Nine months ago I left my job as a youth pastor. I like to keep track of time in terms of little milestones and there have been a lot of mini milestones over the past nine months.
My first Tuesday night without youth group.
My first Christmas Eve not working at the church.
My first time missing the Catalyst Conference.
My first group of seniors I didn’t see graduate.
My first time missing our pastoral retreat.
And this week I’m missing my first week of summer camp.
These past nine months have been all about transition and change. It was actually about this time last year that I started thinking about quitting my job. I trusted that quitting my job was following God’s will for my life, but I also knew that I would miss a lot of aspects of my job. Summer camp is one of the parts that I miss most.
I’ve been going to summer camp since I was 12, a 22-year streak that actually won’t be broken this year. Next month I’m speaking at a camp in Illinois, so I’ll still get the summer camp experience. However, nothing can match a week at camp with my own students and leaders.
I love everything about camp, but I’m going to miss hanging out in the dorm room with the guys the most. Camp is a vital part of youth ministry because it’s the forge in which relationships are formed. Getting leaders and students together for an entire week quickly builds a foundation, which enables their relationships to grow and strengthen throughout the year. Without the concentrated time of summer camp, leaders and students wouldn’t have as much of a head start.
So even though it smelled and even though I didn’t get much sleep, there wasn’t anything better than hanging out with a bunch of guys. God does something amazing in those few days, drawing people together and then showing up in the midst of those relationships. I’ve had so many amazing conversations at camp with students who were experiencing God in new ways; I’m really going to miss having those conversations this week.
Thankfully, though, there will still be leaders I know and respect with my former students. I may be missing my first week of summer camp with them in a decade, but God never showed up because I was there. He’s going to do amazing things this week amidst smelly boys and girls spending too much time getting ready in the morning. Life moves on and remembering the past should never keep us from appreciating what God’s doing in the present.