As many of you know, last week our high school ministry went to church camp where we enjoyed a truly wonderful time. We received good teaching, solid corporate worship opportunities, and excellent food at least three times a day. We laughed a lot and prayed together daily. We played volleyball; we progressed through the challenges of the ropes course; we went swimming and skateboarding; we even had impromptu “Baptist appropriate” in-cabin dance-offs. It was a fun week, a busy week, and a week that produced many great memories. Yet despite all I’ve listed above, the best part of our experience was not officially on our itinerary, nor was it found in the church camp guidebook.
Our students and leaders were divided into several smaller discussion groups. We had scheduled for our groups to be able to debrief a couple of different times throughout the day – once in the morning and again just before bedtime. But like I said, these times were planned and the best part of our camp experience was not, for it couldn’t be. It wasn’t the small groups, but the closeness that developed within the people that made up our groups. We can pray for this to happen, we can work to facilitate an environment where such intimacy can take place, but there is no way to guarantee that it will.
By God’s grace many students had a breakthrough in how they were able to relate with each other. They entered the week reserved and unsure about their peers, but by week’s end they had grown far more vulnerable and transparent with one another. But what truly made this growth so beautiful is that it overflowed into the more casual moments as well. I watched students getting together with their friends on the deck before dinner; I noticed students bending the ear of their leaders on the cabin steps; kids of different schools and grades intermingled and bonded together in ways that Sundays and Wednesdays simply cannot provide.
See there is something about time and proximity. When people take the time to be with one another, when they are able to share life’s experiences together, defenses are lowered and the walls of separation come down. With some time and effort, with some intentional focus and direction, intimacy can be formed. And it was this kind of closeness that made my heart swell with gratitude toward God. I’ve seen it before, but it especially grabbed my attention this time around. Perhaps it was because our time in the Scriptures continually highlighted our need for connection. For if we are striving to make much of Christ by putting our sin to death and pressing into Him more deeply to fulfill our call of reaching the nations with the hope of the gospel to the glory of God, then meaningful fellowship of the saints is more than some superfluous accessory for life, it is the primary vehicle used to carry us down the straight and narrow path of faithful obedience.
It was good to laugh and play last week. I think we all enjoyed the delicious food and fun times with friends. All of those things are desirable things that most people want to experience. However, the most significant part about camp was our revealed need for deeper belonging. There is something about being known, becoming vulnerable. When someone can lay their cards on the table in honest transparency and discover that they are still loved and valued, despite previous hurts and past mistakes, it is both liberating and empowering. Yet this kind of thing takes time and proximity. It doesn’t happen overnight, but it can begin to manifest itself after three or four days and nights of walking closely with one another. My prayer for you and I is the same as what I’ve asked for our students. May we make the necessary adjustments to our schedules to position ourselves for this kind of growth. Might we both commit and submit ourselves to real, gospel-driven, life-giving relationships where we can get to know and be known by others. For this best part of camp is one of the best parts of life. May we seek to make much of Him, as we do this life together.