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Reading the Bible at Camp

Jun 12, 2015 | Camp Staff

Summer camp staff across the nation are beginning another great summer of serving people of all ages! More than 11 million people will attend camp across the country this summer, most of them children and youth. While nearly all of the summer camps share the common elements of community living, away from home, in an outdoor recreational setting, camps that are intentionally Christian in their identity focus the camp model through a Christian lens. The basic form of Christian camping oftentimes looks remarkably similar to non-Christian camps. Critics sometimes remark that these so-called Christian camps are simply secular camps with a spiritual gloss. They do the same games and activities but sprinkle in a little Bible study and an occasional sing-along that they label worship. A few camps compartmentalize their religious programming from the rest of the schedule in a way that might validate this criticism, but the Christian camps that I have attended do a much better job incorporating faith language and practices into all aspects of camp life. Indeed, last fall’s survey of more than 300 Christian camps shows that 92% of directors agree or strongly agree, “Faith formation/practices should be incorporated into all aspects of camp life” (see previous post).

Christian camp staff members are not simply asked to lead their campers from one activity to another or make sure everyone is having fun. They are asked to live their faith in all that they do at camp and help the campers interpret their experiences with faith language. This is a skill that becomes a way of life at camp. It is a skill because an interpretive guide has to be immersed in faith language and practices. It takes practice. A camp staff member who does not regularly pray, read the Bible, or worship will find Christian interpretation challenging. But immersion in the daily rhythm of Christian community at camp makes the counselor’s task as interpretive guide as natural as breathing. We all stand in awe at the wonder of the starry night sky. Some say, “Wow!” The interpretive guide, almost without thinking, quotes Psalm 19: “The heavens are telling the glory of God!”

The Bible can be incredibly intimidating to camp staff members. They have heard so many things about the Bible’s reliability and what parts are more important than others. Besides that, the Bible is HUGE! Are they supposed to know the whole thing? I sometimes find summer staff members (who are usually 19 or 20) who have read the entire Bible. They are great resources to their fellow staff members and their campers, but the majority of summer staffers have come nowhere near reading the Bible cover to cover. And that’s okay. What is not okay is saying things like, “It’s not that big of a deal to know the Bible.” Actually, it is important. Knowing the Bible does not mean knowing every word of it. Knowing the Bible means understanding that there is wisdom there and seeking it, like the treasure buried in the field or the pearl of great value (Matthew 13:44-46). The same passages can teach us in new ways and even surprise us each time we go to them. We read the Bible because we seek to know the one who is revealed in its pages.

In many ways, it does not matter all that much what the summer Bible study theme is. It is wonderful that there is curriculum for helping guide the campers through scriptures, but the curriculum is not as big of a deal as knowing the Bible. You get to know the Bible by opening it and interacting with it. You get to know the Bible by sharing in its wisdom and mysteries with others. When campers see their counselor open the Bible, and together they have a discussion about how particular Bible passages apply to their daily lives, they get to know the Bible. It does not matter if they remember the 3 main points from the Bible study curriculum. It matters that they open the Bible and interact with it.

The true curriculum of camp does not come packaged in a 3-ring binder. The curriculum of camp is in the interaction. The most important times that campers interact with the Bible at camp are when they are not in Bible study. The most important times are on the hike to the overlook or gazing at the starry sky or gathered around the campfire or right after an argument with some cabin mates. The teachable moments are the important times, and these are the times when the camp staff members serve as interpretive guides, connecting what is happening with the story of God’s people found in the Bible.

Each staff member has favorite Bible passages, and they always share these with their campers because the campers can see that they are meaningful. There are others that are camp standards. These are key Bible passages that every camp staff member should know. Some are foundational for the Christian faith and others are particularly relevant for the camp environment. The 10 Bible passages that I believe every camp staff member should get to know deeply for their role as interpretive guide at camp are:

Jake’s Top 10 Bible Camp Passages

Genesis 1: the orderly creation, the image of God, and the day of rest
Genesis 2: humans from the dirt, God’s breath, importance of human relationship
Psalm 139: God’s intimate care for each person
Ecclesiastes 4:9-12: the value of human relationship
Luke 15: the lost coin, lost sheep, and lost brother
John 1:1-34: the Word becomes flesh, John the Baptist points the way
John 13:1-35: Jesus washes the disciples’ feet, the commandment to love each other
Romans 8:18-39: creation waits, Spirit intercedes, NOTHING separates from love of God
Romans 12: body of Christ, marks of Christian discipleship
1 Corinthians 12: Church as body of Christ, every member is important

As honorable mentions, I’ll throw in the creation psalms: Psalm 8, 19, and 104.

Interact with these passages (along with your personal favorites). Get to know them. Use them to relate what is happening at camp with the story of God’s people and God’s love for the world. Part of knowing the Bible is knowing that we are a part of this amazing story. Bringing the words of God to bear on the teachable moments reminds us that we are caught up in this story. The Bible does not contain dead words on a page but rather the Word of God. This word is not dead but rather is living and active (Hebrews 4:12). Christian living at camp is transformative because it is not compartmentalized (such as Sunday v. the rest of the week OR Bible study v. the rest of the camp day) but, rather, is integrated. Everything that we are, our lives, are caught up in the movement and activity of God. That is the sort of Christian living that can make a difference in this world, and it is something the church desperately needs to relearn. Camp is one of the primary places where this can happen.

1 Comment

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    Ah, well said, your sincerity and commitment to the camp way of life is very evident.


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