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Tag Archives | camp

4 Things To Remember When Dealing With Parents

So this week is HSM Summer Camp. I’m going to be up front with you, I have nothing to do with the planning of it. But the week before we head out, its all hands on deck fro answering questions for students, leaders and mostly parents. For the most part, summer camp runs smooth, but there always is the dreaded “putting the cabins together” and not everyone is going to be happy with everything. That is okay, it is part of it.

All this last week, I would say I spent a good 2 hours on the phone with upset parents. These parents were not out of control; they were just worried because they were looking out for the best interest of their child. My phone calls with parents were great and it got me thinking about how we as youth workers deal with parents and some things we need to keep in mind.

When dealing and communicating with upset parents we need to:

Listen- I have heard of horror stories where parents don’t feel like the youth pastor actually listens to them when they are upset about something. I think one of the most important things we can do is just to listen. Stop talking. Hear them out whether they are being rational or not. Most people think they will get backlash right back so when we don’t respond and hear them out, it automatically lets them take their guard down and allow you to say what you need to say in a loving but clear way. Parents want to know they are being heard.

Affirm – Whether you think so or not, how they are feeling is a real feeling to them. We may not agree with what they are feeling or why they are feeling it, but regardless, it is how they feel. Saying, “I can see how you can feel that way” or “I understand where you are coming from” shows that you are listening and hearing what they have to say.

Inform – Remembering that their feelings are very real to them, we still need to explain why something is a particular way. If it was an oversight, we can apologize and fix it if necessary. If there was a reason you made the choice they are upset about, this is where you would lovingly explain to them why it is that way.

Encourage – We are to partner with parents. We want to listen to them, affirm their feelings, inform them, and then encourage them. If you do the first 3 things, usually the end of the conversation is much different from the upset beginning. It allows us to cool down the confrontation and then turn it into a conversation about the most important thing (and the reason why they are calling you so passionately) their child. We are to speak life into their family whenever we can.

Granted, some conversations don’t always end so nicely. Hopefully you will be able to figure the best way to represent Christ with a passionate parent. But I feel remembering these things while talking with an upset parent will help us get through a difficult conversation and turn it into an encouraging one.

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GUEST POST: Making the Most of Camp Cabin Times


Cabin times: confusing and frustrating youth workers since 1847*. We are told that cabin times are where the “real” ministry happens at camp: the band and the speaker will get students pumped for Jesus, but those late-night group discussions with their counselors will seal the deal.

*This statistic is not supported by science.

This kind of thinking is based in a lot of truth, but it can also create anxiety, undue pressure, and feelings of inadequacy for the counselor when his or her cabin time falls short of powerful expectations.

We just returned from middle school summer camp, where I was reminded again of the challenges of leading a “successful” cabin time. (In a minute I’ll explain why I put successful in quotes.) Thankfully, we brought along some incredible volunteers who were able to share their cabin time experiences and teach me a thing or two about making the most of group discussions at camp.

Here are some of the tips and trips I picked up last week and in previous years while reflecting on my cabin time successes and failures.

