Written by Craig Linder.
As a new leader at camp, you may feel nervous or under-prepared for what awaits you at camp. Below are some of the most important things I’ve learned about serving campers well.
Time With The Lord
This may seem obvious, but time with the Lord is what will fuel you throughout your day. You will be tempted to get an extra 30 minutes of sleep before breakfast, or the leader meeting, but start your day with the Lord. Waking up early to be in His Word and praying throughout your day is of utmost importance, especially when you get tired. Pray for the needs of your campers, the staff, or whatever it may be. Make your requests known! We need the cross every day. Laying down your life before Jesus will allow you to love your campers in a more Christ-centered way.
Establish Yourself as the Leader
Establishing yourself as a leader can be a scary thing. At first, it may mean that you aren’t as rebellious or cool as they thought you were, but when choosing between friendship and respect, err on the side of respect. Here are some examples: Don’t allow sneaking out; No practical jokes on other cabins; Don’t allow kids to talk or sleep through the message at club. Essentially, anything that seems like a bad idea, or could distract someone else from hearing the full message of the Gospel, kindly shut down. But be wary that you aren’t another one of their parents. They didn’t come to camp to be yelled at by their mom or dad.
Never complain in front of your campers. If you want your campers to have a positive attitude, they need to see how excited you are (to the point where they think you are really weird) for every little thing that happens (even if you really, really don’t want to participate). You should be twice as excited as you expect your campers to be.
Don’t let the campers know the agenda even under the most persistent of pressures. Suspense and surprise are key! Encourage your second-timers to keep the week’s surprises too. And discourage them from comparing this camp to the one that they had been to previously. Encourage them to see camp through the eyes of their friends experiencing it for the first time. One of my favorite lines that my leader said to me when I was a camper is; “Don’t anticipate, PARTICIPATE!”
Know Your Campers
You have been establishing relationships with most of the kids going to camp all year. But camp is a time when you are able to get to know them in a new place, a place unfamiliar to them. During “down times” like the bus ride, or waiting in line for the giant swing or a shake at the snack bar, use the time to get to know new kids or grow deeper with the kids that you already know well.
Ask Key Campaigner Kids to Help
I have always been a fan of delegating responsibilities to solid Campaigner kids. From helping during cabin times to sitting in on some of the one-on-ones, it is a really cool opportunity for them to grow. Also, having the Campaigner kid open up and be vulnerable in a cabin time, or to spur on the conversation when the room gets a little quiet, encourages others to join in the conversation. But it is important to set up that opportunity and let the key Campaigner kids know how important their role is in the cabin. Have that conversation before camp!
- Being prepared starts with prayer. Pray for God to touch the hearts of your campers. Pray for the speaker to be clear. You can never pray too much.
- Try your best to preserve your voice. This is often a difficult task, but I have seen leaders lose their voices on day two or three, and it makes leading the cabin times that much more difficult.
- Set the ground rules for cabin times. Everyone sits on the same level (easier for eye contact); no one lies down; the cabin is a safe place to be honest; be at meetings and clubs, etc. I have always written down all the cabin rules we agree to and ask everyone in the cabin to sign the list. We post it on the door so we see it all the time. It’s never a bad thing to start off your cabin time with a fun question. It opens the floor and allows everyone to talk a little bit.
Your job for cabin times is to lead and direct discussion, not to be a preacher. The purpose of cabin time is to get a better understanding of what the kids are thinking, not to correct their theology. That said, try to keep everyone on track, and don’t let the conversation get too far off-topic. Make sure that everyone in your cabin understands what the speaker has said throughout the week. You don’t have to know every answer. Assure them that being completely loved and accepted without knowing all the answers is the beauty of being in a relationship with Christ.
Remember Why You’re There
The point of camp is to offer our high school friends an unbelievable opportunity to hear the greatest love story ever written! Yes, the food is great. The rides are fun. But nothing can ever compare to what Jesus has done for us. Knowing that, have fun living life to the full with some of the kids that you are able to call friends. This is a week that these guys and girls will remember for the rest of their lives. How cool is it that we get to share in the journey with them!
With your team, prepare some sort of follow-up for up the cabin (or cabins) to help them continue their walk with Christ as they return from camp. That is one of the most beautiful parts of Young Life, we don’t say goodbye to the kids after camp—we come back to the real world to live life with them. Let them know that you will be there, with them and for them, whenever they need you.