This past weekend, our church wrapped up our summer day camp ministry, “CampToons”, a 6 week day camp we put on for children K-8 from our church and our neighborhood. Our 70+ staff took care of 250+ children, teaching them the Gospel and displaying Jesus. As many of my students spend today processing their summers, preparing for school, and missing the joy of the previous weeks, I can bet many students across other churches are having similar feelings of sadness and longing as they return from mission trips, complete their VBS’s, and wrap up summer. What follows is a letter to my students to remain committed to Christ and cultivate a joy in him as they return to the “ordinary” of their normal lives.
Dear CampToons Staff,
Last week, we finished 6 long weeks of ministering to over 250 kids. We’ve seen the Gospel displayed as groups grew together in love and worked together to exalt Christ. We’ve seen the power of the Gospel at work as some kids accepted Christ for the first time, and others have grown their desire to live for Him. And we’ve experienced the joy that comes in living for the glory of God, not the glory of the self.
Camp ended on Friday (Saturday, if you count our gluttony at Kome); but not until this morning did it really feel like camp was over. How are supposed to go back to “real life”? How do we get past the feelings of longing, loneliness, and emptiness that comes with being alone at home, wishing we could reverse time and go back to what now feels like a mere memory? How can we expect to find the same joy now, that we did during daycamp?
Close the Gap
Something I’ve come to find is that the joy we experience as believers is not isolated to one space, time, or experience. It can’t be; Jesus told us that we will have life and joy in abundance when we follow Him (John 17:13). Our joy may be tied to our experiences in CampToons, but it is not only at CampToons that joy in Christ can be experienced. I believe a big reason we find so much joy during such serving opportunities, is because we are living out what God has designed us to do – to abide in Him, to be united in community, and to be on mission in this world.
In John 17, Jesus gives a final prayer to his Father for His disciples. In this prayer, he essentially prays for three things: our abiding in God, our unity as a community, and our mission in the world. He prays we would receive the Word (17:6-8), be sanctified in it (17:17), and know God more fully (17:24-26). He prays that we would be united as a church as Jesus and the Father are one (17:11,20-23). And He prays that we would not be taken out of the world (17:15-16), but sent into the world (17:18), so that the world would know the Father (17:21-23). These three things are Jesus’ final prayer for the Church, and I believe our joy is directly tied with our living them out (17:13).
The best question we can ask, then, is not “How can I ‘get back’ to Camp?” but rather, “How can I live out these purposes as a believer beyond Camp?”CampToons is an amazing ministry that spreads the Gospel to young kids throughout our neighborhood; but CampToons is not ultimate – giving God glory by delighting in Him is. Our feelings of emptiness are felt not necessarily because we are no longer in CampToons, but because there may be a gap between our lives in the summer and our lives during the year. Instead of wishing we were back at CampToons, let’s seek to close that gap by living out Jesus’ desires for us: Abiding in Christ, Unity in Community, and Mission in the World.
Abiding in Christ
It might be because of Camp that you spent time studying the Word, but it is not only during Camp that we can study the Word. You’ve spent considerable time each week studying the Word; don’t lose that time spent abiding in Christ. Set aside a regular time to read the Word, to study it, and to consider how it applies to your life. Make it a commitment to be at Sunday School, where we weekly equip you to be better students of Word. Feed off the Word regularly, long to be with Jesus, and remember that when we abide in Christ, we will bear fruit, fruit that often leads to joy.
Unity in Community
One of the biggest gaps we feel between Camp and school is that in time spent with our church community. Camp makes it easy because we spend nearly every waking moment with one another. School is much different as we are not surrounded 24/7 by other Christians. So how do we close the gap in this area?
First, this means that we need to commit to being together. We might not be able to be together during the year as much as during Camp, but we cannot hope to experience the unity of the church if we never spend time together. One of the saddest things for me to see is people falling away from the church. This spiritual “falling away” is almost always accompanied with a physical falling away. Not committing to meet regularly with other believers is one of the biggest mistakes we can make if we hope to be unified as a church, and see joy increase as a result. Commit this year to regularly being at church on Sundays for worship and Fridays for Youth fellowship. Make time outside of Fridays and Sundays to spend with your small group or other believers. If being in community is one of Jesus’ priorities for us, then we can make it a priority for us as well.
Second, this means acting like a community that’s unified. Just because we are not with each other 24/7 doesn’t mean we can’t experience love and unity with other believers throughout the week. Part of your unity with your groups the last six weeks were due to your care for one another and your desire to see each other succeed (think: late night Skype sessions, encouragement notes, the oh-so-exclusive Secret Sisters Society, and the not-so-effective PDA – Public Disciples Association). Take time during your day to text one another, send each other a message, and encourage each other to walk with Christ.
Mission in the World
Finally, one of the greatest reasons we’ve felt joy this past summer is because of our unswerving commitment to the mission of CampToons: To mature disciples of Christ who will make disciples for Christ. It is the single-minded focus of giving God glory by making disciples that completes our purpose – and our joy – as believers in this world.
One of the biggest “gaps” I’ve experienced in my life between CampToons and my daily life is in this area of sharing the Gospel. It is so easy to share the Gospel when my sole purpose of serving is to do so; but once I get back to reality, my life can get distracted with everything but sharing the Gospel. Since coming to this realization, I’ve tried to see everyday as being on mission for the Gospel. If Jesus commissioned us to “Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations”, then everyday of my life must be shaped by that commission.
How is your purpose as a student, as a child, as a friend, being shaped by Jesus’ commission to go and make disciples? When was the last time you shared the Gospel with a non-believer in your life? Remember that your mission to proclaim the gospel and make disciples does not end with the end of Camp. It’s a mission that will continue with us until the day God calls us home. Live everyday with the sole purpose of making Jesus known through your words and your deeds.
I know it may not seem like a very innovative plan; in fact, it may sound quite ordinary. But I’ve come to believe that joy in Christ is not found when we are always doing something exciting and extraordinary for Jesus; it comes when we are doing “extra” of the ordinary. And the more we commit ourselves to being “ordinary disciples” who abide in Christ, are united in community, and are on mission in the world, the more we will see just how exciting and joyful the Christian life can be.
Love, your Youth Pastor,