Last week we took 140 kids to summer camp. It was an amazing five days and my highlight was what happened on night three. Something amazing happened in the hearts of dozens of kids – but it almost didn’t happen.
Our group made up half of the kids attending this camp in Northern Arizona. The camp provided the band, the activities, the speaker and the curriculum. It’s an amazing experience to have no other responsibility than just be with your kids, letting the camp take care of everything else. However, after the first day – we noticed a small problem.
The day included two main sessions. The first session was followed by small group time. Every leader was provided curriculum to lead conversations and activities during this time. The curriculum closely followed the content presented by the camp speaker. However, the evening session was followed by an optional “church time.” It was a time for each church to gather together to unpack the evening content. Because our church is groups based and most of our small group leaders were there leading their regular attending kids, we did a short group time followed by 20-30 minutes in small groups. However, the provided curriculum was severely lacking. The questions didn’t invite a conversation, but short and simple answers. The evening group times were short and more like a daily review. Not what we had hoped for.
Day three was an evangelistic message. The speaker was going to unpack what it looked like to follow Jesus. The time in small groups was going to be just as critical as what happened in the general session. That morning, my intern and I sat down and wrote out four questions for that evening’s small group. We wrote questions that would initiate a conversation. We wrote questions that would lead kids to describe where they stood spiritually. We then texted the modified small group plan to all our leaders and sent them off to their group time.
Everything was different. Not a single group wrapped up in less than 30 minutes. We had to break some groups as they approach an hour. The conversations were beautiful, honest and real. Exactly what you want on day three of camp. For many kids, this was their big camp moment. It wouldn’t have happened if we hadn’t taken matters into our own hands.
This is what every student and children’s ministry leader needs to understand. Today, more than ever, the ministry has become overwhelmingly plug n play. With video curriculum, video worship, pre-made crafts, and pre-written emails – pulling off ministry has never been easier. The resources are unbelievable and I’m incredibly grateful. However, every church and every leader still needs to lead. Ninty percent of the purchased curriculum or programmed event is perfect. Leverage it to offer an amazing experience. However, mind the remaining 10%. Tweak the closing talk. Change the order of the songs. Put your words into the leader email. Own what you need to own, borrow the rest.
Every leader needs to manage this tension. Too many ministries lean to the extremes. Some ministries write/create everything they do. They believe that curriculum providers don’t understand their kids. Some have this expectation placed on them from leadership. Other ministries are completely “plug ‘n’ play”. They do everything the curriculum tells them to do. Perhaps there is a lack of confidence on what they could or should modify.
My encouragement is to not reinvent the wheel. Lean on the amazing resources available today. Wonderful organizations are creating resources that are far beyond anything we could create on our own. But don’t neglect the opportunity to make it your own. Find appropriate places to tweak and modify. Know what is best for your kids and prioritize those kinds of opportunities.
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