  1. Remember that there is no definition of a successful cabin time. You may find yourself frustrated more often than inspired during your cabin time. That’s OK. Even Jesus had trouble getting his group of twelve to focus, and he was spending time with them 24/7. Remember the words of Jesus: “For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them” (Matt. 18:20). Jesus is working in the hearts of your students, even if you can’t see it. Therefore, enter cabin time with a sincere and prayerful heart and great stuff will happen— it just might be more subtle than an outburst of repressed emotion or a student giving his or her life to Christ.
  1. It’s not about you. It really isn’t. It’s about God using you and a bunch of other people to bring students closer to him. Even if a student doesn’t open up to you in cabin time, there are so many other opportunities for them to really experience God at camp. And just because they don’t open up doesn’t mean they aren’t getting anything from the cabin time discussion. So ask God to help you take the pressure off yourself. On the day before camp, pray something like, “God, let your impact in my cabin group be as if I weren’t even there.” Take yourself out of the equation so that God may bring you into his process in ways you would never expect or imagine.
  1. Share your story. This was something my co-leader and I tried last week at camp. During our second evening cabin time, he opened the discussion by sharing his testimony, and there was an immediate change in the temperament of the group. Suddenly, our students’ perception of him went from a leader who had everything figured out to a fellow human being who was struggling through his journey with Christ along with them. Before I could share my story, a student raised his hand and asked if he could share his. After he went, another asked to share. And then another. Suddenly, students were opening up about their past and their family life. I had never seen anything like it. By the end of the week, almost all of our cabin students had shared their stories with the group. And it all started when one of their leaders, a high school senior, opened up about his life.
  1. Let them lead. A few years ago, I led a cabin group of eight high school juniors who had been following Jesus since they were kids. It was like pulling teeth getting them to talk about anything. On the final night of camp, I tried something different. It may have been a Hail Mary after three days of silence; I don’t quite remember what was going on in my mind. But I opened up cabin time by saying, “Tonight, you guys will be leading the discussion. I’m going to stay with you and participate, but I’m not going to ask any questions.” A few awkward seconds passed. Then, one of the juniors turned to the others and said, “OK. What did you guys get out of tonight’s message?” What followed was the best cabin time we had had all week long, even though it was the one I had guided the least. This tactic of letting them lead might not work with a younger group, but don’t be afraid to delegate leadership to your students.
  1. Remember that cabin time isn’t everything. Sure, some of the most powerful stuff at camp can happen during cabin times. But the buck doesn’t stop there. You may find that an impromptu, one-on-one discussion with a student during free time is just the interaction they needed. Maybe you’ll have a couple students who don’t especially connect with you throughout the week, but they really connect with the camp speaker’s messages and experience true life change during chapel. Understand the importance of cabin time but don’t exaggerate it. Keep a humble heart, ask God for excess amounts of patience, and trust that Jesus is there among you, guiding each and every student exactly where he or she needs to go.

Taylor Bird is the Middle School Pastor at Southwest Church in Indian Wells, CA. He has been serving in youth ministry for five years.

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Things Girls Say at HSM Summer Camp

Fun little video we put together to help promote HSM Summer Camp. Silly!


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Get Your Senior Pastor to Help Promote Camp

Bible & Beach 2014 (Parent Promo) from Southeast NextGen Ministry (920) on Vimeo.

LOVE this simple video from Southeast Christian – the senior pastor of the church making the ask of parents to send their kids to camp. We’re taking the simple idea and sending something similar to our parents in 2 weeks. Love it!


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50% Off Camps and Retreats All Week at DYM


This week in our youth ministry we turn the corner into camps, DNow and retreat season! If you’re like us, you’re starting to scour or frantically searching for a conference theme and messages. DYM to the rescue!  We’ve taken 50% off of all of the resources in our camps and retreats category for this week only. Check out a few of them:

  • Oasis – a 4-night Junior High camp I did last summer. Could easily be adapted into a series, or delivered to high school students too. Jesus is the living water.
  • Threads – sermon notes, schedule, prayer night guide and devotional book. Pretty complete resource for  camp/retreat
  • The Word – Not exactly a retreat tool, but a good post-camp resource to help get students in the Word. Might be a good way to have students keep the camp high growth curve moving forward.

Check them all out here … for 50% off!


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All She Needed Was a Hug

She was this confident, popular girl in camp, always surrounded by friends. She didn’t know me, I didn’t know her. I knew a little about her background from what one of the other leaders had shared. And my heart went out to her, even though she looked so confident and composed.

We didn’t have that deep a conversation, we just chatted a little bit when we walked to the bathroom together. It was a very casual conversation about how she was doing, how her life was. But the hurt was there, even if she discussed it without emotion.

But the day after, when it was after midnight and I was dying for some sleep, she came to me. We were sitting outside with a group of teens under a sort of porch, seeking shelter from the drizzling rain. I’d put some blankets around me to stay warm.

