Tag Archives: Youth Ministry

Jr. High Bash – Practicing His Presence

by Jen Hunsberger, Children/Jr. High Director, Blooming Glen Mennonite Church

The annual Jr. High Late Night Bash took place at Dock Mennonite Academy on Friday, March 15, and the house was packed with 190 youth/adults from 15 churches, near and far. The evening was full of games, recreation, music, food, and spiritual encouragement. The night started out with each of us checking out what activities we wanted to try and which friends we wanted to pal around with. We were soon gathered on the main gym bleachers to get an introduction to the night and our first big group game. The game leaders from Spruce Lake showed us what we should do and all of us got onto the gym floor whether we were ready or not! Soon balls were flying and kids were scattered in all directions.

After a few big group games, we filled Dock’s theater for the worship time. It started out with brave volunteers, youth and sponsors, that played minute-to-win-it type games directed by Kyle Rodgers from Franconia Mennonite Church, with the crowd cheering for their favorite competitor. Believe it or not, there may or may not have been some cheating from a certain competitive male youth leader named Mike from Bally (but of course cheaters never prosper and Jess McQuade, Souderton Mennonite Church Jr. High Director, came away with the win!) We then warmly welcomed Brent Camilleri from Deep Run East Mennonite Church to the stage with his band and some lively worship music. The music resonated well with the youth and they were lifting their voices and clapping their hands in time, or not so much, to the music. It was life-giving to say the least.

Next to take the stage was speaker Todd Pearage. He offered a humorous, real-life, you can’t make this stuff up, story that captivated the audience and had us gasping and laughing out loud. He then shared some of his life story and how God works through him to be a “good youth leader” to those he leads. He encouraged us to “Practice His Presence” according to Psalms 139. God knows us, He knows our thoughts, He knows our hearts, He know our ways! Do we act and speak like God is standing next to us all the time? We concluded our worship time with more singing and encouragement to get to know someone new during the night, and to keep our eye out for those that look like they may need a friend and invite them to play!

All participants had the next chunk of time to pick a game of our choice. The inflatable Gaga Pit, 9 square-in-the-air, soccer, basketball, walleyball, dodgeball, Spike ball, giant Dutch Blitz, Nerf games and the inflatable bubble soccer balls were all buzzing with excitement and competition. Midway through the night the smell of pizza filled the building and the snack area was the place to be! There were also table games taking place as snacks were being inhaled by these growing middle schoolers. After we were fueled, we were ready for round two of games and more sweat. All in all, it was a night of action, relationship-building, worshiping our Creator and being encouraged to take part in being a free-spirited youth, if only for a few hours!

Conference Begins Building Youth Formation Team

by Emily Ralph Servant, Interim Director of Communication

Franconia Conference has begun building an intercultural youth formation team to resource youth leaders and to connect youth across congregations, geographies, and cultures.

In February, the conference called Danilo Sanchez and Brooke Martin as the initial members of this team, implementing the recommendations of a two-year youth ministry study.  This study emphasized the need for providing more depth of resources to urban congregations (which make up a third of the conference) as well as to continue the good work of resourcing suburban and rural congregations, expanding these possibilities through the creation of a diverse team.

Danilo Sanchez, of Allentown, PA, will serve as a youth formation pastor for both congregations in the greater Lehigh Valley (PA) region (including New Jersey and New York) and congregations that have significant youth from Spanish-speaking households.

“Danilo is uniquely positioned in his experiences, gifts, and language abilities to serve our conference at this time,” reflects Steve Kriss, Franconia’s executive minister.  “Danilo has ministered in urban settings but also grew up in more suburban, rural parts of the conference, and his experience working with young adults as the director of Mennonite Central Committee’s Summer Service Program helped him to build connections with the Anabaptist community across the country.”

