When Jesus interacted with the 5,000 he did so on three levels; large groups, small groups and individuals. His compassion motivated him to teach the 5,000 but at times he broke the throng into groups of 50 to 100. He worked with His 12 disciples and also had personal conversations with Andrew, Phillip and a little boy who gave his lunch. At different times and for different purposes he maintained the mass of 5,000 people, divided them into small groups or talked personally with individuals.
If we have learned anything in the last 50 years of educational research, it is that not everyone learns the same way. Some learn best listening to a lecture while others learn through discussion and interaction. Still others learn through physical activity or some other personal approach. Some camps design their instruction to reflect how the leader prefers to learn rather than how the campers might best be taught. Some camps are designed around large group, platform presentations; others build around a decentralized, small group based discussion format; while others are committed to one-on-one dialogues and personal interaction.
Let’s look at each of these approaches.
Platform ministry is tried and true. One-way communication has been the mainstay of persuasive speech since long before Peter saw 3,000 saved at Pentecost. Preaching is a wonderful method of communication, it allows gifted and trained presenters to share truth effectively and powerfully. Lecturing is efficient allowing one well-informed instructor to communicate truth quickly and consistently. But in a world that is increasingly interactive, lecture style teaching has a hard time engaging listeners - at least for very long. Many find large groups easy places to hide – hearing the truth but avoiding any personal interaction with it.
Small groups allow people to learn in settings that are less threatening and more interactive. Ideas can flow and new thoughts seem to emerge as others talk – sometimes new thoughts are born as we hear ourselves talk. But too often small group leaders are poorly trained and ill equipped to do more than encourage others to share their thoughts. Pooled ignorance is still ignorance. At times small group leaders may lack the core biblical or theological knowledge to guide the discussion. They may also lack training in small group facilitation. A poorly trained leader may allow an outspoken person to hijack the discussion or fail to engage everyone in the conversation so that some participants avoid the vulnerability of contributing their thoughts and opinions.
One-on-one conversations provide a wonderful opportunity for open conversations. In the safety of a confidential conversation challenges can be presented, questions asked, and sins confessed. But it takes time – lots of time. Counselors, pastors, teachers and friends invest enormous amounts of time listening to problems and offering godly solutions. One person cannot begin to engage every needy person in a private, personal context.
Christian camps provide opportunities for ministry on all three levels. Camps offer a grand mixture of large group proclamation, small group interaction, and private conversations. Large groups present the opportunity for each camper to hear truth presented in an accurate and powerful manner. The large group setting gives strength and gravitas to the message. Small group discussions provide the setting where truth can weave its way into life. Shared ideas and new perspectives provide deeper and richer opportunities for people to apply God’s truth to their lives. Personal conversations allow individuals to find a safe place to share the deep concerns and hidden secrets of their hearts. These one-on-one conversations provide a secure forum for confession of sin and an opportunity to present new challenges and make new commitments.
Jesus’ heart of compassion led him to teach the 5,000, interact with small groups, and talk privately with individuals. Camps do well when they follow his example and build their ministry around all three levels of interaction.