She sat down next to me and without saying anything, she snuggled close to me under the blankets. I put my arm around her and she just sat there for more than an hour, her head on my shoulder.

We didn’t say much, I just hugged her. How she missed her mom, this seemingly confident, popular girl.  She just wanted to be held, to feel loved. All she needed was a hug.

We didn’t talk much in the days after either. She sat next to me during dinner once and we joked around a bit on the last night. But when she left camp, I got the biggest hug ever from her, surprising her friends and her dad.

She didn’t need my words, she didn’t need my advice, she didn’t need my theology. She just needed me to hug her and hold her and for a few minutes, be the mom to her that she misses so terribly.

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What Parents Want From You At Camp

Two years ago, I experienced something new in youth ministry.  I stood on the curb in front of the church, waving goodbye as our oldest headed to weeklong summer camp for the first time.  I was not on the bus.  I was a parent who was left behind, unable to take the time away from my work at the Fuller Youth Institute and my remaining children to go myself.

Recently, I was standing on the church’s curb again, but this time I was waving at two buses as our two oldest went to camp.

Based on what our church has done to support families in the midst of camp, or what I wish they would have done, I have some ideas for how parents and youth ministries could better partner for more long-term results in camps.  No one youth ministry can do all of these ideas, but I’m guessing most could add one or two of these ideas to the camp experience.  Not only would these ideas increase the fruit from camp, they would likely generate good will and a sense of partnership with parents that would last for months to come:

  1. Ideas on how to talk to my kid about camp beforehand.
  2. Special tips on how to prepare my kid ahead of time if it’s their first time gone from home for that long.
  3. Specific ways I can support my kid during camp such as sending care packages (please provide the address and the timeframe so I know when I should be mailing the packages), or giving them gifts or notes to open each day.
  4. Pictures!  Pictures!  Pictures!  During the week, I’d love to see pictures of the kids.
  5. Ideas on how to pray during the week, ideally correlating with the content theme of the day.
  6. Some sort of daily update (via social media or a voice mail I could call into) that gives a few highlights and a sense of what God is doing.
  7. Questions I can ask my kid when they return.
  8. A summary of what themes and portions of Scripture were studied.

If you’re a parent, what else do you want at camp?  If you’re a youth leader, how else have you tried to partner with parents at camp? 

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Youth Ministry & Parenting: Should we bring our own kids to camp?

Fields' kids 2As I write this, two of my three kids are at camp. The 24 year old is on a youth ministry staff where she has been in charge of running this particular camp, and her 21 year old brother went to help out (a last minute counselor cancellation).

My kids know camp. My kids love camp.

They should… they are children of a youth pastor.

They tagged along to camp before they could walk and have seen just about every time of camp/mission trip/overnighter there is. I loved having them there and they loved being there.

FAST FORWARD: Today, fortunately, all 3 of my children love and follow Jesus, value the collective gathering we call church, have deep/meaningful friendships, love their family, and even enjoy their parents (which talking about that is the easiest way to get me to cry).

I realize all of that could change at any time.

I talk with youth workers almost every day, and this summer it seems like I spoke with more insecure youth workers/parents than normal. My use of the word “insecure” is different than you might imagine–I don’t mean they couldn’t look me in the eyes. I mean they were insecure in their parenting/youth ministry decisions.

PAUSE: I understand the fear of raising kids in the ministry… for Cathy and I, working with teenagers was a form of birth control early in our marriage. I always wondered, “Are my kids going to be freaks because they grew up in youth ministry?”

Here was the most common question I heard: “Are we doing the right thing by bringing our own kids to camp?”

I’m sure there are many who disagree with me, but that specific question is always met by an immediate “yes” from me. Yes. Yes. Yes.

A significant part of who my kids are (now, as young adults) is because they were constantly surrounded by amazing people (teens & adults) in fun environments (like camp!). I believe one of the key factors in their faith development was watching older “kids” live and fail in their pursuit of Jesus on these trips. As PK’s, my kids went to school on other kids.

