3 Keys That Won’t Make Your Camp…But, Sure Can Break Your Camp

Made Camp 2014

I have spent half my life in ministry now and most of that spent pouring into student ministry.  Though my current path is looking more and more at the adult world, I still have great opportunities to be in the youth world.  During camp and event seasons, I am usually pretty busy speaking and helping others dream, plan and execute their own camps and events.  Recently, I have the chance to help a youth pastor with his first camp of his own.  As walking through this experience with him I was reminded of a few things that won’t make your camp the best thing since slice bread and selfies, but however if they are bad…. man-o-man will they destroy your camp and become the driving force behind complaint after complain and eventually mutiny from the students.  You always want to create memories for students, however, you want those memories to be good.  What you don’t want is students going back and being negative about camp.  Students will talk about bad things more often and longer than they do good things.  It’s not just students, look at our daily news; the majority of news reported is bad news.  Certain things as leaders we are in control of and will delegate because they are

Here are my top 3 keys that won’t make your camp, but sure can break your camp.

1.  Food

School cafeteria food brings back a lot of memories for a lot of people.  However, most of those memories aren’t great.  Remember square pizza and corn?  Not sure how those ever go with each other, but I do remember that pizza wasn’t the really even close to good and being soggy from corn juice didn’t help its cause.  Or how about that “magic meat”, we still aren’t sure if that was suppose to be Salisbury steak, perhaps last weeks meatloaf covered in gravy or if they really didn’t know what it was but they knew it was cheap.  But, I also remember chicken nugget day or little smokie day both served with mac-n-cheese and a roll… So Good!  School lunch never made my day, but on those days it was bad, it really made my day bad.  I was hungry and when I am hungry, I am grumpy and when I am grumpy, my day is bad.

When students are hungry they are grumpy and when they are grumpy, its just a no fun, bad day.

Camp food is so important.  As leaders it is something that the majority of us should delegate, but delegation doesn’t mean forget about it.  we have to be clear on what we expect.  You need to expect good food, not just food.  There is a huge difference in having cheap, cardboard, no taste food and having food that people talk about.  You and your cook must understand expectations are low about camp food to begin with, so to surpass expectations is not that big of an accomplishment, but it is a must.  Feeding students a good meal is a must.  It keeps moral up, it it keeps energy up and most importantly it keep their attention off their bellies and on Jesus.  A good decent meal doesn’t mean that they will go home and talk about how good the food was, but it does mean they won’t go home and talk about how horrible the it was.

Quick rule of thumb, $20-$25 per day isn’t unreasonable to keep your students or adults fed.  Here is my break down for food.  Breakfast: $4-$6, Lunch: $7-$8, Dinner: $9-11.  Don’t forget desert!!!

Bring the good goodies.  Spend the money on good snacks, aka good junk food (starburst, skittles, snickers, etc…)  – it’s okay to make them pay more during camp for the super good stuff.

2.  Speaker

You wouldn’t hire a speaker if you didn’t think they weren’t good, right?  This is very true.  You hire someone you trust to deliver good, solid, Jesus honoring messages to your students.  But, YOU as the leader have a vision for camp.  YOU pour hours of praying into a direction YOU want to take YOUR students spiritually.  YOU spend lots of time developing a theme and skits and games and stage design and small groups and on and on and on.  Yet, you turn over a large chunk of the spiritual time over to someone else.  I love speakers, I am one.  But, here is typically what we give speakers when we hire them;  “I want you to have the freedom to tell my students what God has laid on your heart.” or “The theme is _______, so just where God leads you from there.”  YOU have invested so much time into your students and  have the vision for camp, please, please, PLEASE let your speaker in on that vision and direction.  The name of the camp or theme of the camp does not communicate what you have envisioned.

Giving your speaker clear vision, direction and goals of and event allows them to more effectively use their gifts, talents and insights.

When I hire a speaker for any event I give them a clear cut vision of the whole event and what I want to accomplish.  Then I detailed the direction that I want each talk/sermon to take.  If I give the speaker all of this information then allow them to use their gifts, talents and insights, I have enhanced the vision of my camp or event.  This does not limit your speaker, in fact, as a speaker it is very freeing.  Work with your speaker at length.  This means at very minimum several phone calls, and several emails exchanging information.  If it is me, I do all I can to have an in-person discussion.  If that isn’t possible, there are too many ways to video conference.

