Christian Youth Camp Crackheads Like Me

I was a bit of a Christian youth camp junkie in high school.

If you have spent ten seconds in cultural Christianity you know what I’m talking about.

In my Baptist circle my drug of choice was Student Life Camps, World Changers, Centrifuge, etc. I’m sure the title is different yet camp experience similar for each denominational stream.

youth camp

Typically, it took place during summer. Roughly a thousand kids from youth groups all over the Southeast would congregate in the dorms and facilities of some small private college. We’d have team competitions, breakout sessions and worship services all centered around one verse or tagline. (Acts 1:8, Matthew 28:19-20, “Love God Love People”). The whole camp would build and work towards a crescendo finale on the final night of worship, a perfectly orchestrated altar call.

The speaker was funny, relevant, passionate and was a 10x better story-teller than your poor youth minister or pastor.

The worship was like singing in unison with a billion baby angels accompanied by a good-looking metrosexual worship leader. You raised your hands for the first (and maybe last) time in these services.

You wept at the goodbye of your new camp friends, sang “Friends are Friends Forever,” and promised to keep up through IM and Email (all this literally happened to me).

Now before I sound too jaded and scroogish let me say I was a youth minister or youth minister intern for about 6 years after HS. If you read my testimony, you’ll see God gripped me with his grace at a Student Life Camp before my senior year of HS.

I’m thankful for those soaring-on-eagles-wings experiences God grants us along the treacherous way.

But too many times, during this Christian camp experience, I would just experience the passive contact high of being in what was deemed an anointed environment. I would make all kinds of crazy commitments and rededications because I was finally “on fire” for Christ (“Three hour quiet times, who’s with me?!”). This new flame would last a maximum of two weeks and not even a smoking ember remained after that. By the time school started up there was no discernible change at all my friends could see.

At the soul level I would shrug my shoulders and mark my calendar for the next camp high.

Adults can also fall into this perilous cycle with conferences, movements, and worship experiences. I remember gettin’ it crunk with Chris Tomlin and being transfixed by John Piper during my first Passion conference in ’03 (as an adult).

We’re all a bit like Peter on the Mount of Transfiguration (Luke 9:27-36).

We see a fresh glimpse of Jesus and His disturbing glory and we want to pitch a tent right then and there. (Luke 9:33) “Let’s hang out here for a while Jesus…this is AWESOME!” But we can’t live up on the safe insulated mountain top forever.

At some point, we all have to go back down into the valley where doubts, demons, and a cross awaits us.

That fire may or may not burn with visceral brightness in our hearts as long as we want it to.

That’s okay.

Because it’s not necessarily the fire, but the faithfulness that sustains us. Namely, His faithfulness to us (2 Tim 2:13). His faithfulness in the simple ordinary beauty of everyday life.

Where He blesses the way we kiss our crying kids, serve our angry spouses, wash dishes, pay bills, and listen to a friend in need. These done in love are as much a precious supernatural act as a limb growing back or a glory cloud falling on the assembly.

On this side of eternity, we may visit the mountain top and be thankful to God for it. But we must come down and live in the valley for now.

Where dirty people are.

Dirty people like us who need the pure blood of a gracious Savior to wash us anew in the sweet day by day.

Bryan Daniels


Author: Bryan Daniels

I am a follower of Jesus, a husband to Jessica, and a father of three boys: Josiah, Gideon and Judah. I teach high school math as a job, read reformed theology as a hobby, and write this blog just for kicks. With the rest of my time I coach football and track.

4 thoughts on “Christian Youth Camp Crackheads Like Me”

  1. Thanks for this very honest post. Most of the time in my youth, I always felt like I was on the outside of the Church youth groups looking in. You’ve verified my own observations of what happened back then, and it’s good to know that Christ’s Faithfulness is never ending.

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