“Forty-four hours that could change your life” is a statement I heard often when I was first introduced to winter camp. As someone who didn’t have much exposure to Word of Life at the time, I thought it was quite a statement to make. As far as expectations go, it sets the bar high. I was skeptical about whether those expectations could be met.
Not anymore, though.
In the ten years since that initial introduction, my wife and I have served on staff at Snowcamp. We’ve also been bringing students from our youth group for the last seven years. We bought in. The statement is true – it really is a weekend that can change your life. We receive dozens of testimonies from students who have encountered Jesus at winter camp. It’s an invaluable part of what we do each year.
The question is, why should you consider investing your time and resources into this? Why should you as a youth leader care about spending a weekend at winter camp? What makes it so valuable?
The answers to these questions are not specific to Word of Life Camps or to any program; rather, they are rooted in principles of spiritual formation that are proven to grow our faith. What does God use to grow our faith, and where does He do His work? These principles, I believe, are embodied well at winter camp.
The Impact of Rhythms
What does God use to grow our faith? Five critical elements include Bible teaching, spiritual disciplines, serving others, relationships, and circumstances.
Where does God do His work in our lives? In rhythm and in retreat. The rhythms of our student ministries are built around these five elements. Every week, we try to bring these things to bear on students’ lives in the hopes that God will move them forward spiritually. We preach God’s Word in youth group. We encourage students to spend time regularly reading the Bible and praying. We get them involved in serving. We surround them with more mature believers who can disciple them. We stay present in their lives through the different circumstances that come their way.
And God uses that! It’s amazing! Seriously, how cool is it that we get to do this?
The Impact of Retreats
But God doesn’t only work in the rhythm of our weekly ministries. God also speaks to us during times of retreat. Something comical to me about student ministry is that a teen’s parents can give them advice, and the student may not respond. However, as soon as a youth leader or peer gives them that same advice, they respond immediately. This happens in youth ministry, too. We can be rhythmically pouring into students’ lives for years and not see a response, but as soon as they come to a camp retreat and hear the same thing from their counselor or a camp speaker, they respond immediately.
This phenomenon is not a bad thing. Sometimes, God uses another person or environment to break through students’ hearts.
This is what winter camp is all about. It’s an opportunity for us to be away from our normal environments, be alone with God, adjust our lifestyles (the students have no phones for the weekend – that’s a big deal), stay awhile, and focus on being in awe of Jesus.
The Impact of Fun
Word of Life believes in the power of fun. It’s a huge priority, and I’m glad for that. I love seeing our students joyful. It’s good medicine for their hearts, and it is often the ticket to walls coming down. When you combine all these spiritual elements with the action-packed excitement of winter camp, good things happen.
Like I said earlier, this isn’t necessarily specific to one camp program. I’m just making the case for why it’s a good idea to do a camp retreat with Word of Life. The structure and schedule are uniquely built around the retreat elements as well as the five spiritual formation principles I mentioned earlier, and the amalgamation of these aspects in one weekend is what makes it so valuable.
Retreat is good and healthy for your students, and for you as leaders. If you’re a youth pastor, prioritize making retreat a part of your life and ministry.
One final thing: I find that the most underrated value of camp is the time spent with my youth leaders. Consider making the investment to bring your whole team with you. Spend time together, pray together, cheer for your students in the sports tournaments, go down the tube hill, and encourage the camp counselors. This will bond you and your team in such a special way.
For more information on Word of Life Snowcamp in Pottersville, New York, visit https://camps.wol.org/youth-camps/snowcamp/.
Word of Life also offers a winter camp in Hudson, Florida, called Pursuit. For more information on Pursuit Camp, visit https://camps.wol.org/youth-camps/pursuit-camp/.
Lastly, Word of Life offers winter camps in Miamisburg, Ohio, and Cold Springs, California. These satellite camps are called Intersect. For more information on Intersect Camp, visit https://camps.wol.org/youth-camps/intersect/.
Matt Losee is the youth and music pastor at New Hope Community Church in Queensbury, New York. He has been working with students for nearly a decade. He and his wife, Maggie, are raising four girls: Carmen, Candace, Macy, and Melody.