If your speaker doesn’t understand the vision and goals of a camp or event they can greatly hinder the message.  This isn’t their fault, it is yours.  Most speakers won’t make your camp great, but they can break it.  Think how much more clear the gospel message is when everybody is on the same page.

3.  Attitude

Nothing breaks up a great experience than a bad attitude.  They cause a scene, they start bad conversations among others, they give things a bad taste and they just put a general downer on things.  Now you can’t control the attitudes of everyone at your camp or event, however there is a group that you can control and is crucial to a good event.  Your attitude must dominate the atmosphere.  If you as the leader are sold, most everyone one else will be sold on the event as well.  If your attitude about something is negative you really have to options: 1.  Change your attitude quick or 2. Get out of the picture.  If your attitude isn’t changing, let someone else take the lead the particular part of the event your sour about.  Things will go much better if you do.

If we are doing it, it’s the best thing ever, even if it isn’t.

The second group you have control over is the leaders under you, who are actually more control of attitude than you do.  My small group leaders and team leaders and event coordinators have always had way more say in the attitude of then event than I do.  If they are sold on what your doing, everyone else will be as well.  However, if they start discouraging conversation, it will spread like wild fire and your will spend all your time putting out those fires.  I have a saying with my leaders, “If we are doing it, it’s the best thing ever, even if it isn’t.”  I give them a lot of say into what we are doing, but when I make the discussion to do something here is what I tell them, “If its picking boogers, picking boogers is the best thing you have ever heard of!”  The attitudes of others won’t make your camp, but they can break it.

In my last 2 post on camp, I have ended with Pray, Pray, Pray!  If you aren’t covering your camp or event in prayer you failed before you started.  Prayer will make your camp great and the lack of prayer will line your camp up to fail.  So, PRAY, PRAY, PRAY! and then PRAY some more.

* This is not a reflection on the camp we just did, in fact, the food, the speaker and attitudes were great!  I can’t wait to see what’s next on the horizon for Chip and the youth at The Brook.

** Thanks Natalie

 © Jonathan Haley Uhrig 2014

6 Dangers You MUST Address To Save Your Youth Group by Justin Lopez

6 Dangers

We hear many stories of teenagers being saved during those formidable youth group years. By the grace of God, many meet Jesus after hearing the Gospel at a lock-in or while building a campfire at a winter retreat. But balancing cultural – or generational – relevance with eternal truth is difficult. How do we appeal to this group? What should we do to declare and demonstrate His love to them? How do we make teenagers into disciples who make disciples now and in their years ahead?

Pastoring and shepherding the younger generation is critical. These teenagers will be the men and women who lead our churches and ministries in the decades ahead. We want these future church leaders to be Gospel-centered, mission-minded, Word-saturated, servant-hearted people, right?

There are dangers facing every youth group, and for the sake of the Church, its flourishing, and the advancement of the Gospel, we must address them.

Here are six common dangers:

1.    Too many youth have a poor understanding of the Gospel and how it applies to their lives.

While many people can explain the Gospel in some way, shape, or form, very few have learned to apply it to their own lives. The result is a religion largely motivated by legalistic rules that leads to guilt and shame when rules are not met or self-righteousness when they are.

Many students also struggle to see themselves as truly broken and in need of a Savior. Others will fall on the side of misunderstanding grace as a license for sin. Underneath it all is a fundamental misunderstanding of the Gospel.

2.    The American consumer mentality has severely skewed the way youth view the church.

Because so much of the emphasis on reaching youth is aimed at getting them in the door and staying there, many are not attracted by Christ, but rather by entertainment or friendships. While this may be effective in initially exposing them to Christ, it cannot be their only experience of Him.

There will inevitably come a day when church will not be focused primarily on their entertainment. For many, this will be a time of disillusionment with the church and one of the reasons so many youth do not remain a part of a church body after they leave home.

