Thinking Out Loud

March 3, 2011

The Accountant at the Christian Camping Seminar: An Original Story

The director of a large regional camp center had just returned from a large Christian Camping conference when he decided to host an all-day meeting for directors of smaller facilities who would never be able to attend such an event.     He gathered the names of about a dozen small places from around the state, found 14 people who were interested in coming and amazingly found a Tuesday that they could meet.

Some of them only ran day camps, and one of them had a parcel of land that only operated as a camp for only two weeks out of the summer.     He shared some things that had taken place at the conference but was careful not to be the big camp telling the small camps how to do things.    They watched a few video clips, ate lunch together, and gave a tour of his site to those who hadn’t seen it before.

Mostly, he led discussions.   Realizing that it was becoming a one-man show, he tried to get someone to come as a speaker to wrap up the thing before dinner.    Everybody he picked, including members of his own staff and board, were tied up that day, so he invited a guy from his church who was a good Bible teacher but honestly wouldn’t know the difference between a camping facility and a dairy farm.

At 4:00 PM, his friend arrived, coming straight from the office in the city still wearing a suit and tie.    Not a jacket and tie, but a suit that looked like he had just stepped off a New York subway into downtown Manhattan.     He stood and stared at the group of nine men and five women who were wearing mostly jeans and golf shirts.

If he didn’t feel out of place enough for that reason, he had also realized about half-way through the day that he’d left his Bible and his notes somewhere else.  However as he kept driving — and praying — a backup plan slowly began to take shape, so that when he was introduced, he knew the exact direction he wanted their time together to go.

“I don’t really know much about what you do;” he started, “but I want to ask you just three questions about your facilities.  The first question is, ‘Do you have hard water or soft water?'”

This took everyone by surprise, including the person who had invited him.    But it recovered quickly into a lively discussion on how all water is not the same, and how it affects everything from laundry to making coffee.

“The second question,” he continued,  “is, ‘Do you have hard soil or soft soil?”

This time around they knew the drill, and discussed not only the growth of plants and trees, but how soil type affects drainage during a storm, or putting up new buildings.

After another few minutes on that one, he put up his hand to calm the discussion and asked a third question.

“The final question,” he said, “is, ‘Do you have hard people or soft people?”

One person laughed out loud but mostly there was silence.

At this point he said, “You know, I got invited here because I teach the Bible at our church, but the truth is I’ve checked my car twice at lunchtime and my Bible and notes aren’t there, and I’m lost without them.

“But I really felt directed to talk about this.    In any organization there are people.    Some work behind the scenes and only interact with the other staff.    Some work on the frontlines and interact with the broader community.   But all of us need to be people who the Holy Spirit can work through and can be seen working through.    All of us need to lose the tough and rough edge and be people who have been softened, so that the higher purpose of what we do is evident to anyone who meets us.    All of us need to develop the ability to communicate the love of God to people, not over the course of several days or hours, but over the course of several seconds.    It needs to be something we wear on our faces.   There needs to be a difference.   The problem — and I expect it’s true in Christian camping as much or more as anywhere else — is that we’re so task driven and so physically stretched that we lose sight of being the people God wants us to be in encouraging others and being salt and light in the bigger world.   We miss an opportunity to show that what we sing or confess on Sunday morning is a real factor in our lives.   We appear to have it all together, when in fact, Christianity is meant to be a community of broken people.   We give the impression that the job at hand is more important than the people we’re doing it with.

“I guess that’s it;” he concluded.   He had driven for an hour out to the country to deliver less than 300 words of exhortation.

He decided the closing prayer would take the form of silence, with each person praying their own benediction on the time they had spent together.

So… here’s the question:  In your church, in your ministry organization, in your family, do you have hard people or soft people?

~PW, July 15, 2006


  1. His closing statement caught my attention: “And as a result of this, our organizations, our enterprises are no different than you find in any sales or service industry. It’s all business.”
    To my point, when a ministry, any ministry, especially a ministry like camps and conferences, charge a cash price, they are in an immediate position to have to turn people away. As you say, those “who would never be able to attend such an event.” The result, the people at these conferences become “hard.” If they get their money, then they are kind and soft. If they do not get their money, they become hard.
    What is my point? If Christians, who are supposedly serving in the Name (3 John 1:7), put a cash price on their ministry, they are really selling Jesus Christ. My question: How “hard” can you get?
    What is my bigger point: When we truly serve the “Name,” when we are doing God’s will, doing His work His way, He provides everything that is needed. If money is needed, He knows just how to provide it. Charging a price to serve the “Name” is not an option, it only revels the hardness of heart.
    Observation: Today, we see many ministries that charge a price. What is the result?