Today, many of our friends will ask how we infused a heart for the world into our children (they ask because all of my kids frequent Africa). I’m not exactly sure, but I know that every Spring Break (from when they were in the womb all the way to teen years) they would join us as we ministered in impoverished communities in Mexico. I’m not positive that’s why they have a missional world view–my theology leaves a lot of room for God’s Spirit outside of our parenting decisions–but, I know taking them along contributed.

I realize that this broad-sweeping “yes, take your kids with you to camp” begs more questions and it’s definitely not as simple as I’m making it sound. But, as you evaluate your summer and consider next summer… I would encourage you to make your kids part of your camp. Don’t feel guilty for bring them. Don’t second-guess yourself.

Okay, bring on the questions (parenting and youth ministry) and I’ll do my best to answer some of them.

Enjoy your parenting… they’ll leave the house before you know it (our youngest leaves in 24 days, 3 hours and 18 minutes). Dang, more tears.

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Nothing Else Like Student Ministry

photoThere is no other ministry job like being in student ministry.

Granted I have never worked with kids ministry. I have never worked with adult ministry. But I have friends that do and we have some great conversations about life and ministry and what that looks like on a day-to-day basis. For the most part (and I understand there are exceptions to this) student ministry has more way, way ups and way, way downs.

Let me explain.

In student ministry can you go to camp, you can get all geeked out in the team colors you have been assigned. You can lead stupid cheers and chants. You can run around a be a huge kid and just have a blast with your students. When you are all in and not too cool, your students will be all in not being “too cool”. Last week at camp I did just that. I was ridiculous as you can see from the picture above. I can be a huge kid and have so much fun with our students.

Then, in a blink of an eye, a conversation turns and I am sitting there in my ridiculous get up and having such a real, gut-wrenching, honest conversation with a student because they do not feel adequate enough to live and they do not see their purpose in life and then talk with them and counsel them through what that looks like and then pray for them.

Student ministry is full of those conversations. Two extremes can come crashing in an instant and we have to wear both hats and wear them well. That’s what it’s all about. It is being there with students when they are all in for fun and games and it’s showing students you are all in when it comes to their spiritual journeys, hard questions, real life struggles that we want to help them walk through in their lives.

It’s the best. Some people freeze when they don’t get that. But those who are passionate about students and seeing God work in their lives do.

We really do have the best job in the world. Praying for you all today.

Maybe send an encouraging email or text to fellow youth pastor you know and encourage them today. Who knows what extreme they are facing today.

Love that we all can be in the trenches of student ministry together.

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POLL: How was Summer Camp?

We’re coming off our Summer Camp this past week – talking a couple of down days to rest and recover. It was incredible! How about yours? Scale of 1-5, vote now!


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5 Ways To Keep The “Camp High”


We just got back from camp. Let me tell you, God moved. I love all of the decisions that were made this past week. The decisions of accepting Christ for the first time, the re-commitments to Christ, the decisions to be baptized, the decisions for wanting to get out of pits in life and decisions for full-time ministry. It really is incredible to see.

God senses the open hearts and He moves in a huge way. I was having a great conversation with my small group boys (who are going to be seniors this year) about why there is such a feeling at camp and why does that feeling tend to go away a few weeks when they return home. We talked about 5 things we do at camp everyday that we need to do at home to keep up this feeling of closeness to God.

If you think about it (and they did) it really is doable. Here are the 5 things we do at camp everyday that students usually don’t do everyday when they get home. I told them this feeling does not have to go away and these are big reasons how to keep that “camp high”:

Have Fun Camp is a blast. Games, free time, food, great music and 5 days with friends in a cabin. What is not fun about that. This is usually the easiest one to keep when students go back home.

Being open with encouraging friends- At camp they are in close quarters with friends. In the cabin times they are open, authentic and real about what is going on in their lives. They pray for each other and lift each other up. Keep being like this at home. You don’t need to only be open at camp.