3.    Youth are more technologically connected than ever, yet experience more isolation than ever.

While youth may have more “friends” than ever before, they are being conditioned to only have friendships at a superficial level. They live in a world that prioritizes managing and puffing up their image, both online and offline.

As a result, youth have few people, if any, who actually know them truly and deeply and can help them in their walk with the Lord.

4.    There is a tendency to swing the pendulum too far toward either mission or community, neglecting one for the other. 

Youth tend to operate in extremes. Depending on their background or whom they follow on Twitter, many youth, full of zeal, will tend to overemphasize either mission/”outreach” or community/”going deep”.

Either bent, if not coupled with the other, will lead to burnout or a “huddle” mentality. The eventual result will be a church that slowly fizzles out.

5.    Youth have a hard time seeing how they personally fit into God’s redemptive story.

Because many youth are new to the faith, they may have not yet seen God use them personally to impact the Kingdom. They see all of the “Christian celebrities” before them and can easily believe the lie that God only uses the more known or trained people with certain skills, passions, and gifts to advance the Gospel.

They feel disqualified, inexperienced or inferior, paralyzing them in life and ministry.

6.    Many youth lack the desire and ability to study and apply the word of God to their lives.

Because it is easier than ever to find teaching and blogs about the Bible, more and more youth do not know how to study the Word for themselves. Some are apathetic because they do not see the Bible as relevant to their life or situation and others see personal study as too difficult and would much rather listen to a podcast or read the latest Christian book or devotional. Personal study of the Word is critical for every believer, including youth.

These six dangers are real, and as church leaders, we must address them with fervor. But how?

1. Gospel-Centered teaching

The teaching is centered on understanding and applying the Gospel in our own lives and in the lives of others. We seek to challenge youth to serve their city or town while discussing the proper and improper motivations that can drive them to want to serve.  The youth will also see and understand their own brokenness and the role of grace in their lives.

2. Fighting consumerism with service

Because serving is a key component of SWITCH, the consumerism that plagues this generation is constantly tested and challenged. Students leave knowing that they were not called to Christ for their own benefit alone, but to seek and save others as they reflect the glory of God around them.

3. Opportunities for community to grow

Provide opportunities for youth to grow in community. With skits, games, and other antics, there is a lot of fun built into the week and many memories are made together. We also create environments where they can get to know each other better and more deeply through processing what they are learning and putting into action.

4. The best of both mission and community

Summer youth experiences often reinforce the overemphasis on either mission or community. They are structured so heavily around one aspect that they woefully neglect the other. Traditional camps are great for building community and depth in relationships, but they are formed in the absence of mission, so they can break down in the real world once camp is over.

Mission trips are great for helping people see and understand how to live on mission, but can often do so at the cost of community. Conferences equip youth for ministry, but can have little practical application and implementation.

5. Seeing how they fit into God’s redemptive plan

One of the reasons people have a hard time seeing how they fit into God’s redemptive plan is that they have not tried to fit into it at all.  We often discover where we are called as we step out in faith and try new things.

We also must value the specific way God has made each individual teenager. He or she has specific passions and gifts, and as pastors and leaders, we must value these differences and encourage the younger generation to employ their specific passions and gifts for the glory of God.

When a person sees how a week of their life can impact someone else through trying new things and exploiting what God has written on their hearts, they can more easily see and believe that He can and will use them to do big things in the days to come.

6. Learning how to value the Word

Spend time in the Word, training students in how to study the Bible. They are then able to take what God is teaching them and apply it to their life as they are serving the city and connecting with their friends and leaders.

We want students to see that the Word of God is, in fact, living and active and applies to and guides their daily life more than anything or anyone else.

We know that one week cannot change these trends or completely remove these dangers. But what if youth made the SWITCH and believed in living on mission with community as their lifelong purpose for His glory?

Our prayer is that through SWITCH, God will move in their hearts, helping you pastor and lead them into a deeper love and passion for Christ and His calling on their lives.