    Comment by Robert Armerding — March 3, 2011 @ 7:49 am

    • Interesting comment inasmuch as I added that particular sentence yesterday; it doesn’t appear in the original, but I was trying to flesh out how the event would play out.

      To respond, I guess I need to clarify something: I don’t see the various Christian camping organizations that my wife and I have worked with the same as I see the Christian conference “industry” which I often loathe.

      There I said it.

      The small and medium sized summer camps for kids similar to the ones being described here do indeed charge fees, but many kids attend on sponsorships and camps of this nature don’t turn kids away if the parents can’t afford full fees.

      The average Christian conference isn’t like that. They mostly draw pastors and leaders who everyone knows has big budgets for this sort of thing. Ditto the weekend retreats for women which cost anywhere from $125 to $200 per person. An individual church may subsidize attendees, but at this type of event, the conference center always gets 100% of their standard fee.

      Again, to repeat very clearly, the Christian summer camps for kids that we’ve worked with are not like that.

      But let’s be honest here; this story isn’t about Christian camps at all. It’s a parable, and I wrote it about churches; many different churches I’ve been involved with that had very, very “hard” people. Every good parable has a diversion, and the one here is the whole camp thing. It’s also about Christian parachurch organizations of all types, including those I’ve encountered in the world of Christian publishing and book distribution.

      But it’s mostly about churches; especially those where the “default answer” to everything is always “no.”

      Comment by paulthinkingoutloud — March 3, 2011 @ 9:51 am

  2. comment reset as reply to comment # 1

    Comment by paulthinkingoutloud — March 3, 2011 @ 9:50 am

  3. Wow I, this is really applicable to a work situation right now. I will have to chew on this one.

    Comment by Rick Apperson — March 3, 2011 @ 11:11 am

  4. Paul, please correct my scripture reference. It should be 3 John 1:7
    Thank you for accepting my comment. I appreciate your integrity.
    In the big picture, my focus and concern has been with any ministry that charges a cash price. So many have become so accustomed to it, they think it is normal. Thus, to be confronted is a major shock.
    My first concern is to know and to do the will of God. Once we align with His will, then the financial side will be no problem. He provides. Commercializing is not an option.

    Comment by Robert Armerding — March 3, 2011 @ 12:56 pm

    • This all reminds me of when Keith Green started offering his albums for “whatever you can contribute.” It really shook things up at the time, to the point where some said, “What’s next, free stereo systems for the needy?” (Of course that begs the question, why not?) Maybe we need another Keith Green to get people rethinking this.

      But you’re right, there’s a built-in assumption that everybody is able to fork over whatever arbitrary amount was determined.

      Thanks for commenting. Don’t forget additional comments are $4.50 each.

      Comment by paulthinkingoutloud — March 3, 2011 @ 1:09 pm

  5. I long ago capitulated to the summer camp money-changers. Can we return to free camps for unsaved young people? Maybe. I visit a church that feeds 500+university students a full course dinner for FREE once a week. We must be soft and PLIABLE I think, to serve our Lord in sincerety especially when we are trying to reach our children with the Gospel!!!JL

    Comment by Joe Lambert — March 4, 2011 @ 12:18 am

  6. From this point on, I think I’m going to restrict comments to the actual topic.

    This is about hard-edged people and people whom God has softened their hearts.

    I am reverting back to the 2006 version of this, deleting the sentence, “And as a result of this, our organizations, our enterprises are no different than you find in any sales or service industry. It’s all business.” I think that part is getting all of you running down the wrong rabbit trail.

    Comment by paulthinkingoutloud — March 4, 2011 @ 10:18 am

  7. Wow what an intreging story, thank you for shareing!

    Comment by Jack Napiare — July 20, 2011 @ 11:30 am

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