First Third Conversations

Why Can't My Church Be More Like Camp?

Have you seen the topic of the 2012 First Third Dialogue? It's "Why Can't Church Be More Like Camp?"

We wanted to start this conversation because we think there is a lot that churches can learn about faith formation from camps.  We asked Mike King of YouthFront in Kansas City and Paul Hill, current president of Lutheran Outdoor Ministries and Executive Director of Vibrant Faith Ministries to be our presenters and tee off the conversion.  

Watch a video with Mike King on the power of immersion learning.

Here's a little teaser from Paul….. 

Why Can’t Church Be More Like Camp?

By Paul Hill

The pastor said to me: “It’s really a problem when our kids come home from church camp because our congregation isn’t as exciting to them.”

And the youth said to me: “Why can’t church be more like camp?”

There you have it, the tension that often exists between congregational life and what happens at camp.

What’s really behind these two points of view? For the youth, camp feels relational, based in powerful communal experiences, immersed deep in nature, and wrapped in personal as well as Biblical stories that weave themselves throughout the day. In other words, camp looks a lot like Emergence Christianity as best described in Phyllis Tickles new book, Emergence Christianity.

But I’m sympathetic to the pastor’s comment as well. Congregational life is not supposed to be “six flags over Jesus.” Congregational life involves a broad audience and addresses life outside of the outdoor ministry bubble. Like life itself, it’s not always entertaining, fun and relatively carefree.

BUT, church does need to be more like camp in the sense that effective faith formation in the congregation is…

  • Deeply relational and communal and less ethnic and tribal.
  • Committed to sharing our stories while weaving in the Biblical and less doctrinal and orthodox, (or emphasizing the narrative of Christianity vs. the “right doctrine” of Christianity).
  • Involving nature and the out of doors and less about God in the box.
  • Experiencing the faith through doing faith practices and less talking ABOUT the faith.  This is sometimes called emphasizing “orthopraxis” as opposed to “orthodoxy”.

Not surprisingly, because camp connects deeply in so many of the young it is the primary incubator for helping young people discover their sense of vocation and becoming leaders.

Now, whenever a pastor or church leader complains about the efficacy of camp, I say…”talk to those who went to camp and they’ll teach you a lot about how to be church in the congregation.”  Camp is emergence, and that’s the direction we ought to be going.  What do you think?

-  Paul 

Paul Hill, Executive Director of Vibrant Faith Ministries; President of LutheranOutdoor Ministries

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