Originally Posted at on Verge Network at 6 Dangers You MUST Address To Save Your Youth Group

3 Tips for Leaders at Summer Camp

HAU Summe Camp 2000I took a brief moment and counted the camps that I have been a part of leading in the past 17 years of ministry.  If the 53 name badges from camps dangling from an oversize carabiner  are any indication, I’ve been a part of a few.  And what I know is that there are many youth pastors/directors/leaders out there that have been part of way more.  However, I feel that I can speak a bit of light into the subject.  In my last post, 3 Tips for Doing Your Own Summer Camp, I gave tips a few insights on camps making an impact on students.  These tips are for being at camp as the leader.

It is important for your students and the leaders around you that as the leader you enjoy yourself and you enjoy the time you have with them.

Being the leader can be exhausting.  There is so much do to, so much that has to happen, so much that only you as the leader know.  For mid-size and smaller churches, a lot of the time, the leader has to do everything.  At larger churches, even if the leader has done a good job delegating, there is still a seemingly overwhelming responsibility on the leaders shoulders.   Either way there is a constant barrage questions.  “Where do you want this?”  “Where are we doing that?”  “Where is the equipment?”  “That broke, what do you want us to do?”  And if it rains!!!???!!!

It is important for your students and the leaders around you that as the leader you enjoy yourself and you enjoy the time you have with them.  With that though, here are 3 tips to think about while at camp.

3 Tips While At Camp

Relationships Are Everything At Camp

Do all your preparations before you go.  Let me repeat… finish all your preparations BEFORE YOU GO!  Don’t finish talks, small group material, or quiet time material while at camp.  As mobile as we have become with all our “iStuff”, it is tempting to just finish material or polish it up when you get to camp.  Your students are around you, make sure you are around them.  Make sure you have scheduled when you will do a game and make sure you have everything you need to play a game, don’t wait and have to make a “quick” run into town to a store.  That’s just time away from students.

When you plan events, make sure they are big, loud and fun; so much so that kids don’t what to do anything else.  If your plans are the best thing on the planet next to sliced bread and selfies, then you will earn your students attention.  This earned attention extends out to your other leaders.  Remember, relationships are everything at camp.  Relationships with you and relationships with Christ.

If your plans are the best thing on the planet next to sliced bread and selfies, then you will ear your students attention.

Make sure that you are setting your leaders in places to form relationships.  Have your leaders lead teams, teach small groups, assign them to different areas during any free time, and make sure they are eating with students not other leaders.  You want to set them up for a successful ministry and time at camp.  Your leaders have given up time, usually in the form of not getting paid or vacation time, set them up for a win.  As much as camp can changes lives of the students, your leaders lives can change forever if given the opportunity to be a part of what God is doing in the life of the students around them.   This is why relationships are everything.

Have Fun!

Fun deepens and strengthens relationships in a way like nothing else can.  A long time ago I learned a twist to a common saying.   For students the saying, “People don’t care what you have to say until they know you care.”, becomes, “Students don’t care what you have to say until they know you will play.”  Watch a high school linebacker walls fall down when you spear him from the side.  Or watch a baseball player respond to you after you tell him that you want to try to hit his curve ball.  Watch a kid who usually sits off in a corner open up when you involve them and make them a hero in the middle of a game.

If your students are a big deal to you, be a big deal to them.

Or sit around an shoot the breeze and talk video games with a group of gamers.  Playing and having fun opens up more doors into students lives than anything I have ever done.  So don’t sit around and watch everyone have fun, get in the middle of it.  If your students are a big deal to you, be a big deal to them.  Did I mention relationships are a big deal.

Pray! Pray! Pray!

Please be the first one up in the mornings and the last one to go to sleep.  I know you are exhausted at camp, but this is important.  If you are to be investing in your students while you are there and active when they are awake, they need your prayers when they are asleep.  Get up in the morning and walk the camp praying for each and every face there.  Then as they drift off to sleep walk circles around praying and pleading for them.  There really is so much the can go wrong at camp and so much that God can do.  Prayer and faith is our only defense and offense in many of those areas.

I really would love to help you with your camp or event.  Please contact me and let’s dream together about what can be done to engage students with the gospel of Jesus.

Oh yeah, what if it does rains?  There is always Plan B.  What is Plan B?  Plan A in the rain.  Have fun!

