Summer camp. For many of us who are parents, it is only a fond memory. Some of my greatest spiritual decisions and lifelong friends were made at camp. Perhaps you never had the opportunity to experience the fun, excitement and spiritual challenge of a church summer camp. The goal of camp is to take young people to a setting where they can be with other Christian youth, sit under the preaching of the Word, be involved with youth counselors, participate in fun activities, and primarily seek for them to make spiritual decisions regarding Christ and life. The challenge every year for all the campers is making those decisions stick once home. As parents, regardless of our own past experiences, we play a crucial role in fostering the appropriate environment to help our children’s spiritual decisions stick. None of us want to blow it. Therefore, this blog will provide you who send children off to camp this summer help with your child offering some basic reminders for spiritual growth, helpful dos and don’ts, and specific ideas for encouraging the growth of your child.
Basic Reminders for Spiritual Growth
Growth is a Process
Sometimes it is easy to forget the importance of understanding the growth process. Just as it takes your child 31,536,000 seconds each year between birthdays, spiritually your child’s growth takes time as well. It would be so convenient if God would send them to us already mature; however, his plan does not include instant growth. Definitely, the parenting task is more like a marathon than a sprint, more like an oven than a microwave, more like a process than an event. Therefore, it is essential to see the big picture. Just as Rome was not built in one day, everything does not have to be accomplished today in your child’s life. Your focus can be on the big picture rather than the minutia of daily living.
It has been said to pay attention to which way the feet are pointing. Inevitably, a person is going to go in the direction of his/her feet. That is great advice for helping your child upon returning from camp. Which way is he pointing? What is he passionate about? Where is his excitement? Does he desire to honor God in his daily living? Does he want to spend time with other godly friends? Does he want to hang out at the church with those in leadership? Is he considering how to please God in his future vocational choice? Which way is he heading? If he continues in the direction he is pointing, where does the road lead? As the parent, your goal is to keep your child pointing in a godward direction.
Remember when your child was learning to walk. Initially it was difficult for him to stand even with you holding his hands. Over time though, he began to pull himself up on anything that would hold him. Then in moments of sheer joy to you as a parent (and of great concern), your child slowly started to get his balance without grasping the nearest object. After a while, balance came more natural and with your encouragement, he took his first step. Then two. Then three. Now, you can hardly keep up with him. One step at a time, your child went from clumsy waddling to running. So it is with spiritual growth, your child will grow into Christlikeness one step at a time. Therefore, we must exercise patience with the process.
Another area we tend to get tripped up on as parents is what I call the self-counsel process. By self-counsel, I mean the examination of your own heart (i.e., thoughts, motives, desires) and behavior by taking the penetrating light of God’s Word and letting it carefully expose every part of your life (Colossians 3:16). The self-counsel process brings to bear which direction you are heading. Many times what we desire as parents for our children, we unintentionally fail to model. Each one of us would boldly proclaim the goal of seeing our children grow in Christlikeness (Romans 8:29; Colossians 3:10), becoming a young man or young lady that pleases God. Yet, there are times we do not carefully exhibit those same qualities in front of our children. Much like a boat naturally floats with the current downstream, when we as parents are not carefully and specifically evaluating our own lives in relationship to God’s Word, we move away from Christlikeness not toward it (Hebrews 3:12-13). Growing in Christ is hard work and intentional.
In relationship to helping your child stick to his camp commitments, there are several areas where it will be helpful to do careful self-counsel. First, in broadest terms, do you, dad or mom, glorify God? Paul writes, “Whether therefore you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God” (1 Corinthians 10:31). Basically, everything we do in life down to the smallest details either brings or does not bring God glory. To ignore this fact does not change its reality. So as we interact with each other in the home, with neighbors, with supervisors at work, with family, with friends, our interaction either pleases and honors God or not. In actuality, it is easy to forget this basic concept. In so doing, we fail to be the kind of examples that point our children down the path of righteousness. That is why Paul’s words are so powerful when he writes, “Those things, which you have both learned, and received, and heard, and seen in me, do: and the God of peace shall be with you” (Philippians 4:9). If your child is going to have the ability to please God by doing those things that he has learned, received, heard and seen, then in essence God holds you accountable as the model. If your child is going to learn, there must be a godly teacher. If your child is going to receive, there must be a godly giver. If your child is going to hear, there must be a godly speaker. If your child is going to see, there must be a godly example. The reality is that your child catches much more than what you will ever specifically teach.
More specifically, another area of parental self-counsel relates to your priorities as parents. What is important to you as the parent often is functionally transferred to the child. Where formally you may teach your child the importance of God, the priority of the church, and the significance of having a relationship with Christ, by day-to-day living you may teach radically different priorities. Does God enter in your average conversation around the home other than on Sundays? Do you typically arrange your life around the activities and stated priorities of your local church? Does Christ come first in your typical day – your schedule, finances, conversations, friendships, among others?