Sanchez also serves on the pastoral teams of Ripple and Whitehall congregations and as the Community Life Director for RCI Village.  He has a degree in youth ministry from Eastern University and a Master of Divinity from Eastern Mennonite Seminary.  In addition to resourcing youth pastors, Sanchez will serve as a liaison for youth ministry within Mennonite Church USA.

 “Danilo cares deeply for the church, young leaders, and youth, which is a perfect fit for this new Conference role,” says Pastor Angela Moyer of Ripple congregation, assistant moderator of the conference board.  “On our Ripple pastoral team, he is a thoughtful, passionate, and dedicated presence, which I have appreciated.”

Brooke Martin, of Telford, PA, will serve as Community Formation Coordinator, which includes providing administrative support for youth activities like the Jr High Blast, Mission Impossible, and other upcoming initiatives.  In addition to her work with the youth formation team, Martin will assist with planning and implementing conference events like equipping seminars, delegate trainings, and networking gatherings, with special attention given to Franconia’s annual Conference Assembly.

Martin is a member of Salford congregation and has extensive experience in administration and event planning as well as a degree in youth ministry from Hesston College.  Mary Nitzsche, Franconia’s associate executive minister, anticipates that Martin’s experience and love for planning, organizing, and coordinating events will be a good match for the conference during this time of expansion and community-building.  “Brooke is a person with contagious energy, confidence, and motivation to begin her new role as Community Formation Coordinator,” Nitzsche observes.

Before joining the conference staff, Martin served as the interim youth ministry leader at Franconia congregation, where Pastor Josh Meyer benefited greatly from her servant heart.  “Her commitment to the Church, her passion for Jesus, her effectiveness in ministry, her graciousness in difficult situations, her ability to meaningfully connect with both students and adults, and her humility of spirit coupled with quiet confidence were all incredible blessings to us,” Meyer reflects.  “I’m confident that our conference will benefit from the gifts Brooke brings and look forward to seeing how God continues using her calling for Kingdom good.”

Journeying In Faith

By Steve Kriss, Executive Minister, and Mary Nitzsche, Associate Executive Minister

Brent, Danilo and Mike

As Conference Youth Minister John Stoltzfus completed six years in that role with Franconia Conference in July, he stated, “As a conference we need to continue to ask the question of how we are passing on the faith and work of the church to the next generation. How are we doing as a church in modeling a self-giving faith centered in Jesus Christ? We will need to place our trust and hope in a revealing God who has been faithful for many generations. We trust that the same Spirit that is at work in our lives will continue to live and move in our children and the next generation of the gathered body of Christ.”

The reality of congregational and conference youth ministry is changing. Conference has been aware of this. Two years ago the Board invited a taskforce to review how conference equips youth ministers, leaders and the youth. John was a part of this process. The task force results and recommendations should be available in the next months.

In August, John and his wife Paula relocated to Harrisonburg, VA where Paula began a pastoral role at Park View Mennonite Church.  Before leaving, John helped to develop an interim plan for continuing Conference youth ministry. Recognizing that youth ministry requires the work of many, three youth pastors have volunteered to serve in the following roles for the next school year: Brent Camilleri, associate pastor of Deep Run East, is assuming leadership for facilitating the ongoing monthly youth pastor gathering; Mike Ford, pastor of youth at Blooming Glen Mennonite Church, is coordinating the Spring Junior High Late Night Blast; Danilo Sanchez, associate pastor of Whitehall and co-pastor of Ripple, will continue to serve on Mennonite Church USA Youth Ministry Council and be a liaison to the denomination.

Conference is grateful for the willingness and readiness of Danilo, Mike and Brent, who bring long histories of service and leadership in our Conference to carry extra responsibilities over the next months ensuring our youth and their leaders continue to be supported and equipped. This interim arrangement gives Conference time to continue the review process and discernment before making any long-term decisions regarding Conference youth ministry.  We value your prayers for continued discernment in next steps as we together imagine Conference-wide youth ministry into the future that is rooted in our shared Anabaptist values and carries out our shared priorities of (trans)formation that is both missional and intercultural in the way of Christ’s peace.

