Making Summer Camp Meaningful: A Youth Pastor’s Perspective

Summer CampThis summer youth across South Florida will flock to summer camps of all kinds. It’s a time many of us look back on with fond memories and joy. Pastor Brody Howell will be leading a group of teenagers from First Baptist Church of Pompano to Ridgecrest North Carolina for a transforming week of camp. But for Brody, what will make this trip so nostalgic is that it will be the 15th Summer Camp he has lead over the past 16 years. In 2010, Pastor Brody took his passion and experience for camp to local churches to help organize and lead them to camp as a consultant.

As the South Florida summer sunshine quickly approaches, camp is one way to provide an alternative from the lazy days of summer and Pastor Brody shares from his heart and experience with The Good News on why teenagers, parents and churches should consider camp as part of the summer calendar. For a listing of local camps, visit our SUMMER CAMP GUIDE.

 

Good News: Over the years, you’ve had a lot of experience with summer camps. Can you explain how you became involved with summer camps and what some of your roles have been?

Pastor Brody: My first camp experience was in 1991. I was a new believer and serving in the student ministry at First Baptist of Fort Lauderdale. I was invited by the Youth Pastor to be a camp chaperone in Leesburg, Florida, and that week was the most exhilarating week, seeing how God could used me to make a positive impact on the teenagers. I was assigned as a chaperone to the middle school students; one was a little sixth grader named Luke who is now the Youth Pastor at Grace Baptist Church.

Even as a young volunteer chaperone, I sensed a God-sized vision in my heart to one day lead camps. Over the past 16 years, I have gone from volunteering to leading camps as large as 400 students and volunteers.

 

Good News: You obviously value the camp experience. Can you tell us why you feel summer camp is helpful to students and at what age do you recommend they start?

Pastor Brody: Camp provides students with an opportunity to break away from the daily distractions of life. Whether camp is local, out of the county or out of state, teenagers need what I call a, “clearing out all of the noise.” Our minds get crowded with so much noise: peers, music, technology, school, etc.. Getting away for a camp experience gives teenagers an opportunity to clear that out so they can hear from God. Nature, fellowship, worship, Bible study and preaching gives way for the Holy Spirit to speak into their lives without the noise that can block out God.

Leaving home and the security of parents can make for a very scary experience for kids and parents. Parents should take advantage of any short trips that churches offer to elementary school age so that when kids are in their preteens, they have overcome their fear and separation anxiety.

 

Good News: There are a lot of types of camps out there. How can parents decide what the best camp is for their child? What are some key elements to look for in a camp?

Pastor Brody:  Purpose, cost, location and security are always the key factors in deciding on what camp is right for parents and their kids. I’ve always believed that camp should be a balance of “outreach” and “discipleship.” In other words, I want camp to be a place in which “unchurched” and “unbelievers” will enjoy camp and have opportunities to respond to the Gospel. While at the same time, church kids will be challenged to grow deeper in their faith and discover God’s will.

Parents should have a clear understanding of the purpose behind the camp with no surprises. In other words, what is the overall theme, doctrine and teaching that is going to be presented at camp? And security means that the church hosting the camp has done due diligence to provide a safe camp environment that has done background checks on all of the volunteers and chaperones, and has a clear set of rules to keep everyone safe.

 

Good News: Should there be any follow up for parents with their kids after camp?

Pastor Brody: In past camps, I have communicated with parents throughout the week, sometimes through a live feed during the program and other times through Facebook and Twitter posts. This communication allows parents to be a part of what is going on so they can follow up with relevant communication and questions. A simple strategy for parents is to wait 48 hours and let their kids sleep. Then ask questions like, “What did you enjoy the most?”  “How was the food?”  “What really impacted you?”

 

Good News: How can you make camp a possibility on a tight family budget or with multiple kids, and is it worth the sacrifice?

Pastor Brody: Over the years, I’ve made sure that the camp budget is feasible for families. It does no good to provide a trip that has so many bells and whistles that it takes on an unrealistic cost for families. I also provide scholarship funds and allow families with real financial burdens to apply for some of the funding. The cost to send a kid to camp is well worth the investment. Life changing moments and lifelong friends are made at camp. So the efforts to save up for camp and for side jobs for students such as mowing yards and babysitting will have super spiritual and social returns.

 

Good News: Can you share some of your most memorable camp experiences?

Pastor Brody: Leading thousands of teenagers and empowering hundreds of volunteers has provided for a lot of memorable experiences. Shaving cream wars, extreme outdoor games, skits and dramas, seeing students overcome their fears, super complex water slides, gut-wrenching fun on wave runners, campfire revivals, amazing worship experiences, and consuming thousands of tater tots are all some of my memories. But the greatest memory of camp is seeing the hundreds and hundreds of teenagers surrendering their lives to Jesus Christ. Whether it happened through a one on one conversation with a camp counselor, or through a worship service invitation, there is no greater joy than for me to see lives being changed during a week at Summer Camp.

 

Pastor Brody Howell is the President of Core Solutions for Family Life; providing consulting services for churches that are seeking to effectively reach families and youth.  Pastor Brody is also an Area Advisor for First Priority of South Florida.  He can be reached at brody.howell5487@gmail.com

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