Update from the President
September 15, 2016
United Youth Camps Directors' Conference
We were pleased to host the camp directors' conference this past week at the home office. We also invited the camp directors' wives to come. Several came and offered valuable suggestions and insight from their work alongside their husbands in the United Youth Camps program. We also had representation from camps outside the United States. The atmosphere of the conference was cordial, and it was much like a reunion of very good friends.
We started by talking about the great value of the UYC program that has now run 22 consecutive years, directed by committed and motivated leaders. The conference agenda included reports from all camp directors as they honestly assessed their camp, staff, venue, costs, "things that worked/things that didn't work" among other observations. We also spoke about the pre-teen program. Then there were discussions about camp organization, insurance, photo policy, background checks, camp website, finances, registration, record-keeping, etc. Matt Fenchel, who has directed Challenger West, also spoke about the young adult leadership initiative and the role of young adults in mentoring and engaging our teens.
One key subject was discussion of the Christian living theme. For the coming year it will be "Building Your Relationship With God." Each day a sub-theme will delve deeper into the main topic. Our camps are not activity camps to just have a lot of fun. Camps have a carefully crafted plan to educate our young people throughout the day about spiritual values that we hold true and dear. We start by speaking of the Zone that all are to live within while at camp and beyond. From morning till night the camp theme is impressed on campers from prayers, compass checks, Christian living discussions, assemblies, storytelling and almost any other opportunity in communication.
We spoke about the Mission Statement of the Church, which includes the important component of making disciples. Are we making our children disciples of God the Father and Jesus Christ? Are they students and followers as a result of our teaching and example? Are we doing the best we can in making them students and learners of the spiritual values that we hold true?
When we went over last year's exit surveys from campers, staff and parents, we noted that one area that needed attention was to give our youth a stronger ability to explain God's Word. What could we do better? How can we instill more confidence in our campers to expound God's Word?
This challenge is not something limited to campers, as has been noted recently. For example, our Ambassador Bible College year began with more than a few students wanting to develop the ability to explain our beliefs to others in a convincing biblical manner. Some said that they know what they believe but feel a need to be have better skills in explaining their beliefs more persuasively.
Also in our recent Leadership Workshop over Labor Day weekend, the exit survey rated two classes very highly. One was our class on apologetics by Steve Myers and the other was a presentation titled "Being a Disciple First, Then a Leader" by Darris McNeely. Apologetics is defined as "reasoned arguments or writings in justification of something, typically a theory or religious doctrine." All these examples point to our need to do better at "making disciples," and I'd like to comment on this.
What's Your Role in "Making Disciples"?
After His resurrection, Jesus Christ gave very specific directions to His followers: "Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations" (Matthew 28:18).
What does that mean for us today? The answer is vital for understanding the work of the Church as we relate to the Mission Statement for the United Church of God. The Mission Statement has three elements that flow from this passage, and these statements hold part of the answer.
"The mission of the Church of God is to preach the gospel of Jesus Christ and the Kingdom of God in all the world, make disciples in all nations and care for those disciples."
If we're supposed to be making disciples, what exactly then is a disciple? Further, how does making disciples square up with the fact that Jesus Himself pointed out that only God can call someone to His truth? (John 6:44). Do the two statements contradict each other?
The answer, of course, is no. Let's see what the Bible says.
God the Father does indeed do the calling, spiritually awakening His truth within a person. As a new convert, one who is taking his or her first spiritual "baby steps," a commanded choice to become a disciple lies ahead.
You'll find that the Greek verb transliterated matheteuo (to be a disciple, to make a disciple) reflects someone who is actively learning, who is actively growing toward spiritual maturity. A biblically-defined disciple is someone who has fully surrendered themselves to God and Jesus Christ and who has set about on an active course of personal training.
The knowledge and new way of thinking imparted by the Holy Spirit radically changes a worldly man or woman. As the new convert begins to fellowship with other spirit-led Christians, they dig deeper, personally seeking to "be transformed by the renewing of your mind" (Romans 12:2). These gifts change the way they think and act. You are a disciple when the Holy Spirit dwells in you.
A disciple of Jesus Christ reflects and is known for their belief and practice of that belief. Disciples seek and nurture a direct spiritual relationship with God the Father and Jesus Christ. Their goal is continuous and fully conscious contact with God that grows daily. The Christian disciple will commit themselves to becoming a learning believer, growing more each day in "the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ" (2 Peter 3:18).
What are the practical applications of this? As Jesus outlines in the 14th chapter of Luke, a person who wants to be a disciple puts his spiritual relationship with God and Jesus first. That mirrors the first and greatest commandment that reverberates throughout the entire Bible: "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind" (Matthew 22:37, emphasis added).
Conversion and Training
But there's more. An energized disciple eagerly disciplines him or herself to submit to a path of training that leads to a maturing of spiritual growth. Paul drew this analogy for Timothy: "Train yourself to be godly. Physical training is good, but training for godliness is much better, promising benefits in this life and in the life to come" (1 Timothy 4:7-8, New Living Translation).
There is much more to learn about becoming a disciple. Before we can make disciples, we have to disciples. That's a lifelong commitment. What I have written here just scratches the surface.
Becoming a disciple is intensely rewarding. It is exciting. As we approach and observe the upcoming Holy Days, let us rededicate ourselves to becoming lifelong learning believers, walking humbly with our God and Jesus Christ.
Making disciples is core to our mission. It is a process of training and teaching those who are open to understanding the truths that become self-evident from the Word of God. But it needs to be skillfully and methodically explained. I plan to write more on this topic.
North Carolina Next Week
On Monday, our Beyond Today crew is leaving for three public appearances in the cities of Raleigh, Greensboro and Charlotte on September 20, 22 and 25. I do ask for your prayers for all of us who are traveling and involved in the campaign. Please pray for the pastors and congregations who will host these events and pray for God's call to hear a message of great importance about where we are in prophecy, why we matter to God, and repentance. I will be praying earnestly and ask anyone who wishes to join me in a day of fasting this weekend in earnest prayer for the coming Beyond Today public appearance campaigns next week.