I can remember attending summer camps as a young middle schooler, anticipating personal spiritual renewal and the opportunity to “get right” with God. Many of my friends and I experienced God in a way we never had before. We were teary-eyed students repenting of past sins and rededicating our lives to God after an emotional weekend devoted to powerful worship, preaching, and close-knit small groups.
Although these revival events, nights, or weekends made a huge impact on us students at the time, they rarely left a lasting impact. The reality of normal life set in quickly as we fell back into the pattern of old sins, spending inconsistent time in God’s Word and with his people.
Summer camps are often viewed as an end instead of a means to spiritual growth. But a single spiritual experience cannot sustain students through the entirety of the school year. Even so, these events are intended to be a spiritual catalyst in the life of students as they mature over time. So how do we fight for sanctification in our students instead of hoping a “spiritual high” sticks?
The adage, “You are who you surround yourself with,” is cliché for a reason. Galatians 6:2 reminds us that when we carry each other’s burdens, we fulfill the law of Christ. A strong foundation of godly peers is a must, especially in the impressionable lives of students facing all kinds of social pressures. Therefore, we have to create structures that encourage and support biblical communities for our students.
Regularly participating in a biblically based community gives way to authenticity and accountability. What systems can you put in place to make it easy for your students to meet on a regular basis to pursue God together? What curriculum could you encourage your students to go through together?
Create a plan for how your students can spend intentional time together outside of weekly worship services. When old temptation or sin patterns return in the lives of our students, the best tool we can give them is accountability with like-minded peers. James 5:16 teaches that when we confess our sins and pray with one another, we find healing and freedom. Evaluate how you are fostering an environment for healthy community. Don’t hope they will hang out on their own—create the space for them.
When we focus solely on fixing our students, their spiritual growth can feel like an unattainable goal. But we have to remember that change doesn’t happen overnight—it takes years. Our focus should be on the small steps students can take toward growing in their knowledge of and heart for God. Encouraging students to practice healthy spiritual habits each day helps focus their attention on God for a lifetime. Here are three habits you can begin to build into your students:
In our oversaturated culture, filled with social media and overbooked schedules, we must encourage our students to build margin in their everyday lives. A busier life is not a more spiritual life. In fact, Jesus taught the opposite in Matthew 11:28–30—his yoke is easy, and his burden is light. Margin for students can look like encouraging them to carve out a day to rest each week. When we look at the way of Jesus, we see that he allowed interruption in his life. He was never too busy to be available. Encourage them to use their free time to read God’s Word and spend intentional, but unscheduled, time with him.
Although we can often view prayer through a legalistic lens, prayer as seen through Scripture was a way of life—Paul encouraged the Thessalonians to pray without ceasing. Prayer is powerful and we have unlimited and unrestricted access to our loving Father. Many students are intimidated by prayer but when they are reminded of God’s heart for their prayers both big and small, they will be encouraged to think about God throughout their day and regularly turn their hearts toward him.
Participating in regular worship both individually and corporately is imperative to the nourishment of our students’ souls. As the gathered church, we can encourage each other and collectively celebrate the goodness of God. We have the honor of encouraging our students to make worship a regular practice. We must also teach students how they can worship through their everyday actions. Don’t let them think worship is just something for Sunday morning or youth group. Students worship God through their extracurricular activities, their interactions with their family and friends, their schoolwork, and every small area of life. No matter what individual worship looks like for each student, we can encourage them to make God the ultimate object of their worship.
While the experience is fleeting, we cannot dismiss or diminish the spiritual growth that takes place at summer camp. But there is work to be done once students return to the realities and difficulties of life at home. Encourage your students to turn the summer camp spark into a flame. By following these practical ways to follow God and remain in fellowship with others, students will be encouraged to take what they learned at camp and continue God’s good work in their lives.
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