was the Word of God and the Spirit of God, but I understood what he meant.

I also considered telling him that he probably would forget it – at least my part. Within hours, he would most likely forget those intentionally-crafted statements spoken passionately on the stage and displayed artistically in the slides. My sermon titles would not retain a shelf life, and my name would soon be a distant memory. 

Since I’ve preached at student camps for years, I am fully aware of my role and longevity. The goal is not to be remembered but to point to the one who should be. Instead of deflecting his encouraging words, I did decide to point out something significant to this new believer.

“You are so kind to share that with me, but can I introduce you to someone who will make a bigger impact than me?”

As I pulled his youth leader to my side, I wrapped my arms around his shoulders and said, “I made an impact, but he will continue to make one. He’s the real hero. And you don’t have to wait till next summer to learn from him.”

I don’t know if the student believed me, but I had no more accurate words to say. The real heroes of any church camp are not the ones leading on the stage but the ones driving the church van. While camp may catalyze change, the church is the biblical hope to continue such change.

If you take your teenagers to camp, you have already invested incredibly in their lives. You are the hero. You are a difference maker. They can’t yet comprehend the precious sacrifice of your vacation week, the grueling longing for your own bed, and the unexpected sensory overload that is an extended time spent with a group of teenagers. Your students may not fully appreciate it, but God does.

You are a critical part of His investment in their lives. And while you have seen Him use camp in powerful ways, you best want to consider how to ensure those moments turn into milestones. Here are some tangible ways to continue fostering relationships built with students while at camp.

1. Clarify Existing Opportunities 

Your church may not be as hyped as your camp experience, but it’s not supposed to be. What you do have available should be life-changing, though. Consider your church’s schedule regarding the environments conducive to your mentee’s development.

Explain why these gatherings are important, and ask the student to meet with you there. Allow the camp to be the annual event that catalyzes your church’s weekly environments.

2. Establish Relational Rhythms

Plan to meet with students at your church campus, but consider how you can connect at other times. Gather the students in your small group at a fun event where they can experience healthy interaction and deepen existing relationships.

You don’t prioritize it until you plan for it. It’s not a bad idea to establish a rhythm of text messages, either. Set reminders to check on those students you are discipling and send them encouraging motivational messages as they seek to pursue Jesus.

3. Design Followup Plans

Students grow closer to Christ at camp because there is an intentional plan set by the leaders and a specific set of opportunities to make positive steps. The dip after camp typically happens because of suddenly applying the spiritual brakes to the previous momentum. Students often leave for camp spiritually dry due to apathy, get supercharged during the week due to intentionality, and then return to the former stagnation due to unclarity.

It is rare for someone to tell students what they need to do next. Don’t allow that excuse to be present with your students. Provide them with a Bible reading plan that is sustainable. Craft out some action steps in the first few weeks. Don’t let their motivation die because they lack somewhere to aim it. 

4. Define Potential Landmines

As you get to know your students, you will notice trouble areas that could stunt their growth. It could be a sin that so easily entangled them before camp or a trend you see once you get home. Don’t be afraid to speak the truth in love to warn them about dangers.

Your student might be defiant or simply ignorant regarding another way to live. Show why the issue is dangerous from Scripture and experience, and help keep the student accountable as they move forward.

5. Engage Family Unit

Your plan to disciple a student must involve the family. Even if the family isn’t supportive or that much helpful, you still need to have an intentional connection with them. Many students struggle to live for Jesus when it’s only talked about in youth group for an hour a week while hearing or seeing conflicting messages within the home all week.

If there is some spiritual eagerness on behalf of the family, use it to the student’s advantage. Do what you can not to replace the family but assist them in doing what God has called them to do. In an ideal situation, view yourself as a supplement and not a substitute to the family unit.

6. Connect Helpful Relationships

In addition to your meaningful role in a student’s life, the likelihood of ongoing maturity multiplies when other mentors and partners are engaged. The chances of success are minimal if a student doesn’t have close relationships within the student ministry.

Many students have shallow associations with students at church while maintaining deep bonds with friends at school. Help them see that the people closest to them must be closest to God.

You Make the Lasting Difference

These steps can strengthen your relationship with these students and encourage their relationship with Jesus. I often conclude time with student camp chaperones by asking them to envision the person who has made the most profound spiritual impact on their lives. I then ask them to shout out the characteristics of those individuals. 

Do you know what I always hear? Intentional. Patient. Consistent. 

Do you know what I never hear? Good preacher. Powerful musician. Fun personality. 

The point I communicate to them and hope I can convince you of is that the things that make the impact are more commitments than skills. The leaders that impacted you had traits you can portray just as well. Your students probably won’t take home the engaging camp pastor, the dynamic worship band, or the energetic camp staff, but they do have you. And that, my friends, is the type of person that can change a student’s life.

[Published originally on Lifeway Research.]