Faith Formation of the Next Generation

By John Stoltzfus, Conference Youth Minister

Psalm 133 states, “How good and pleasant it is when God’s people live together in unity!” My heart felt full and grateful after recently meeting for the last time with some of the youth pastors from both Eastern District and Franconia Conference congregations. This group of persons representing seasoned and new pastors and sponsors invested in youth ministry has met together on a regular basis for many years. To me, they embody the strengths and gifts of God to our broader church collaborating around a unified purpose of passing on a vibrant and living faith to the next generation. We have learned much in our journey together and deeply enjoyed one another’s company along the way.

We have discovered that we can do much more together than on our own. Particularly as the landscape of the church changes, we will need to find more ways to partner together rather than become isolated in ideological or theological siloes. The church has an opportunity to offer a compelling vision of God’s reconciliation to the next generation and beyond if we can find ways to come together in genuine humility and trust. Our youth need to see the church model a way to be authentic community together, when so much in our world is building walls of separation. 

One of the highlights of our monthly gatherings is hosting one another in different churches. We value the opportunity to be stretched and encouraged as we share the challenges and joys of our respective ministry contexts. As our conference continues to expand our borders, we can capitalize on the gifts of our diversity. We have mutual gifts and perspectives to offer in our churches in Philly, Allentown, Souderton, throughout Pennsylvania and beyond — in Vermont, New York, California, and around the globe. These gifts and perspectives can help our youth grow in their understanding of the expansive love and work of God in all people and places. Our youth need the skills of building relationships of understanding and mutual respect that cross boundaries of race, theology, culture and more. Initiatives such as the Walking the Walk program of Interfaith Center of Greater Philadelphia or Taproot Gap Year birthed from Philadelphia Praise Center can offer transformative faith experiences for our youth and young adults.

As we meet together we are encouraged in the reality that we are not alone in this work. Our task is to initiate young persons into mature Christian faith through relationships with numerous adults who join them in living the way of authentic discipleship. As elders we can offer youth friendship, guidance and listening ears as they make the passage through adolescence into spiritual maturity. This is the work of the whole church and not just a youth pastor or a few youth sponsors in the congregation.

Youth ministry cannot be done in a vacuum. As we consider forming faith in our young people, we cannot think that the process of discipleship begins in ninth grade, or can be relegated to a youth pastor. Youth ministry is only part of the whole life-cycle of faith formation embedded within a multi-faceted approach between home and church and the broader community.

Research shows that those youth who go off to college and beyond are more likely to hold onto their faith and become involved in church as adults based on the commitment and priority that church and spiritual matters played for their parents. Youth ministry has to include parents by supporting parents in their own faith and by helping parents model and communicate faith to their own teenagers. In addition, one of the most common factors for youth who stick with faith and church into adulthood is that they had at least five significant relationships with adults as a youth. Might the future of youth ministry be less programmatic and become more embedded into the fabric of the overall mission and life of the church?

One of the things my wife and I have appreciated about our time at Plains Mennonite Church is the investment by the whole congregation in the life and faith of our children. When we were looking for a church home, we were not looking for a church with a dynamic youth program as much as we were looking for a community of believers modeling an active faith that incorporated the nurture of children and youth into the whole life of the congregation.

What is the invitation of the church at this time? As a conference we need to continue to ask the question of how we are passing on the faith and work of the church to the next generation. How are we doing as a church in modeling a self-giving faith centered in Jesus Christ? We will need to place our trust and hope in a revealing God who has been faithful for many generations. We trust that the same Spirit that is at work in our lives will continue to live and move in our children and the next generation of the gathered body of Christ.

Are We Ready to Listen?

