A Disciple-Making Camp Ministry

The vision of the Church of the Lutheran Brethren is to be a Disciple-making Church. I could make a pretty good case for that statement to be considered part definition and part aspirational. It is both who we are and who we desire to be.

One of our Church body’s four objectives, “Unleash New Leaders,” has been a focus for decades at our camp and retreat center in Minnesota, Inspiration Point. Fifty years ago, young adults gathered on that tiny peninsula where they were discipled and trained for ministry under the adept tutelage of Pastors Harland Helland, Elroy Vesta, and others. One of those trained said, “[The staff] tell you that you can do things you think you can’t possibly do.” Still today, camps play a central role in the training and deployment for ministry.

Over the past few decades at Inspiration Point, 642 young adults from 20 different states have been recruited, hired, trained, mentored, and unleashed to bring the gospel to more than 221,000 children, youth, and adults. Their intense, three-month, summer experiences commence with a 132-hour training on topics such as leading Bible studies, building relationships, community living, safety, teambuilding, understanding the world in which we live, public speaking, trauma-informed care, Scripture memory, abuse prevention, culture creation, and the list goes on.

In the following ten weeks, the ministry muscles built during training are exercised, as the staff leads and interacts with all ages during their stay. Each day is infused with worship, Bible study, personal devotions, prayer times, loads of activities, and opportunities to debrief.
For some, the summer staff experience leads to a gap-year internship. Inspiration Point launched CheckPoint in 2013, and more than 50% of the students who attended went on to serve in full-time ministry. Following the sunset of CheckPoint in 2020, Inspiration Point continued its commitment to training young adults by launching IPoint Interns, a free, nine-month ministry training program following a summer on staff. During their time in the program, interns are paired with a mentor and receive training and experience in camp ministry and guest service, site and facilities care, program design, Bible study, Financial Peace University, cooking, church-based ministry, and community living. In addition to housing and meals, participants earn a $1,000 stipend each month.
Whether spending three months or three years at Inspiration Point, the goal for staff members is the same—to depart with the disposition of “not being able to stand the thought of not serving.” We like to say, “That’s bad grammar, but a worthy ministry goal!”

One former staffer expressed at the end of his third summer, “Being empty has never felt so full,” describing what he’d learned, i.e., the best life lived is the one that is given away. We know this is true because the best life ever lived gave his life away for our sake.

While it is common for a follower of Christ to point back to a camp experience as a time when, by God’s grace, they came to “a knowledge of the existence of salvation through Christ” (Yesteboe, 121), the impact of a camp experience isn’t only for the ministry receiver. It is, perhaps, even more prevalent and powerful for the ministry deliverer. Each December, IPoint gathers the staff from the previous summer for a reunion. As we sit in a circle the first evening, I like to poll them about their ministry leadership involvement since leaving camp in August. The percentage is always around 90-95% who have continued in lay and vocational ministry.

Furthermore, Barna Research reported in its 2017 Pastor’s Poll that 39% of U.S. pastors report that they received their call to ministry while serving at camp. How does that translate in our Church body? I wouldn’t be surprised if our experience is similar. Seventeen pastors, nine missionaries, and scores of full-time Christian workers have come through the summer staff and/or year-round internship program at Inspiration Point in the past couple decades alone.

Training young leaders has been a staple of Inspiration Point, and our Church body for decades. That focused effort continues today, and the impact is felt moving forward in God’s mission. As Pastor Doug Rogness of Moorhead, MN states, “I cannot tell you the number of ways Inspiration Point has shaped my life and the life of my family. Both my wife and I served on summer staff where we learned so much about life, growing up, living out the gospel, and sharing the gospel with others. I cannot imagine what my life would be like had I not worked at camp.”

Greg Anderson is the President of Inspiration Point Christian Camp & Retreat Center.

Ysteboe, Timothy. We Believe: Commentary on the Statement of Faith, 121. Faith & Fellowship Press, 2009.

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