Today, I’m going to tell you a story. It all started last summer in a tiny town in New Jersey. It was the week of Kid’s Camp and (gasp) we still took the kids from our church to sleep away camp. I know this idea isn’t as popular as in year’s past, but I wholeheartedly believe it’s one of the best things that happens in any Next Gen ministry.
Each year we partnered with several other churches and rented a facility. We crazily chose to host it ourselves. The quality was excellent, but it required the literal blood, sweat and possible tears of at least three of our Next Gen staff members.
It was a labor of love because every detail was on us. When you’re a church that operates under the precedence of excellence in the details, you find yourself in the midst of a lot of work.
On this particular day, we were supposed to be checking in all the campers and the partnering churches. When out of nowhere we had a very intense New Jersey derecho tear through our camp’s town. We were left with a path of destruction, some very frightened kids, and no power.
On one hand you might think if you’re “camping” and there’s no electricity, that’s no big deal. However, when you have 25 third graders who have never actually gone camping for real before; and have never had to use the bathroom outside…well let’s just say it’s not the best scenario.
Not to mention this was the first time for a lot of kids to be away from their parents. Parents were calling like crazy wondering if they should pick up their child. Some of the parents hadn’t even left yet, and they were wondering if they should abandon their child.
At the time, we hadn’t been outside the camp, and we didn’t know how extensive the damage was. I assured all the parents that everything would be okay within one day’s time, and if it weren’t fine, we would call them.
Well, 24 hours turned into 48 hours and 48 hours turned into 72 hours and 72 hours turned into our entire trip. Yes, that’s right we didn’t have power for our whole trip.
The first day was rough. We had no power to utilize our electronics for ministry purposes. We had no power for the kitchen to operate. We had no power for the bathrooms to work, not to mention air conditioning or lights around the campground.
With the second day came generators, which brought electricity to our projectors, speakers, and ministry equipment. It also brought to life water and the refrigerator in the kitchen. This put us on the “glamping” level on the roughing it meter, but things were not pretty. If you haven’t heard of “glamping,” it’s a term that refers to glamorous camping.
Counselors were charging their phones in their cars at night in case parents tried to contact them. The kitchens were not in full operation, so the food was quite interesting. The showers only sprayed out cold water, yes, only cold water. There was no air flow in the cabins, and once the sun went down, there was no light. Batteries were a prized commodity in flashlight replacement, and there wasn’t one iPod touch working on the premise, after all, the kid’s batteries had died.
However, in the midst of this something powerful happened. Kids were empowered. Kids felt like they had earned a badge of honor because they lived without power for 5 WHOLE DAYS.
Better than that, every Bible story had new meaning because for the first time ever kids realized that Jesus didn’t have electricity either. They finally understood that no one in the Bible had electricity and not just for five days, but for their whole lives.
Kids appreciated the little luxuries of life in a whole new way. Kids that might previously have been extra picky about certain things complained less because they were “surviving” something awesome. I even think some kids might have had the best time of their life.
Now, it wasn’t all roses, one child went home because of the heat, and a few others were less than impressed with our “glamping” setup. The camp offered to refund us our money at several points, and we declined, because while the environment was less than ideal the experience was irreplaceable.
We took a risk in assuming that parents and kids would stand behind our decision, and it paid off because kids learned the types of lessons that can only happen in these kinds of teachable real life moments.
In the aftermath, this situation made me realize that we’re not taking enough risks in kid’s ministry. Most ministry leaders are not taking enough risks in student ministry; we might not even be taking enough risks in ministry period. Achieving extraordinary results requires unique methods.
life’s greatest rewards take the most work to obtain
I think a lot of people have a misconception about ministry. The misconception is that ministry does not require hard work. Sadly, if people are NOT giving their best, or innovating or trying new things, it might be easy, but an excellent ministry, a ministry focused on the One, ministry focused on others, a ministry that is focused on trying new ways to draw people to God is NOT EASY.
That kind of ministry requires hard work. If you feel like ministry is easy, then you aren’t working hard enough. I’m not talking about hitting your stride or enjoying your Saturday off. I’m talking about things like hosting your own kid’s camp because you feel like it’s a life changing experience even though you know it requires blood, sweat, and tears. People that are CEO’s of the world’s leading companies did not get there by accident; they got there by working 80 hour weeks and making the hard decisions, and their motivation isn’t even eternal.
There are so many examples where hard work leads to beautiful results, but my favorite example is birthing a child. This is one of the most precious things a human can do, and it only happens after LABOR, aka hard work.
So, if you want the best Kid’s Ministry in a 50-mile radius, or if you want the best ministry in any department, then you’ll have to work on it. That requires trying new things and pushing the boundaries, but mostly hard work.
going the extra mile for a kid today can literally change their entire life before it starts
Not every kid will appreciate the risk we took on that trip. Not one child will probably appreciate the work that went into making it awesome and excellent. However, we know that unique and spiritually challenging experiences can change kid’s lives before they can even recognize that their life has been changed.
If your weekend experiences are designed to be fun and moving; it might not resonate with a seven-year-old what that means exactly, but they will have higher expectations for excellence, a higher value on adult relationships and a better understanding of God without even realizing it.
At the time, he didn’t realize that each time his youth pastor picked him up from school was making a difference, but it was, and now he’s doing his own work because someone went the extra mile.
risk it all as if every kid in your ministry is the next steven furtick
When you look out into the sea of faces on a Sunday morning, you don’t know what God has planned for each child, but He does. If everything you do is done with excellence. If everything you do is done with great intention. If you knew that one out of every 150 kids would be a world changer; a Steven Furtick, a Steve Jobs, a Walt Disney, a Martin Luther King, an Oprah, would you do things differently?
What if you knew that FIVE kids for every 150 in your ministry would literally change the world, what would you do differently then? What risk would you take to reach them? What antics would you do to engage them? What event would you host that would provide wonder and delight, and change their view of God and the world? If you knew that you’d be the person that changed the course of their life, what would you do differently?
It wasn’t until a few days into kid’s camp that we left the property and saw the damage that was done. If we had seen the damage earlier on, and we had known the power wouldn’t have come back on, I wonder if we would have decided to stay.
I think we might have made a different choice because it required a lot of extra work for everyone to be happy and safe. I’m so glad we didn’t leave. You can’t always tell which moment is going to be the one when your risks, hard work, and dedication pay off.
You don’t know when a child is going to have a breakthrough. You can’t see in advance when someone will be called into ministry or have a light bulb moment about how much they are valued by God.
It’s not enough to just be busy. We need to be busy because we are doing ministry in such a way that causes us to create environments that kids can’t wait to get to and don’t want to leave.
Depending on your church size, or denomination, or affiliations, taking risks and working hard will look different. However, if you’re reading this and you work in ministry in any regard, think of the one thing you have been thinking about doing but haven’t done. That’s the thing you should do.
In the last few years for me, it was writing my own VBS curriculum. I didn’t want to do it because of the amount of work involved, but I knew I had to because that was the best for that event. So start there, start with that one thing, and this year, commit to doing it.
Chief Creative Officer
Stacia has over a decade of ministry experience, with the majority of that time leading next generation change. She has experience leading almost one hundred volunteers, and developing curriculum for kids and students. Stacia has a B.S. in Church Ministries and Biblical Studies, as well as experience educating in an elementary public school environment. She is also immensely creative and accomplished in teaching children about the wonder of God.