 © Jonathan Haley Uhrig 2014

3 Tips for Doing Your Own Summer Camp

HAU Summer Camp 2001

As a pastor there is a lot that I love about being in ministry.  But what I have the most fun doing is big events.  For youth, that means CAMP!!!  I love every part of it!  The sudden inspiration for a camp theme based on commercial from 10 years ago that your remembered when you hit your head getting into your car; the crazy skits that make no sense, but for 1 week in the summer that super hero with no real powers will mean everything; the creation of games that no one has ever done before and that no one will ever do again (ask me about “The Mousetrap”); the writing of quiet times; the study and writing of small groups and training small group leaders; having great conversations with speakers and bands; sweating so much you don’t know how you can sweat anymore; sweating when you go to sleep and then waking up at 3 in the morning freezing only to wake up at 6:30 in the morning sweating; there is just so much that goes into doing your own camp, but I love every part of it!  We do all of this and more all for those moments that change us and our students forever.

Summer camp means sweating when you go to sleep and then waking up at 3 in the morning freezing only to wake up at 6:30 in the morning sweating!

That student who realizes for the first time who Jesus is; the student who in conversation during small groups gets so excited because the truth of Christ comes alive; the small group leader who God uses to lead a student to Jesus, or uses their shoulder to cry on.  We do it all for those moments.  For those that are just starting out and doing their own camp for the first time or for the vet who has put on so many they can’t even tell you what last years theme was, here are 3 tips to remember when developing camps.

3 Tips for Summer Camp

Go All Out for the Big Things, So Students will Remember the Important Things

The ultimate goal of any church summer camp is to lead students to Christ.  Lost students need Jesus and the christian students need Jesus.  That’s important!  If you fail here the camp is a failure, you haven’t done anything but have a fun camp.  Without life change it’s just another camp.  However, if there is great material but camp isn’t fun, you should have just stayed home because that information isn’t going to stick.  So go all out on your theme!  Go all out on games!  Go all out on training leaders.  These are the big things that will make the important things have greater impact.

Make Memories

5 of us got into a nasty lake and waited until our skin shriveled,  leeches attached to our legs, and we got tired of treading water.  But what happened next, people still talk about.  “Hey, you remember that time you made Jesus walked on water?”  Yeah, we do.  What the 5 of us remember most is that on a perfectly clear night with a full moon, at just the perfect time, God put a cloud over the moon to hide us so that He was glorified.  You want to make moments that students will remember forever.  You want to create memories, so that when life gets in the way a memory sends them right back to camp and Christ.  See, what you want for your students is 20 years from now, you want them to say…

“Remember when?”

“No one has ever done that before!”

“How did we ever get away with that!”

“I’ve never seen anything like that, ever!”

“I can’t believer we did that!”

Pray, Pray, Pray

This seems a bit obvious, however, sometimes it’s so obvious we forget.  So much of camp needs prayer.  There is too much that we want God to do and so much that can go wrong.  Please – DO NOT FORGET TO PRAY!

One more thing.  PRAY!

P.S.  I would love to help you with your events, please contact me, even if it’s just to bounce ideas off someone.

Good Fruit – Not Your Fruit


“You will know them by their fruits.” – Matthew 7:16

Spring is here and finally there is good fresh fruit in the grocery store!  The farmers market and street markets are getting sweet fruit in.   Candy can’t hold a light to a delicious bowl of fruit.  Why do you think that the majority of candy is based on fruit flavors?  There just isn’t any substitute for the real thing.  Yeah candy is good (I’m that big kid who keeps a bowl of candy around at all times), no doubt about that,  but watermelon flavored candy taste nothing like a slice of watermelon on a hot summer day.  However, when you peel an orange and bite down into one of those perfect God designed wedges and your jaw locks up because its too tart, you wish you had an sugar coated orange slice piece of candy.  Or when you bite down into that crisp, grass green Granny Smith Apple right into a bruised spot that mushes into your mouth, yuck!  You instantly know when you have gotten into some bad fruit.

You instantly know bad fruit!

