Jesus and his disciples were headed for some well-deserved time away, when 5,000 people interrupted their staff retreat. What was Jesus to do -- meet the needs of the 12 or work with the 5,000? Yes!
Camps feel the tension of serving both camper and staff. Too often they migrate in one direction or the other focusing their attention on the campers at the expense of the staff, or the campers become guinea pigs for staff development and ministry training.
In my early years as a camp director, I was all about the campers. I held staff meetings, lead Bible studies, and arranged special events for the staff; but my work with these employees was always to ensure that they were spiritually prepared, physically ready, and emotionally strong to meet the needs of the campers and guests. Without minimizing my concern for the campers, I would have been more intentional with my ministry to the staff – not just so they could serve campers, but so they could become all that God designed them to be.
Despite my camper-centric approach, I often meet many of those summer staff members who are now pastors, youth workers, missionaries, Christian counselors and leaders in so many walks of life. Camp was a gateway for many of them to learn ministry skills, discover their spiritual gifts, and sense God’s call on their lives. For many it was their first step into a ministry career, and for many more it was the first step into a life of service and spiritual engagement. Even though I lacked intentionality, God worked (as He does) and camp provided significant benefits for the staff members as well as the campers.
Let’s never forget, there would be no camp without campers and guests. No doubt about it, camps exist to provide a setting where God works in amazing ways in the hearts of campers. Some come with rebellious hearts, others with serious life questions, many just drift into camp, happy to be away from home and with their friends for a week. They all need Jesus. Some meet him for the first time, others renew and deepen their acquaintance, and still others make life choices to serve Him in passionate and powerful ways.
Campers come and go; but oftentimes summer staff members stay for several weeks if not all summer. The combined effect of week upon week of service, supervision, pressure, relationships, and consistent spiritual input leaves indelible marks on the lives of staff members. For many it is the first time they have lead a Bible Study, shared their testimony, presented the gospel, or prayed in public. For all it is a time of stress and challenge. Camp is often the crucible in which God shapes lives for long-term service.
Camp is for the 5,000 and the 12; it is for campers and staff members. Camp leaders must be intentional and design spiritual growth opportunities for everyone at camp – both campers and staff.