By John Stoltzfus, Conference Youth Minister

I wonder if the Biblical story of Samuel and Eli provides a glimpse of the need for the intergenerational witness of the church community. In Eli, we have the elder who knows that God has spoken in the past and holds the treasured words of response when God does speak. In Samuel, we have the young whose ears are open to the new words of God and can speak them courageously. Samuel needed Eli and Eli needed Samuel. In their relationship a door was opened to hear and understand the voice of God more clearly.

On Friday, March 16, close to 150 youth and adults representing Conference churches from Allentown to Philadelphia and in between, came together. They gathered together in worship and fun for the annual Junior High Late Night Blast. They played intense games of dodgeball, soccer, bubble soccer and the ever popular gaga pit.

During worship, Dan Occhiogrosso shared a message through story and basketball about how God is calling each of us to offer our gifts and whole selves in service to God. Everyone was in rapt attention as he shared his story of committing his life to God while demonstrating this through some crazy basketball dribbling skills.

Recognizing that they have something to offer the church, our youth were given the opportunity to write responses to three questions throughout the evening:

  1. What is awesome about your church?
  2. If you were a pastor, how would you encourage teenagers to grow in faith?
  3. What change do you hope to see in the church in the next 10 years?

Here are a sampling of their responses:

My church is awesome because … we have people from all over the world; everyone is supportive and loving; we welcome all people, care for them and make them feel at home; we are Christ’s hands and feet; we stay together even though we face obstacles.

If I was pastor … I would create more ministry gatherings besides Sunday mornings; I would encourage them to show love through their actions, meet new people and share God’s love; I would encourage teens to do big things in the community to show God’s love; I would make sure that everyone’s voice is heard.

In ten years I hope my church … becomes more multicultural; grows more followers that love Jesus; goes out into areas that need God’s love and healing; has more children and teens involved.

Are we listening to the Samuels in our midst? Are we open to listening? How are we listening to and investing in the next generation? What might they have to say about how God is moving the church into the future?

Havin’ A Blast!

By John Stoltzfus

youthevent6What do you get when you bring together 130 junior high youth from 15 different churches in Franconia and Eastern District Mennonite Conferences? A picture of both the present and future reality of the church and kingdom of God.

Our junior high youth are image bearers of God. They have the ability to both feel and express the love and acceptance of God, giving expression to this through worship, energetic games and relationship building at the annual Junior High Late Night Blast on Friday, March 11.

Christopher Dock Mennonite High School provided the backdrop for five hours of fun and fellowship. Junior High youth and their brave sponsors from as far north as Whitehall Mennonite Church and as far south as Philadelphia Praise Center and Centro de Alabanza came together to give witness to the life of our larger church community. What a wonderful testimony of the fullness and diversity of God’s presence among us!

youthevent4Part of the purpose of this annual event is to give our youth a positive and memorable experience of worshipping together, playing hard, and catching a glimpse of the larger body of Christ. This event also gives opportunity for youth sponsors to engage with their youth and to partner together with other churches in ministry. One of the keys to developing an enduring faith in our youth is intergenerational relationships. Our youth need to know that they are valued and loved by all in the church.
youthevent7The evening included large group games and a host of other activities led by a group of great staff and volunteers from Spruce Lake Retreat Center. Bobby Wibowo led a band from Philadelphia Praise Center in a time of energetic worship through song. And, of course, it would not be a youth event without some sponsors getting a face full of whipped cream.

Thank you to everyone that helped to plan and carry out all the activities and a special thank you to all the youth leaders that commit themselves to serving with their youth. The Middle School years can be a series of highs and lows. There will be times of frustration and angst as they seek to form identity and explore independence but also times of great joy as they begin to discover their calling to be a child of God and follower of Christ in this world.

John Stoltzfus is the Conference Minister for Franconia and Eastern District Conferences. 

