Because life is a series of edits

Lessons from the Wilderness

In Nature, Places, Writers on October 24, 2011 at 12:04 am

Got an email today from an old acquaintance from back during my Christian camp and conference center days. Here's what he wrote:

Hey, maybe you could offer some advice on an article I've been asked to write for 3CA (Christian Camp and Conference Association). I'm writing on "best practices" of how those who work at Christian camps and conferences can grow and nourish their own faith. From your experience in Christian camping, would you do me a favor and answer a few quick questions?

How can they do it?

What might it look like (paint a word picture from your experience)?

Any particular Scripture that inspires you in this area?

Here's what I wrote back (complete with a pic from my old program director days – circa 2004 – and a trivia question: Can you name the Christian pseudo-celebrity in the picture?):

God Knows What Retreat

From what I remember about my time in the 3CA world, the biggest irony of camp and conference work is its potential personal hypocrisy: working ridiculous hours so others can get away from their ridiculous hours; never wanting to recognize one's own limits (physical, emotional, intellectual, spiritual) while encouraging others to repent of their anger at theirs; downplaying one's need for the Church and Sabbath while trying to meet them for others.

Christian camp and conference workers – much like health care professionals or pastors – can be the worst patients. Go to a 3CA conference and check out the physical shape so many directors and staff are in. While harder to measure, the same reality is often true of their spiritual shape (or at least it was of mine): little discipline in Scripture reading and meditation, less dependence in prayer, rare trust or submission to elders of a local church, and minimal personal evangelism. When camp and conference workers lack resolution in their own lives in these or other areas – all while trying to solve the same problems in others' – they risk hypocrisy. This was the tension I felt and fought for years on a daily basis.

In terms of solutions, for me, "best practice" started with personal repentance before God and others that a self-made martyrdom and "Oh, Lord, beat me so I'll feel better" mentality was far from biblical, as it made ministry more about me than about God and those he might use me to help.

Practically speaking, regular reassessment of (or perhaps creation of) job descriptions, evaluations of schedules, and emphasis on personal and communal responsibility to ensure that all heed Christ's call to "Come with me by yourselves (plural) to a quiet place and get some rest" (Mark 6:31) is foundational, but must be committed to and carried out at all levels of the organization to really be effective.

I can think of no better warning for camp and conference center staff than this quote from C.S. Lewis:

"Those like myself, whose imagination far exceeds their obedience are subject to a just penalty; we easily imagine conditions far higher than any we have really reached. If we describe what we have imagined we may make others, and make ourselves, believe that we have really been there."

In my mind, this is and always will be the potential curse of the camp and conference center staff, but it takes courageous leaders to call it what it is and care for their staff (and themselves) in honest ways concerning it.

Felt good thinking through some of that – should probably do more before I forget some of those lessons (there's plenty of opportunity for personal application here and now).

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  1. I know who it is.

  2. There’s a dude in the back who kinda looks like Mike Warnke, tho’ that’s probably not right.

  3. I’ll give you a hint, Jake: it’s a dude (and not a dudette) that we’re talking about here.

  4. Christian pseudo-celebrity — Craig Dunham?

  5. Rhymes with John Stiller.

  6. Can’t believe no one got this. The big guy in the grey sweatshirt is Donald Miller, author of Blue Like Jazz. This picture was taken at the Searching for God Knows What retreat, just before that book (which I thought was better than Blue Like Jazz) came out.
    Best compliment from a conferee at the time: “This was like the independent films of conferences.” Yes.

  7. Ah, now I see it. He wrote a book called Prayer and the Art of Volkswagen Maintenance that my mom bought for me in high school. Love Donald Miller (tho’ Mike Warnke would have been a cool celebrity too :)
    J

  8. Yeah, he is Donald Miller alright!

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