camps are the best!!


When I was 7 years old I made my own response to Jesus at a camp. Mum & Dad were Camp Parents at a teen camp which meant I got to tag along and I can still recall many details of the moment when I was touched by Jesus in a personal, powerful way. 

Camps were a significant part of my faith journey as a youth. I lived in a small country town where only a handful of teens were part of my church. It was incredibly important for me to connect with a broader network of Jesus followers to ground and inspire my faith as I navigated my teen years. 25 years later some of the people I met at those camps are some of my closest friends and key players in my continuing God-story. 

As a Youth Pastor I have seen and championed the value of camping to the discipleship of young people. There are many reasons for their value but I think among the most impactful is the intentional setting aside of time and attention to make oneself open to the plans and purposes of God. 

There’s a new environment – a beach, a mountain, a view – at the end of a physical trip that marks a disconnecting from the routine, familiarity and comfort of home. There’s the need to sign up, save up and plan towards it that builds expectancy for what might happen. There is a new community created for the set time – relationships started and built in that set apart environment. There’s the worship and teaching sessions on a Saturday or Tuesday morning – normal “Sunday” activities engaged in a new way at a new time. There’s a leadership team who have been gearing up for this and are prayerful and hopeful for real God encounters and transformation – giving of their time and money to create an opportunity for young people to experience all that God has for them. 

Research points to camps as being a major contributing factor for faith retention and development. 


Critics of camps will point to the concern that camps generate an artificial spiritual ‘high’. They might observe behaviour afterwards and question whether or not that experience was authentic. I have ridden that wave as both a camper and leader. My belief is that ANY encounter with God is used by Him to draw us closer to Him. We don’t ever return to the same kind of ‘normal’; what we learnt is not un-learnt. The discipleship journey for everyone – particularly young people – is a series of steps and missteps as our faith increases and our personal story of God expands. 

I can’t recommend camps highly enough. The research is in. The testimonies are strong. The investment of time and money is worth the reward it reaps. 

What about you? How have camps been part of your faith journey? What involvement have you had in seeing camps impact others? What resources have you found to make camps most effective? 

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being who you needed 


When you think back to your younger years you can, no doubt, identify the people who were most influential in your life …and also the glaring absences of significant adult input in areas you perhaps needed them most. 

“Be the kind of person you needed when you were younger.”

This quote resonates with me as a way to frame our reflections to position us to be the best navigators we can be (you can read more about that here – navigating life’s rough water). As we consider what we EXPERIENCED and also what we LACKED we can be more dialled in to those things in the young people entrusted to our care – be they family, friends, students or members of our ministries. 

  • Someone to validate (and help me understand) my personality

I spent most of my teen and young adult life being criticised for my personality. You’re so loud! Why are you always so happy? Stand still! Stop being so dramatic and exaggerating. I came to accept that my personality was innately flawed. There was no one else like me so there must be something wrong with me. I oscillated through varying degrees of resignation and defensiveness. 

If I could speak to my younger self I would tell her that her Tigger-ness is a gift. That her capacity to see and bring joy and celebration is needed in this world. That her optimism and enthusiasm bring light and life to those around her. I would tell her that she can learn about time, place and volume in order to not inflict herself upon others in negative ways. I would tell her that others aren’t like her and she needs to understand them and help them understand her. 

  • Someone who asked questions about who I was hoping to become

Teenagers don’t have the capacity to see very far into the future. That’s not a criticism, it’s a natural function of their forming brain. Teens are not able to perceive consequences to choices, to see value in waiting for a better option or to understand how each decision they make is shaping the person they will become. 

If I could speak to my younger self  I would ask her to keep describing and refining the future she sees or hopes for. Who she wants to be – family, work, faith, reputation, character, relationships. So that she would have a filter to process decisions and reactions through. Does this lead you to who you want to be? Does this shape your character and your reputation in a positive way? She may not listen to me – but that wouldn’t stop me asking!

  • Someone who could help me understand myself. 

When I was 11 my Dad left our family and, of course, I felt the impact. Part of my response was to be quite needy of male attention and affection and so I fought really hard to get it. I joke (with embarrassment) that I could “flirt for Australia” such was my competency at eliciting the kind of response my heart was seeking from guys. 

If I could speak to my younger self I would tell her that she is enough on her own and that she will never find what her heart is really craving in the places she is looking. I would help her to not let the vulnerabilities of her heart lead her to bad choices and regret. 

  • Someone who identified and encouraged me into my gifts 

Growing up I was blessed to have people who released me to explore my giftings and passions. I was only 15 when I led worship for the first time in our church and younger than that when I was given responsibility for the babies and toddlers ministry. I was constantly affirmed for my natural capacity to engage with kids and given leadership roles at school. I was given scope to explore my sporting abilities and also those in musical arts. 

If I could speak to my younger self I would remind her how blessed she was to have those opportunities and keep encouraging her to maximise the chances to experiment and engage. I would mentor her more intentionally to learn and grow in her understanding of God’s hand on her life and His desire to use her for His Kingdom purposes. 

