Recently, in a 5 day stretch, my wife, Denise, and I attended funerals for three friends of ours and, maybe more importantly, friends of SpringHill. These three men and their families each made incredible contributions at critical junctures in SpringHill’s history. And by contributions I’m not referring just to financial contributions (though they’ve made plenty of those) but the kind of contributions that come as a result of hard work, energy and wisdom.
For example, one of these friends, Scott, was on our board during the sensitive transition of leadership following the death of our second President, Mark Olson. Another, Herb, spent 23 straight weekends coming to our camp in Evart, MI to help prepare it for it’s grand summer opening in 1969. While our staff gave the third friend the nickname “Saturday Jim” because he was so faithful volunteering every Saturday. And believe me, this is just the short list of their SpringHill contributions. Frankly it’s hard to over state the deep, long and lasting impacts these men had on SpringHill, its staff and their ability to fulfill their mission and vision.
As a matter of fact, I’m not even sure these men, before they passed on, were able to see with their mortal eyes the 100,000’s of people whose lives were, and will be, transformed forever because of their service. But the good news is I’m convinced that all three are now in Eternity and so are blessed to fully see the extent of their effort, including knowing every single person who benefited from their work. I believe this kind of sight, the sight we’ll have in Eternity, is one of the “jewels in our crown” we’re promised for remaining faithful like these three men were.
Speaking of mortal sight, from my perspective, I can’t even begin to imagine SpringHill without people like Scott, Jim and Herb. Together they reflect the nature and beauty of non-profits. You see non- profits, like these three men, exist to benefit the common good and their only fuel is the passion, commitment, time, energy and resources of people who receive no other benefit from their contributions than the anticipation it all will make a lasting difference in the lives of people and in the world.
So Herb, Jim and Scott thank you on behalf of 100,000’s of child, students, young adults, families and churches, past, present and future, for including SpringHill in your life. We’re all in a better place because of you.
This statement to me and a small group of our year around staff during the closing day of camp by a father of a camper with special needs. The father went onto explain that his son has been coming to SpringHill for a number of summers and it’s always the high light of his son’s year. It’s the week when his son feels accepted and loved like a “normal” kid.
I believe it’s this acceptance and love that the dad was referring to when he said, almost to himself, “I only wish the rest of the world could be more like SpringHill”.
Of course it’s always great to hear this kind of unsolicited feedback from a parent. Our goal is that every kid will feel like this camper, to experience the love of Christ through our staff and in the small communities we create.
So with summer camp just ending (and I’m already starting to miss it), this father’s wish has had me thinking. I’ve realized his wish really isn’t a wish at all, but instead it’s our ultimate mission.
You see at SpringHill we exist to create experiences (we call them SpringHill Experience) where Christ can transform the lives of young people. These experiences include embracing all kinds of kids, regardless of who they are, what they’ve done or where they’ve come from. Yet, as powerful as this is, the SpringHill Experience isn’t an end unto itself; it is part of something bigger.
That something bigger is the Church’s work of bringing the values and reality of Christ’s Kingdom into the world. In other words, we haven’t thoroughly done our job unless our campers and staff are leaving SpringHill and bringing a little of it back into the world, making the world a little more like SpringHill, which really means making the world little more like Christ’s Kingdom.43.892799-85.264956
Every single day during the 100 days of our summer camping season, beginning with staff training, we’re serving and caring for some of our 25,000 campers and 1000 summer staff. As a result, every single day, for 100 straight days I make three specific requests to God. These requests not only reflect our organizational priorities and focus but they also reflect my own personal hopes and desires for those we serve and those serve alongside.
My first request, because it’s our most important responsibility, is that our campers and staff are safe spiritually, emotionally and physically. I ask God to protect each camper, staff member and all those who visit our camps. And I pray for all our lifeguards, activity staff, counselors and other staff with the responsibility for the direct care of our campers.
