I love going to camp every summer. It is the most important week of the year in our ministry. Our youth look forward to how they will experience God’s movement through the wealth of shared experiences we have as a group. The fourteen-hour bus ride from the Texas heat to the mountains of Colorado is no problem because it just means more time to be on the camp adventure.
Despite all that was already great about camp, something different happened this summer.
Our senior pastor came with us.
As we were returning from our first Sticky Faith Summit last February, he told me he wanted to go to camp with our students this year. I’m sure I looked surprised, because he emphasized that he was serious, and that he even wanted to ride on the bus! His motivation was to get to know more of our youth and to show that he was interested in them and what they experienced as a part of our church.
He not only followed through on his word, but also was a full participant during the week as he led a small group, played all the rec games, and shared stories each night as our group gathered to close the evening. I couldn’t have been happier that he was part of the week, and our students became his biggest fans. There was a moment during the week where our pastor put virtually his whole body inside a giant trash can filled with water so his small group could win their game. If I hadn’t captured it on video, I might not have believed it actually happened. In the evenings he shared his joys and fears and struggles along with the rest of the group, and allowed himself to be vulnerable to a group of teenagers. Our students noticed and it mattered to them. He definitely made an impression, because by the end of the week the kids had even given him a nickname!
Why is our pastor coming to camp a big deal for our youth ministry? It is a big deal because in the rec games, bus rides, and Bible studies, our youth were sharing meaningful moments with the person who preaches and leads our congregation each week. Not only did our students get to know our pastor better, they got to be known by our pastor. This is a big deal, as it is easy for them to feel like their gifts and energies for the church are somehow secondary to those of adults. Our week at camp with our senior pastor made our youth feel valued in a way that I could not have expected.
I’m sure there’s still some texting going on during the sermon most Sundays, but after conversations I’ve had with our youth I know they listen and participate in worship differently now that they share those special memories from camp with our pastor. And our pastor communicates to them differently now that he knows more names, faces, and stories.
As it turns out, the most important week of our year was made even better because our senior pastor told our kids they matter, and he reminds them of that every week.