Posted by: gbake783 | July 17, 2012

Camp Preaching Confessions

For the second consecutive year I had the privilege of preaching for a Junior High week at Pioneer Bible Camp. Last year’s experience was so overwhelmingly positive that I almost hesitated to do it this year knowing that it could not possibly match up. That’s foolishness, of course. And I was very happy to be wrong. Both weeks were rewarding beyond words; both weeks rank right at the top when I think of ministry highlights.

As a high school, college, and seminary student, I often sat under the preaching of itinerant evangelists, most of whom fill the preaching schedules at good Christian camps. I benefited from their ministry. And when, as a youth pastor, I had the opportunity to meet many of these men personally, I was impressed with their candor, sensitivity, and heart for ministry. But I can’t say I understood them, if I’m being honest.

Two weeks of camp preaching, however, exposed me to the temptations these men face daily. I don’t want to come across as accusatory, but candid about some of the temptations I faced as a camp speaker.

What temptations could a camp preacher possibly face? How can a preacher withdrawn from the world to a beautiful setting, pampered by the camp staff, and besieged by God’s Word possibly succumb to temptation?

Easy.

The temptation? Well, it was two-fold, but very closely related. (1) To be a man-pleaser. (2) To walk by sight and not by faith.

It’s easy to have great motives corrupted. I want the campers to engage excitedly with the Word of God, so I mix in entertaining stories and funny illustrations. I want the kiddos to know I care about them, so I try to get to know them personally and learn as many names as I can muster. But, inherent in those motives is the temptation to become the star of the show. I think this is what Paul was getting at in 1 Corinthians when he wrote that he came to Corinth not with dazzling words of worldly wisdom, but with meekness and lowliness so that nobody but God would take credit for the gospel’s success.

Another great motive – I want the campers to have such a great week that they’ll come back next year. Or better, I want the youth directors to see the surpassing value of a week of camp so they’ll bring their teens back to camp next year. But again, that motive can become twisted – I can be tempted to take a short-sighted view of preaching. It’s enticing to seek short-term decisions over encouraging our young people, as Christ did, to count the cost. Sometimes the seed falls on stoney ground and springs up quickly, but has no depth. What if the sower had tilled the ground a little bit to see where the rocks were? Maybe that metaphor doesn’t exactly fit with the teaching of the passage, but my point is in keeping with Scripture’s ideals – if the goal is fruit production, then ought not the sower take time to create the best possible soil? Are sowers ultimately happy with quick growth, but no fruit? Obviously not. Then why would I create a condition that lends to quick, but ultimately fruitless growth?

I was so impressed with the camp directors – Steve and Rhonda Ransom, who are also members of my church. On Friday night we had a campfire service where the teens give testimony to what God had been doing in their hearts through the week. After the service, which was very sweet, I chatted with Steve, Rhonda, and Tommy Jeffcott (the program coordinator for the week and PBC board member). I heard these three talk about their heart for the campers, discuss the value of teaching that sticks to the spiritual ribs, and what they hope a week of camp will accomplish. It was refreshing and rewarding to hear their perspective.

If you’re a Junior High camper and you sat under my preaching either of these two weeks, I want you to know that I sincerely fought the temptations I listed above, that I count preaching to you a sacred privilege, and that I hope you continue to grow in grace. I hope that you don’t even remember a word of mine, but that you remember a specific passage of Scripture that God used to change you, to assure you, or to challenge you.

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