The second request I make is that God will, through the experiences we create, transform the lives of our campers and staff. I make this request because this is our mission, it’s why we exist, it’s what we’re to do (create experiences) and it’s the outcome (life transformation) we’re working and praying for. The answer to this request is when a camper or staff leaves SpringHill with new attitudes, behaviors and perspective on life that are more aligned with God than before they arrived.
My final request is simply that we fill every one of our camp spots, that we’re granted the opportunity to serve as many kids as we’re capable of providing an outstanding SpringHill Experience for. This request reflects our vision of never-resting until every young person has the opportunity to hear, see, and experience Jesus Christ in a life-transforming way.
So last week we crossed the half-way point of our camping sessions and God has been gracious in answering these prayers. It’s been a safe, powerfully transforming, and record-breaking summer at SpringHill. But the summer isn’t over; we still have more kids to serve and staff to lead, which means my work of making my three daily requests continues.
Last week, the week we celebrated Independence Day, I experience part of today’s America I normally don’t see. It’s a part of America torn apart by poverty, broken families, prejudice, violence, and community breakdown. But more significantly I saw a glimpse into tomorrow’s America, with all its hope, its possibility of something better, of lives transformed, of families strengthened, and of communities revitalized. Yet this America is sitting on the precipice, either to continue today’s pattern of sliding towards the abyss or moving up to a better tomorrow.
In the places I visited last week it’s tempting to write off tomorrow’s America because of what today’s America looks like, believing there’s nothing that can be done to change its course. But after last week, I’m more convinced than ever that tomorrow’s America can be significantly different, better, more like the America we want and, more importantly, one that more closely reflects the values of God’s Kingdom.
You see my wife Denise and I visited SpringHill Day Camp teams working in three locations in the Detroit metro area. Each team, along with our ministry allies, served children living in some of the harshest and most challenging situations found in America. These children included Iraqi refugees as well as children born in the some of the poorest inner city communities in our country. Yet in each location, with each child and ministry partner we interacted with, we sensed a hope that can only come through the Gospel of Christ.
Now I’m convinced that each of the 300 or so children and their families we served can, with the help of God’s people, have a future reality that is different from their current one. And if their future reality is different, then our country will have one as well. I believe this to be true because I believe, in the core of my being, that our children are the hope of our country, the hope of the world, the hope of the Church.
This is why SpringHill, and so ministries like it, have as its mission to see the lives of kids transformed. And it’s also why I’ve committed my vocational work to this same cause, the cause of Christ and of all kids.43.928283-85.286682
“One of the largest issues we face is working with ‘twentysomethings’. Their work ethic is poor, they expect everything to be given to them, and they won’t stay with a commitment. We just don’t know what to do. And now we’re even beginning to wonder about the future of the Church if this is who will be taking over in the years ahead.”
This was the perspective expressed by a leader of a large Christian ministry at a round table discussion of Christian ministry CEO’s I participated in a couple of years ago. And after making his statement most of the other 20 leaders in the room all shook their heads in full agreement with many joining in with their own “horror stories” about working with those” darn twentysomethings”.
Ironically, there was one other Christian camp CEO in the group and when we heard this statement and the following discussion we just looked at each other with our eyebrows raised. You see, Christian camp ministry’s built on the good and faithful work of those “darn twentysomethings”. We couldn’t do what we’re called to do, nor do it nearly half as well (nor nearly as fun) without them.
This whole dialogue came rushing back to me earlier this summer as I interact with our nearly 1000 “twentysomethings” staff we hired to help us create SpringHill Experiences this summer.
Instead what I see in our summer staff is the total opposite what these Christian leaders expressed in that forum. As I shared with that group of leaders we, at SpringHill, serve alongside young adults who are highly committed, deeply concerned about others and the world, and who are willing to make great sacrifices to advance Christ’s Kingdom.
