I decided to become a youth minister when I was a camper at summer camp. The camp was a small, under-funded, very-little-to-do-there place high in the Sierras that my church’s youth group attended each year. Our cabin’s counselor that week was the camp speaker—a theology professor from a Baptist Bible College, of all things—who didn’t spend much time with the dozen rowdy boys in our semi-permanent tent/cabin thingy.
I don’t know why, but in the absence of our theology professor adult figure, I became the default “Counselor” of my cabin. The other guys in the cabin with me were from a different church—and boy were they, umm, “carnal”! I had my hands full all week trying to encourage those guys to keep out of trouble, let alone follow Jesus.
I remember praying a lot that week.
At the end of the week, eight of those guys approached me as a group. I thought maybe they were gonna pound me, but they wanted to give me their drugs, booze, cigarettes, and, uhh, birth control devices so that I could dispose of those items. And, they wanted to give Jesus their hearts and lives.
“Ken, we’ve always thought that Christians had to be boring and lame. This week, you’ve shown us something different. We want what you have.”
Whoa! I had NO idea that living for God could be such a rush! I was more than thrilled!
The last night of that camp, around the campfire, all the students were giving their testimonies and generally working themselves into an emotional state. (I’m sure you know what I’m talking about.) I, on the other hand, couldn’t shake the thought that I wanted to experience again and again the joy I had felt in seeing my new friends come to Christ. And so, I stood in front of that fire and verbally committed myself to a lifetime of youth ministry. (I didn’t realize then what that commitment would mean—to my parents, my future wife and kids, and now, my grandkids. Something about “Be careful what you ask for” comes to mind.)
That fireside comment was made to a group of friends a LONG time ago, and I’m still living out that commitment.
Summer camp is like that. Someone once told me that summer camp is a youth minister’s payday. We work hard, day in and day out, for months and months—and then, we are rewarded at camp. That idea makes sense to me. I don’t get a paycheck every day; it comes only after a couple of weeks of labor. Summer camp IS a youth leader’s payday!