How Philosophy Saved My Soul: Part IV

Off to Camp!

{I’m sorry this didn’t get posted last week. I was speaking at a camp and had virtually no internet connection. Part V will be posted at the end of this week}

So far I have shared about some of my childhood, early belief in Christ, environment, and experiences. I was basically the good Christian kid who was now enrolled in Bible college headed toward some kind of capital “M” ministry. I knew my stuff and I was quite comfortable.

Most of my college years were rather atypical. In fact, all of it was. I started in the spring semester and only spent two semesters as a single student. I was one of those married students the rest of the time. I was older than just about all my classmates and I was never part of one class. It took me a total of twelve semesters spread out over eight years to finish. I knew tons of students but I was never part of any of them.

In the fall of 1996, I learned one of my friends would be moving to Michigan and that his position in the Admissions Office would be open. I was working as a cook at a local restaurant and my wife was a server. We were treated very well and I learned how to cook some pretty incredible things! But it was hot and exhausting with many late nights. My thought was to land a job as an admissions counselor. No more late nights and my workplace would be where I went to school. There would even be the benefit of some tuition remission. I needed this to happen!

It took nearly six months of me pestering the Director of Enrollment Management, but he finally hired me and I began my new post in May of 1997. My wife was soon hired as a secretary so our world was extremely manageable…and small. I didn’t realize it at the time, but just like high school, I saw the same people six days a week. The make up of a Sunday school class was not all that different from work meetings.

I’m not sure how it happened, but I’m glad it did. Ken was a veteran of speaking to students and I was now his colleague. For some reason he offered to teach me how to preach. This was something I really wanted to learn and I wanted to learn it from him! My official homiletics (the art of preaching) classes were not that great and Ken was and is a master communicator. I couldn’t believe that I was being tutored by someone I had so much respect for.

Our school used a model of recruitment that most colleges wouldn’t utilize. The best way to describe it would be itinerant youth ministry. Basically a few of us would go out and speak at youth events in the hopes of connecting with students in order to recruit them to the school. It worked! And although it was slow at first, I started handling several requests for me to come speak at these events. Capital “M” ministry, here we come!

I graduated, finally, from college in 2000 and after a short two years as a youth and music pastor in northern Virginia (it was only two years because the church had fallen on tough times financially; nothing “went wrong”) we moved back to where it started – Bible college. I was back in my old position but things were a little different. I had some real-world pastoral experience, I was enrolled in seminary – tuition free, and the requests for me to speak began to pour in.

I really felt like I was living a dream. I was being asked to speak nearly as much as my mentor and the affirmation was overwhelming. It looked as though I was doing what I was made for. I traveled the country speaking in churches, youth groups, Christian schools, retreats and camps. I was the ministry equivalent of fat, dumb, and happy because I was spending the majority of my time speaking at camps. In fact, I have spent close to two full years as a camp speaker. I was putting into practice everything I learned, both formally and informally. I can remember how it all came together during one senior high week in Ohio.

Camp Patmos, located on Kelly’s Island, OH, is one my favorite places to speak. I have been there several times and I hope to go again. But it is also a place that congers feelings of guilt and defeat. I remember it well. An exasperated female counselor brought three of her senior high girls to see me because they were struggling with the twice daily chapel services. These campers were not angry nor did they have terrible attitudes. I recall them being quite nice. The problem was that they were not from Christian backgrounds and were not sure how in the world they could know that the Bible was to be trusted. Well, I knew how to handle this one!

“The Bible tells us it is true. It assumes it to be so….”
“God assures us that we can trust him…”
“Wait, neither of those things satisfies you?”
“Well, this is a Christian camp and you should have known that we were going to be teaching from the Bible…”
“You should go waterskiing or something. I’m sure you will find faith by the end of the week.”

Yes, that really happened. I still feel guilty about that conversation. I got angry and belligerent with them. I may have turned them off forever to the things of God. God help us!  But I was using what I knew to be the very modernistic strategy that merely saying true things in compelling ways makes disbelief…unbelievable. I managed to incorporate both veins of circular reasoning and the argument from power in one very tiny conversation. No points were scored for the Kingdom that day.

The camp ministry continued and grew and I was able to see many students give their lives to Jesus and many more who made important spiritual decisions. It all went great as long as my audience happened to agree with me. That and the fact that the Holy Spirit still works in spite of knuckleheads like me. If they didn’t agree with me…wash, rinse, repeat. Disagreement was easily handled with question begging and appeals to authority. What more does a guy in youth ministry need?

Part V will answer that question. See you back here Friday!

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