My childhood years were not filled with tremendous spiritual growth. My home church was a church plant that did not have a thriving children’s or youth ministry. We did have pretty good pastors who preached the Word, along with loving and willing church members who modeled Christian maturity and sought to make disciples. It wasn’t perfect. There were times when I fell asleep while the communion trays were being passed and nearly dumped them on the floor. Then there were other times when I was so hungry that after church I begged to eat the communion leftovers. So, maybe my childhood spiritual growth had more to do with my own lethargy than church leadership.
My children’s ministers and youth pastors were average church member volunteers who taught Sunday School, braved hosting Backyard Bible Clubs, and served with a warm and caring fellowship. In fact, the reality is that I am a pastor today with over eighteen years of ministry experience as a result of starting opportunities and being sent out from this small church. Looking back, I may not have had a host of children’s programs or youth events, but I have learned to be thankful for the overall unity around the gospel and the truth of Scripture in my home church.
Part of what I did not experience spiritually in the church as a child or teen became influential in my ministry calling. The months after my high school graduation I started to teach weekly youth Bible studies and facilitate outreach nights. We began planning events and retreat experiences. One of the favorite and memorable retreats was going to Centrifuge each summer. Fuge camp has been a lasting highlight of my youth pastor years, and continues to be in my encouragement of our student ministry in the church where I serve as lead pastor today.
Why Fuge camps? Fuge is known for at least three areas of focus.
The first is engaging Bible study with teens. They do a great job of helping students learn the content of God’s word. Even more, they help teens encounter the living God of the Word. Bible study is not just an activity to fill the daily schedule but is a central element woven through every element and activity of camp. So, students tend to walk away from Fuge beginning to realize the importance of a daily quiet time with God and stoking the fires of passion to know Him deeper.
Second, Fuge is known for its focus on experiencing corporate worship. We commune with God as individuals by grace through faith, but we also connect with His body through the church. The church is both universal and localized. A student’s vision for God’s church is enlarged by the multiple other churches across the nation attending a weekly camp. Meeting other believers who are your peers from diverse backgrounds and personalities can be inspiring. Developing relationships with other churches is helpful not just to form friendships because of cuteness attraction among teens, but because there is a picture of commonality and unity in Christ (Ephesians 4:3-6). The intermingling of group members across the universal church reminds the local church that what they are doing back home matters beyond what is often visualized.
Fuge does emphasize church youth groups to sit together in corporate worship to begin understanding what it means to sing praise to Jesus with brothers and sisters in Christ. Sitting next to a friend or fellow church member with your Bible open and listening to the preaching of God’s word helps you be accountable to hear and heed truth. When students respond to a faith invitation they are counseled and pray together with friends and adults who know and love them from their home context. Further, Fuge is known for its creativity and culture of worship experiences. I don’t just mean the high decibels of drums and guitars or the sensory array of lights. Those can be fun and have a place for creating a unique environment to communicate the greatness of God, but they are not the only means Fuge uses to enhance understanding of corporate worship. They utilize a variety of means and spiritual disciplines to help students understand worship of God involves singing, praising, listening and responding to the preaching of God’s Word, as well as unique practices of prayer confessions of sin, praying for the salvation of lost friends, and giving financially to reaching unreached people groups around the globe. Ultimately, students pray and participate toward seeing God’s Spirit transform lives that glorify God. During the week of Fuge, students begin to grasp how to grow in faith through a diversity of spiritual disciplines.
Thirdly, Fuge is known for recreation. Camp life is a great way to unplug from technology and decompress from the frequent over-scheduling in school and home-life. In all honesty, Fuge Camp is tiring. There is lots of walking, jumping, hiking, and running. Sometimes swimming is involved. Numerous activities are available and tournament games are scheduled for students to sweat and spend energy. And of course there are the mega-relay games with the championship and spirit trophies at stake! At the end of the week, one of the principles you realize is that recreation is not just for fun but it’s faith building as well. Youth learn the value of teamwork, problem-solving, developing skills and using God-given talents, and being challenged to make good decisions that impact self and others. In all, recreation isn’t aimed solely at the athletic types but is helpful to build the character of all students.
An unintended benefit of participating in Fuge camps is the road trip experience for church groups. Who could complain about the comforts of riding and driving several hours in a packed passenger van with hormonal teenagers? The road trip often becomes just as memorable as the camp week itself. The time spent together talking about friends, family, life choices, desires and dreams is invaluable. Discipling teens is as much, if not more than, informal conversations than the formal structured communication. In spite of many teens who may externally protest a parent chaperoning during camp week, internally the teen is more often thankful that their parent cares. Parents and adults who take time off work and away from home chores to attend camp and regular ministry programming are invaluable to local church youth ministries.
In all, growing godly generations involves a partnership with the home and participation in the local church. Dads and moms are responsible for raising their children. Yet, a caring and Christ-centered church community can serve as a tremendous partner in the spiritual growth of children, even if the communion crackers taste a little stale.