Then I said to these CEO’s – “maybe, instead of looking at the faults of twentysomethings, we should first examine our own leadership and the culture of our organizations to see if we have our own adjustments to make before we write off an entire generation of leaders, because in my experience poor followers are usually the result of poor leadership.”43.928283-85.286682
Summer camp literally starts in a matter of days. We’ve known for years there’d be summer camp in 2013. We also know we’re going to have summer camp in 2014, 2015 and for as many summers as we can see into the future.
In other words, it’s no surprise that summer camp is upon us. Of course this means there’s no excuse for not being prepared, planned out and ready for staff training and summer campers. Yet it wasn’t that long ago when, if you had visited SpringHill in May, you would have interrupted our frenzied work as being surprised by finding out at the last-minute that summer camp began in June.
This mad scramble had its allies within our team. Many folks, if they were honest, love the adrenaline rush of doing vast amounts of very important work in a very short period of time. As an organization we even unconsciously honored these folks for their great sacrifice for the cause. Unfortunately this only reinforced our organizational addiction to adrenaline and ultimately led to our team entering summer stressed, exhausted and drained.
So a number of years ago we all agreed that summer camp is never a surprise so there’s no good reason to save our all preparation for the month of May. We agreed that we would begin working on next summer during this summer, including pre-registering campers, finalizing host churches for our Day Camps, and signing up returning summer staff.
We also agreed that all the other important work for the next summer such as property and facilities improvements, summer staff recruitment, and curriculum and program development would begin immediately after camp ended, having specific plans with key milestone dates to keep us on track.
And, maybe most importantly, we also agreed to celebrate good, thoughtful and intentional planning and work instead of honoring adrenaline fueled activity.
So take this post as one small piece of our celebration for the good planning and work our team’s done to be ready for the summer of 2013 (and, for that matter, 2014). Though we’d all admit we’re not yet where we want to be, I’m confident in saying we’re in the best position I’ve ever seen us in going into the summer. And for this I tip my hat to our team for a job well done.43.928283-85.286682
Sunday evening of Memorial Day I had a blast. I joined 5 other SpringHill leaders plus other staff and volunteers and we grilled steak and chicken for nearly 1000 campers at our Michigan Memorial Day Family Camp. It was a riot being with these folks, exhilarating serving and interacting with our guests, cool working on a big and awesome grill, and it was just plain fun doing something outside my regular work.
These few hours reminded me of something I’ve said to our staff over the years and, unfortunately, have recently forgotten myself – “we work for SpringHill, we’re supposed to have fun, and if we’re not something’s not right”.
Yet when our vision is to accomplish something personally and organizationally significant for people and Christ’s Kingdom, it almost always requires discipline, focus and lots of resources. And all of these things can squeeze out the space in our work to do something just for fun. Yet it’s in having a blast that really good and unexpected things can happen, most of which, somehow and some way, moves us forward in fulfilling our vision and goals.
Such surprises include the opportunity to build into key relationships, hearing first hand from our customers and guests, learning something new, or gaining a new perspective about our work, organization or life. Often one of the best things is we gain a new appreciation for our job and the people we get to do it with.
And frankly, it’s this last surprise that caused me, as I walked home Sunday evening, to give thanks for the privilege I have to do what I do and for the opportunity to do it with people I love.43.928283-85.286682
Last week three SpringHill staff and I taught seminars at the Christian Camping and Conference Association’s (3CA) Great Lake’s Regional Conference. It was a chance for us to share with other Christian camping professionals some of what we’ve learned over the years. Teaching in this context clearly aligns with our vision of being an “influential ally” of other like-minded and kindred spirited organizations.
But the truth is teaching is also one of the best ways to learn and so, to be honest, it’s also another reason we were willing to invest the time of four people to teach at this conference. You see when you teach (and do a good job teaching) it requires a number of things from you that benefits you as a learner.
First, it requires you to know your subject well enough to confidently stand before people to present and to handle any questions and disagreements that arise.
Secondly, teaching forces you to be able to communicate what you know in a clear and compelling manner. And the more clearly you can communicate something the more clearly you actually understand it.
Finally, teaching requires further learning because you always discover the gaps in your knowledge and understanding which leads to the need to fill those gaps before standing in front of a crowd.