What about you? How do you reflect on the people you had or needed when you were younger? How might that shape the way you invest in younger people in your world?

navigating life’s rough water


Have you ever been whitewater rafting? Its a high adrenalin activity where you jump in an inflatable raft and hurtle down a river. The whitewater or rough patches of water come where high current waters hit rocks, obstacles and banks and, when combined with significant drops, they make navigation quite difficult. It’s considered an extreme sport. 
When you make the decision to pay someone to let you risk your life in this fashion, you are given a guide or a navigator. He or she gives you the basic instructions and lets you know the directions they’ll be shouting at you as they try and get you to the end of the river run in one piece. 

A friend and I had this experience in New Zealand a few years back. The water was freezing and the terror real in amongst the patches of smooth water where we floated merrily along and were able to take in the stunning views and peaceful surrounds. 

I think in life as in whitewater rafting the role of navigator or guide is crucial. But I think in life, we are much less attuned to our need to have one or be one – in whitewater rafting there’s a sense your life depends on the guide – you’re listening and responsive!

Parents, mentors, teachers, leaders and anyone older or more experienced than ourselves can be as life impacting as a navigator guiding us down a dangerous river. 

“Up ahead there is a sharp drop and then the current will want to pull us left … When you hear me call it, we’re going to want all of us at the back of the raft and then we’re going to be ready to paddle out.” The navigator has been down this river before. The navigator has tried or seen different ways to handle this potential danger spot and has some tips on how to get through it most safely. The navigator knows and embraces their role to keep all participants safe while also letting them have an exciting adventure. 

There is nothing that we encounter on the ‘river’ of life that others haven’t seen or experienced before us. What a tragedy it is as adults to watch young people fall into the same traps, be surprised by the same big drops or to be so furiously paddling through smooth waters they don’t take time to enjoy them. 

We need to embrace our role as navigators for anyone who would come behind us. Yes, there is a need for people to sometimes learn through experience of failure or error but to let others fly head long into what we know to be dangerous or damaging without at least giving a shout out is neglectful and, well, mean. 

We need to nurture relationships that position us to be influential voices in another’s life. I feel like my greatest success in this area has come through honest sharing of my failures and wounding. I once had a young person say of a particular part of their journey that was similar to mine “I just want to make sure I don’t do what you did” – it stung a little, but ultimately? I don’t want them to do what I did either. 

We need to invite the navigator to speak into our lives and circumstances. We need to embrace with humility the learning and wisdom others can impart from their journey.

 

Why we do what we do …

The most powerful driving force in our lives, what motivates us more than anything else, is our need for love. We are all addicted to love. Our greatest needs (beyond the physical stuff required to sustain life) centre around love; our need for value and acceptance and to know a sense of inclusion and belonging. Fundamentally, everything we do comes out of this core need. We may all express it in different ways, but at the heart of us all is an overwhelming yearning for love.

The reason we are all the same in this is because that’s how God created us! He made us to experience and enjoy intimate relationship with Him that would be fuelled and secured by the most incredible love. Where our value, belonging, sense of self, position and purpose would all be found in relationship with Him and in light of all HE is.

The problem came, way back in the garden, when ‘we’ turned our back on God and made it impossible to be in intimate relationship with Him.  The incredible gift of Jesus to us made it possible to be restored – but the reality of our brokenness and fallenness is we don’t experience the fullness of this relationship on earth as it will be in Heaven.

So we go looking to fill the void that is left. In varying degrees we find ourselves filled with God’s love, satisfied in His heart and thoughts towards us and the Spirit’s presence in our lives. But there is a shortfall.

While we are all the same in that we each HAVE a “Love Void” – we are also each unique in how it is shaped, how it will manifest and where we will look to fill it.

This is shaped by so many different factors: age, gender, life experiences (positive & negative), upbringing, intellectual and emotional development/capacity, country and culture, health status, spiritual life and experience … so many things that impact how our Love Void presents in our lives.

EXPERIENCES – FEELINGS – BEHAVIOURS

All of our life choices, our behaviours, attitudes and responses follow this similar pattern. Something happens – an ‘experience’ – that could be positive or negative, helpful or harmful … and it will illicit an emotional response – a ‘feeling’ – happy, sad, rejected, affirmed etc (again, all unique to us – the same experience can result in varied emotional responses for different people) … and this shapes our behaviour.

For example, we experience the loss of a friend (for any reason – death, falling out, moving away etc) which causes feelings of grief and loss, sadness and loneliness which leads us to behavedifferently as a result. We might become more guarded, less likely to open up to a new friendship. We might become more clingy and needy or more protective and cautious. We might become more thankful and celebrate life more in light of an increased knowledge of how fleeting it can be.

EVERY behaviour is borne of a feeling which is informed by an experience – inclusive of our ‘experience’ of God. How we do relationships, the lifestyle choices we make, how we spend our money, how we approach study and success, how we engage in faith and church life, where we work, where and how we live … all of these things are behaviours that are fuelled by feelings which are sparked by experiences. And in the engine room, the mechanism that is generating all of the motivation and activity, is our need for love.

God invites us to draw from Him, to gain our sense of self, value, acceptance, belonging and love in Him. He is unchanging, His heart towards us is love, and He is faithful. By His Spirit He works with us to refine and mature us and to use all of our experiences for our good and His glory.