As if we do not already have enough to work on, there is still an additional area for a parent to consider helping camp decisions to stick. What is your attitude toward the church? What does your child hear you talk about on your way home from church? How do you usually address issues pertaining to the pastor or youth pastor in front on your child? Again, you are looking for inconsistencies in your self-counsel here. Do you formally want your child to be mentored by the leadership of the church, yet in your daily talk entertain attitudes and conversation about the leadership that encourages disrespect from your child toward them? If you do not honor God by respecting the leaders in the church, why would you ever expect your child to do so? It is at this level we must consider our own hearts first as parents before we tackle the decisions and commitments of our children.
Helpful Dos and Don’ts
What To Do:
- Encourage your child (in a positive way) to stay committed and persevere even when in difficult situations. In your encouragement, make sure you are asking quality questions to your child that helps him discover areas where he may have slacked off rather than being more directive in your confrontation. This type of encouragement can help hold them accountable to the decision they made at camp. It is even a good idea to initially let your child know that you are going to come along side him to aid in the endurance process.
- Make sure you recognize your child when he experiences victory with a particular commitment he has made. Look for those successes and be sure to give praise to God for his grace which enables growth in Christ (1 Corinthians 10:13). All praise must be balanced between the individual receiving it and more importantly the God and his grace that enables victory.
- Point your child to Christ for the necessary strength to succeed and stay committed rather than pointing him to self or others. It is the Holy Spirit through God’s wonderful Word that provides the necessary strength to endure. Therefore, we want to keep the child’s focus on Christ through His Word. If we are not careful, we can encourage other sources of strength that will inevitably fail our child, such as, asking the child what others will think if he goes back on his commitment, comparing his progress with others, or pointing to specific individuals as the primary example instead of Christ and the Word.
- Creatively think of ways to give your child opportunities to put in action his commitment. Look for places where your child can do loving deeds for others and serve those around him. It is vitally important for the child to see all acts of kindness and loving deeds as part of his ministry to others – whether the other person is a neighbor or a fellow church member. Life must be lived in service to God and others rather than self (Romans 12:1-8).
What Not To Do:
- Be careful not to dwell on defeats. When your child fails (which more than likely is going to happen), be ready to come alongside your child to encourage the appropriate response. It is discouraging enough for your child already without the parent piling on additional burdens. Your desire should be to see confession and forgiveness of sin primarily when your child does not stick with his commitment to Christ.
- In a negative way, be aware that you do not remind your child of his commitment or decision in such a way that it becomes less than positive for both of you. Sometimes parents can hold a decision made for Christ over the child’s head such that the child resents ever choosing to follow Christ. Instead, you want to hold your child accountable lovingly and gently (Ephesians 4:15).
- You especially do not want to doubt your child’s sincerity. Paul reminds us that true love hopes all things (1 Corinthians 13:4-7). Even if the child has made commitments before and broken them, you do not want to minimize the current decision. Instead, the goal is to see this as part of God’s steadfast effort to grow your child.
- In addition, please be careful not to discourage or dampen the child’s zeal or excitement. It is so easy to let our own failures and struggles influence our words to a child rather than depending upon God’s grace to continue to grow this individual.
Ideas for Encouraging the Growth of Your Child
- Evaluate your family schedule and the child’s to ensure it facilitates time at church for regular church attendance, time to serve others, spend specific time with the pastor, youth pastor and others. As children get older, it is easy to let them be more committed to school sports or work than it is the church. As the parent, it is your responsibility to help order your child’s life to help his schedule represent appropriate priorities. Don’t forget to consider which way your child’s feet are pointing.
- Buy good books and other kinds of reading material that will encourage your child in his decision or commitment. If you do not know what resources are best, ask your pastor, youth pastor, or other leader to provide you with a good list of age-appropriate resources to encourage your child’s growth.
- Seek the help of your pastor, youth pastor or church leader for other ideas. Make sure they know you expect your child’s growth to be team work. You desire what they desire for your child and want to work with them to help maintain camp momentum. Invite them over to spend time with your family. Go on your child’s favorite activity and invite church leaders along for fellowship – be nice and make sure you pay though if it is not free. Communicate your desires clearly so the church leader understands his interaction is welcomed in your home.
Be Encouraged Along the Way
God’s plan is that you and your child will grow in Christlikeness over the next few months. Will you be perfect? No, but God knows that already. Will your child be perfect? No, but God knows that too. His plan is that you would embrace the spiritual decisions and commitments your child made at camp and use them as an opportunity for the entire family to grow in Christ. What a great excuse for us as parents to improve in areas or change in areas where it is needed in order to honor Christ. May God bless you on your journey with your child in upcoming days.
What have you found helpful with your child after camp?
 Throughout the article, the child will be referred to in the masculine sense.
This blog initially appeared in the Baptist Bible Tribune (www.Tribune.org) July/August 2006, pages 18-19. Here is a link to the PDF version of the article: Hey Parents, Camps Over Now What. Craig Kondracki, Sonrise youth pastor, helped me in the writing process.