I received a wonderful email from one of my “kids” (a member of a youth group I led in 1978) who tracked me down and shared a humbling note. Here is part of what she wrote:
…over the past thirty-five years I have attended Presbyterian, Episcopal and Methodist churches, and I have been very active in all of them. I am both a teacher and a student, active in Sunday school, Bible Studies, and a wide variety of small groups. A friend of mine passed along an article you wrote (which is how I found you) and I need to tell you that throughout all these years and all the different groups I have been a part of, nothing has ever even come close to the experience I had in your Spirituality Kamp when I was a teenager. I learned more, grew more, and became a better Christian more than I have in any other group in my whole life.
One of the challenges of ministry is that a leader often has little or no idea what impact she or he is making through preaching, teaching, counseling, spiritual formation, etc. It is always a gift when someone takes the time to let a leader know that they made a difference. It is a nice affirmation, but it also brought back to mind one of the most fulfilling and exciting periods in my young ministry. Bear with me as I tell a story, then hopefully I can make some useful observations.
In the seventies, I was working on a couple community development projects and one of the tools we used was KAP analysis. K=knowledge/skills; A=attitudes; P=practices. A KAP analysis helped struggling communities get a fairly good sense of the human resources and communal strengths it could draw from to develop and grow. I “borrowed” (stole) the basic concept and developed a KAMP model (K=knowledge and skills; A=attitudes and values; M=meaning and purpose; P=practices and exercises) to use with teenagers in the church. One summer, while our normal youth group went on hiatus, I launched a bi-weekly Spirituality Kamp, where anyone who was interested would gather to assess their personal current reality and set goals for growth and spiritual development. Very simply, each participant took an inventory in each of the four KAMP areas: what do I know and what do I know how to do? What are my core beliefs and guiding values? What gives my life meaning and how do I define my sense of purpose? What are the things I do on a regular basis to strengthen my relationship with God and help me live more like Jesus Christ?
From there, each person developed a personal vision and action plan. Every participant created a list of those things they wanted to learn/learn how to do, ways they wanted to improve their attitudes and expand their worldview, live more fully a meaningful and purposeful life, and engage in personal and shared practices to strengthen our relationship with God. Each person was paired with someone else, and when we gathered together we basically shared how well we were working on our plans, and ways we could support one another in what we were doing. We began with six youth, but had to move to a larger space within two months, averaging about twenty kids each meeting — and it became a year-round program. When I moved to New Jersey, I relaunched the process (calling it Pneuma – meaning “spirit,” “breath,” or “wind.”).
Without actually meaning to (and before I ever knew about Wesleyan class/band/society accountability groups) I created a safe space for an open exploration customized to the needs and spiritual maturity of every participant. I was nothing more than a catalyst for a very natural formation process. Of all the “programs” I’ve been responsible for over the years, Spirituality KAMP actually demanded the least amount of preparation or expertise. It was, for the young people involved, a true peer-learning experience. It was an immersion in a real discipleship process — self-defined expectations and goals with a positive and affirming structure of mutual accountability.
On reflection, Spirituality KAMP was powerful and made an impact (this is the fifth time someone has contacted me to share how meaningful the experience was for them, and that as a result it inspired them to be active in some form(s) of ministry) for five reasons. First, it was simple – anyone could enter the process, understand it easily, and engage it wherever he or she was in their spiritual journey. Second, it was clear — there were four main areas to work on (cognitive, affective, emotional, spiritual). Third, it was manageable — participants worked on one or two goals at a time. Fourth, it was interactive — it wasn’t a formula process or a prescriptive program; we worked everything out together and customized it every time someone joined the group. Fifth, it produced immediate positive results — the impact was immediate (and apparently, lasting).
So often, we make church so much more complex and convoluted than it needs to be. We produce notebooks and study guides and Power Points and videos and we produce overblown step-by-step instruction manuals, assuming that our end-users aren’t smart enough to work anything out for themselves. Trusting a group to work out its own salvation with fear and trembling has a wisdom all its own. I look at all the ways we structure and over-structure to make complex what Jesus intended to be fairly simple (note: I did not say “easy!”). To begin with individuals, helping them to develop and grow, and then to equip them to function together in healthy Christian community is to give wings to a process that so often bogs down.
A closing note. Almost twenty years ago I got a note about Spirituality KAMP from a young man who only attended twice — dragged there by his then-girlfriend. I remember him sitting off to one side sulking and pouting, making clear to one and all that he in no way wanted to be part of this stupid group. Anyway, he wrote to me to let me know that he accepted Christ, was active in a church, and that the genesis of his faith journey came from Spirituality KAMP. In fact, he was asking permission to use the process with the youth in his church.
Ours is a seed-sowing occupation. We don’t always know what hits the path, what feeds the birds, what gets choked by thorns, but most especially what hits fertile soil and benefits from the miraculous grace of God. What we do matters. What we do helps open people to the transforming power of God’s Holy Spirit. Thanks be to God.