So I’m a big believer in teaching as one of the best ways to learn and take every opportunity I have to teach. And every time I do I always walk away better for the experience.
So will you consider teaching at a conference, class or other venue if offered an opportunity? You’ll be glad you did, and so will the people who’ll benefit from all that you’ve learned.43.928283-85.286682
At SpringHill we’ve asked and answered our own version of the reformers’ question. We ask “what is the chief end of SpringHill?’ or more clearly “why do we exist?”
And we answer these questions with our mission – To create life-impacting experiences that enable young people to know and grow in their relationship with Jesus Christ.
Our mission explains why God created SpringHill and why God continues to sustain it and give it a bright future.
Another way to understand our mission is to see it as our calling, our vocation. God’s called us to create life-impacting experiences that enable young people to grow in their relationship with Jesus Christ.
So what exactly does the SpringHill mission mean? Let’s break it apart a bit.
Create life-impacting experiences: SpringHill’s called to create life changing experiences we call the SpringHill Experience (SHX).
Enable: We believe that God transforms lives and not the SHX, so our goal is to create SHX’s which help young people hear, see and experience Jesus in a life transforming way.
Young People: This is who we’re ultimately called to serve, to reach out too, and who we ultimately create life transforming SHX’s for.
To Know and Grow: Our chief end is to introduce Jesus to young people who may not know Him and to help those that do to grow in their relationship with Him.
Relationship with Jesus Christ: Ultimately, if the chief end of a person is to glorify God, and to enjoy him forever, than the only way we can fulfill this end is through a relationship with Jesus Christ.
So this is SpringHill’s ultimate purpose, the reason we exist –
to create life-impacting experiences that enable young people to know and grow in their relationship with Jesus Christ. When SpringHill fulfills its chief end enables young people to fulfill theirs – to glorify God, and to enjoy him forever.43.928283-85.286682
The final criteria for evaluating and choosing a camp for the kids you love is simply transparency and outside accountability. Without these two qualities it’s nearly impossible to evaluate all the other areas we’ve discussed over the past four posts. So in many ways you must begin your assessment here.
Let’s first look at transparency.
Transparency is the ability to see into something. It’s vitally important that there’s transparency in any organization that serves kids. There should be no dark corners or secrets when it comes to the care of children.
You can quickly tell the transparency of a camp by asking for following questions:
- Are tours available, especially during camp operations? You should expect to be able to visit and see camp.
- Has the camp been able and willing to answer all the other questions you’ve asked? Did you receive them forthrightly or was it a struggle? If a camp can’t or won’t answer your questions you don’t want to send kids you love there.
- Does the camp provide parents glimpses into a child’s camp experience via video, photos, text messages or emails? They should unless the program, such as a wilderness program, can’t accommodate them.
- How easy is it to connect to camp staff especially when camp is in session? What’s the process for doing so? You should be able to reach someone 24 hours a day, 7 days a week when camp is in session.
Outside accountability is an often overlooked but vitally important quality every camp should voluntarily submit themselves to if they’re the kind of camp worthy of the kids you love. So you should look for the following types of certifications and audits in any camp you’re considering:
- Certification by the American Camping Association (ACA)? The ACA is the camping industry’s only general certification program. Their standards are high and the audits beneficial. You should think twice before sending your kids to a camp that has not been certified.
- Meet all state regulations and inspections. Note some states are better at this than others.
- Outside companies that design and certify high adventure activities such as zip lines, ropes courses, climbing walls, etc. There are experts in this field that help camps operate and provide safe activities.
- Best Christian Workplaces certification or others like it. These outside firms provide insight into the kind of leadership and organization a camp is and how it operates.
- Evangelical Council of Financial Accountability (ECFA) or other outside financial groups that assures integrity in the camps financial practices.
When you evaluate your camp options against the criteria from this post and the previous four posts you’ll make the right decision for the kids you love.43.928283-85.286682