Worship everyday- For many students, they time they truly worship is at church at services. We worship everyday at camp. We are made to worship everyday so no wonder it’s amazing when we do it for 5 days straight. Making worship an everyday part of the week home from camp can be challenging but it could be just sitting still and throwing your favorite worships songs on in the car and sing from home to school or work. Make it a point everyday to intentionally worship.

Quiet time everyday- Every day we are in the Word of God. We are reading Scripture. We are hearing God’s voice. At camp, there are allotted times in which we do this. Why is there not an allotted time in our lived when we get home. Diving into God’s word is huge to keep up this feeling of closeness to God.

Prayer everyday- Everyday at camp we pray. Not only pray in a meal type setting, but prayer in a “God, you are the only one who can fix this, change my life” type setting. For some reason student’s prayer lives when they go back home become surface again. I told my guys, “If you cannot be honest with God in prayer, you will never be open and honest with each other.” We can still pray and expect God to move and show up when we get home as well. God does not only move at camps.

If we can get our students to grasp this, our services throughout the year will look like camp services. They are open, real, authentic, and students expect God to show up. That “high” never has to go away. We can help students bring camp home by doing these things on a daily basis.

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HSM Summer Camp Highlight Video: Day 4

Another of our camp highlight videos from this past week. So. Much. Fun!


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Summer Camp Packing List Video

Fun video our team created for our parent’s meeting on what to pack for camp!


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How To Keep The Camp High

For both students and for leaders, there is always a camp high when we come back from a camp. It is during those times in which we feel so much closer to who God is, what He is doing in our lives and it always seems to be a rekindling  of a relationship between us and God. So how do you keep that? How do you not lose that when you come home and have it fade away?

If you really think about it, there are 5 major things we do at a camp or retreat everyday that we tend to not do when we get back. 5 things in which we are supposed to do on a daily basis which we tend not to do at camp or retreat. It is these 5 things that give us that spiritual “high”, but if we were to do these everyday we would be able to have that feeling everyday.

  • Pray- We pray everyday at a camp or retreat. that communication between us and God is key to our closeness with God. If we are having a struggle on determining where God is wanting you to go, what better way than to have a conversation with the One who made you.
  • Quiet Time- At a camp or retreat you have a quiet time with God every single day. You study the Bible for at least 30 minutes everyday you are there. This is something I myself struggle with on a daily basis and I know it is a reason in which the “camp high” fades when I come back.
  • Community- You are in a great community of people everyday. You are around people who you are comfortable talking to and opening up to and being able to talk openly about struggles that you are having and being able to pray with them right then and there.
  • Worship- There is worship session every single day (usually in the form of music). But its time where you and God connect and you can just worship Him for who He is.
  • Laugh- We let loose at a camp or retreat because we are not worrying about anything besides just being there with God. Jesus says why worry about tomorrow, today has enough worry for its self. When we are at camp or retreat we can just have fun and laugh with everyone around us and not worry about anything.

All of these things happen at retreats and that’s why we get that extra close feeling to God. Because these are the things that we are called to do on a daily basis, so that “camp high” doesn’t need to go away…ever! We have to stop doing these things just at camps and retreats and not on a everyday basis. No wonder we don’t have that feeling when we come back because we forget to do this when we are back.

That’s my goal as we just got back from camp, to continue to do these things to keep that “camp high”.

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I’m not a big fan of overwhelming kids with a bunch of rules the first night of camp, but I get definitely understand why communicating rules are necessary. This weekend I’ve been speaking at a camp in NY and I enjoyed watching how the leadership team chose to communicate their rules. It’s a clever video (and like most youth ministry videos, it’s at least a 1 minute too long) that reveals an easy-to-steal idea.

I really enjoyed this time-elapsed video showing students the amount of work that went into putting the stage design together. It’s pretty remarkable amount of hours that some adult volunteers did to make this happen. Also an easy way to expose adults to youth ministry–some of these guys came to camp just to use their gifts to build the set and are now interested in being part of the youth ministry team. Good leadership move!

[Thanks to Kevin Mahaffey]

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