Jesus speaks of fruit several times in scripture.  He is usually is speaking of what our lives produce in relation to the world, both good or bad.  Jesus does get angry at that one tree and tells it that it will never produce fruit again.  That tree got sad and withered up fast.  Jesus tells us that we can identify other believers because of their good fruit and non believers because of their bad fruit.  On the surface this looks like this is saying that those that do bad things He doesn’t know and those that do good belong to Him.  But we know that you cannot work for your salvation.  Salvation is by grace through faith in Jesus, so this isn’t a lesson in being bad or good.  And then Jesus talks about how if we aren’t attached to the vine or the tree then we can’t produce fruit at all. We can really get lost in all the fruit talk.  Let’s try to clear it up.

Bad Fruit.  Is it Really Fruit at All?

“A good tree produces good fruit, and a bad tree produces bad fruit.  A good tree can’t produce bad fruit, and a bad tree can’t produce good fruit.  So every tree that does not produce good fruit is chopped down and thrown into the fire.  Yes, just as you can identify a tree by its fruit, so you can identify people by their actions.” – Mathew 7:17-20

Strawberries!!!  I love strawberries especially as a dessert.  Strawberries dipped in chocolate, strawberries covered in powdered sugar, strawberry slices with sugar and put on pound cake, strawberries cut up and frozen in homemade ice cream, or strawberry cake with cream cheese icing with slices of strawberries on top!  Did I mention I like strawberries?  Just give me a basket of fresh strawberries and I’ll make sure to make myself sick.  But if I bite into a strawberry that is still too green or a strawberry that’s been bruised or a strawberry that is too far past ripe, you better believe I am spitting that nasty thing out of my mouth.  It’s bad, I don’t want it, in fact, I have to inspect the next couple of strawberries to see if they are good.

If its not good and sweet, its not fruit.

Webster’s Dictionary defines fruit as “the sweet and fleshy product of a tree or other plant that contains seed and can be eaten as food.”  If its not sweet, it’s not fruit!  If someone doesn’t want to eat it, it’s not fruit!  Jesus tells us that we can identify people by their actions.  If peoples actions aren’t sweet then they aren’t fruit.  If there are actions that no one wants then that action isn’t fruit.  Websters goes on to further define fruit as “a reward that comes from someone’s action.” Rewards are by definition a good thing.  If someone’s actions aren’t good, then they aren’t fruit.  But what if the fruit is good,?  What if someone’s actions are sweet?  Here is where we start to have a slight problem with the ability to produce fruit in the first place.

Can We Produce Fruit at All?

“Remain in me, and I will remain in you. For a branch cannot produce fruit if it is severed from the vine, and you cannot be fruitful unless you remain in me.” – John 15:4

The problem here is being good. Romans 3:12 tells us that “No one does good, not a single one.”  We are all bad trees!?!?  That just can’t be can it?  We all know that there are good people out there doing good things that do not follow Jesus.  But we can never forget that everyone was created though Jesus and for Jesus (Colossians 1:16)!  Just because people don’t follow Jesus doesn’t mean they can’t do good things, they just won’t be fruitful.  If we are not in Christ then we cannot produce fruit!  We may be able to do good things, but producing fruit just isn’t going to happen.

Followers of Jesus produce fruit.

Jesus is begging us to be active in our faith, to pursue Him continually so that we don’t have to be disciplined by the Father, because if we aren’t producing fruit as believers, we will be pruned again and again until we produce fruit.  As believers, we will produce fruit.

The Fruit Belonged to Jesus the Whole Time!

For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do. – Ephesians 2:10

Scripture tells us that as followers of Christ that we have the Holy Spirit living in us and that we are to keep in step with the Spirit.  If you read Galatians 5:22-23 carefully we will see that we are not producing fruits ourselves, but that the fruit being produced belongs to the Holy Spirit.  “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness,gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.”  This is the fruit that is to be evident in our life, this is how we are recognized as a follower of Jesus.

The good works that we do already belong to Jesus.

If we aren’t doing good works, producing good fruit, then we don’t belong to Jesus and we will not walk into the good works He has prepared for us to do.  See, even the good works that have to be done already belong to Jesus, He already had them planned out for us to do.

If we could produce good works on our own we could work for our salvation and there is no need for Jesus.  Since we are not good then we must completely rely on Christ for our goodness.

***Thanks Bill Schroder for the great conversation and your wisdom.

 © Jonathan Haley Uhrig 2014