Why You Can't Stay At Church Camp Forever
- A big emotional experience once or twice a year.
- Feeling like you can hear God's voice clearly at camp, but cannot hear Him the rest of the year.
- Making a commitment to read your Bible more every year at camp but "falling off the wagon" by the time school starts.
- Making close friends with the people in your youth group during the summer months but returning to friendships where you are less challenged during the school year.
- A desire to serve God that does not last.
- Committing to love your neighbors better and then getting into a huge fight with your parents approximately 1.6 seconds after getting off the church bus.
I was writing from a college campus this week where a student camp was going on. As I sat in the student union, I kept one eye on my laptop and one eye on the end of camp festivities. Girls were braiding each other's hair. Fellow campers were signing each other's camp shirts. I witnessed a couple of long and tearful goodbyes from camp couples who had clearly met and fallen hard for each other in the past week (sigh).
It brought back a flood of memories from my own camp experiences. (I heart church camp 4-ever!) I accepted Jesus as my Savior at camp when I was fifteen. I looked forward to camp all year long for every summer after that. After college I married a youth pastor, and we took students to camp eleven years in a row. I loved watching how God could work when we retreated from normal life.
But I often got mountaintop syndrome. It's a common condition. It happens when we gorge ourselves on Jesus/the Bible/worship/Christian fellowship once or twice a year and then starve ourselves of those things during the fifty-one weeks between camp experiences. God seems so close to use during camp, but we just can't seem to keep it that way.
It's not a new phenomenon. In fact Peter had a bit of a church camp moment in Luke 9:28–35. Jesus took Peter, James, and John on a mountain retreat. While they were there, Jesus was transfigured before their very eyes. (Oh and Moses and Elijah showed up from the dead to chat with Him.) Talk about a God encounter!
Peter didn't want it to end, so he said, "Master, it is good that we are here. Let us make three tents, one for you and one for Moses and one for Elijah."
Peter was saying, "Let's stay on this mountain, Jesus. I always want it to be this way." He even offered to pitch tents for Moses and Elijah. I doubt they would want to trade heaven for an all dude campout, but it was a nice thought.
We often feel like Peter after mountaintop experiences in our faith. We want to stay where Jesus is easy to see and God's voice seems loud. We want to live where the heroes of our faith such as our youth pastors, our camp counselors, or our small group leaders are right there with us to keep us from falling short. We want to live in little tents where we are protected from the pressures that make being a Christian hard. But we cannot stay on the mountain.
Jesus didn't take Peter up on his offer to pitch a tent. He and Peter walked back down the mountain that day because Jesus had work to do—kingdom work that could not be done from the safety of a mountain tent.
I hope you have great camp experiences this summer. I hope you are revived and encouraged in new ways. But avoid the temptation to wish you could live on the spiritual mountain forever. Camp isn't the feast; it's just a training ground to do big work for God's kingdom this year.
For some practical tips on how to avoid mountaintop syndrome, be sure to check out tomorrow's post. In the meantime, we'd love to hear from you. Do you have plans to go to camp or on a mission trip this summer? What's your experience with mountaintop syndrome?