Acting Smaller, Going Deeper, Thinking Wider: A Vision for Youth Ministry

by John Stoltzfus

John Stoltzfus picThere are many challenges that face our youth ministers and workers, yet we have a vision to overcome these challenges. A few stories I have heard from some Mennonite churches in our conference include:

  • A family with young children moves into the area. They are advised by many friends to choose a larger church with more programming for children and youth.
  • A youth pastor plans a weekend activity for the youth group. One youth shows up.
  • A youth pastor asks another youth pastor from a large church for recommended curriculum. He suggests a full package yearlong curriculum that costs $799. The pastor from the smaller church immediately knows this is out of the question because of limited church funds.
  • A family decides to leave a church citing the small number of youth and children as a contributing factor. The parents are concerned that their children will not choose to become baptized with so few peers.
  • A youth pastor confesses that it can be hard on the ego to look at the diminishing size of the youth group. He feels that the church is putting some blame on him.
  • With a smaller group, a youth pastor admits that he now has more time to spend with each youth.

From what I see, most Mennonite churches in the conference are not experiencing sustained or significant growth among the number of youth and young adults in their congregations. Of course there are always exceptions but the majority of conversations I have with youth workers include talking about the challenges of learning to work with smaller youth groups.

This is not just a youth problem. This is an adult, multi-generational challenge contributing to the decline of church attendance and affiliation. Articles and research studies abound in pointing to the reasons why this may be so.

Asking the why question can be a good and necessary exercise. However, I want to focus on the opportunities. Is there a compelling vision for the future of youth ministry in this changing context? The following reflections are a collection of ideas from area Mennonite youth pastors.

Acting Smaller

youth photo 1 12-3-15We need to act our size. We can’t pretend to act like the churches we used to be or like the mega church down the road. The smaller youth group can be a good place to grow disciples, deepen learning and widen our sense of mission. The sentiment of “we can’t do this because we are a small-sized group” turns to “we get to do things differently because we are a smaller size”. Think intimate, spontaneous, moveable, accessible, and other adjectives.

A youth group of 10 persons and fewer cannot act the same as a youth group of 50. It impacts budget, staffing, curriculum, programming and much more. While a small church may not offer all the bells and whistles of a larger church, it may offer more individualized care and discipleship. A church may be less tempted to hire a “rock star” youth pastor to relate to their youth and instead work to build up a congregation-wide culture of intergenerational relationship and discipleship making. I am not advocating for the devaluing of youth pastors and those who specialize in youth ministry; however, youth pastors at their best enable and empower other adults in the congregation to relate to and disciple youth.

Research indicates that the most common factor for youth who stick with faith and church into adulthood is that they had at least 5 significant relationships with adults as a youth. Might the future of youth ministry be less programmatic and become more embedded into the fabric of the overall mission and life of the church?

Going Deeper

youth photo 2 12-3-15When I taught the Sunday school class at a previous church, I used to despair when the majority of the group would not show up on any given Sunday. But then I started to see an opportunity. With a smaller group I was able to adapt the lesson to the specific interests and concerns of each youth. I began to make the kids count rather than count the kids. I was better able to connect individually with the youth and be more practical in application rather than creating studies and lessons that needed to connect with everyone in a larger group. Might the future of youth ministry more like the relationship between Jesus, the rabbi, and his small band of disciples?

Thinking Wider  

What if we were to consider our youth as not just those who show up on a Sunday morning with their parents, but also the youth who live in the communities surrounding our church? Consider what is happening with Project Haven in East Greenville operating out of the former Peace Mennonite Church building. A robotics club, bicycle recycling shop, weekend hangout spot are just some of the initiates that are engaging youth in the community and local schools. Might the future of youth ministry be more entrepreneurial, happening out in the community and making young people agents of ministry, not just objects of it?

Thinking wider might also include more collaboration with other community organizations and other churches. Mennonite youth groups in the area are already doing this — from doing winter retreats together to fundraising together to go to conventions. These relationships have the possibility of moving us across lines of culture, race, economic status and theology. Might the future of youth ministry be less about keeping youth in our church and more about helping them engage and build the kingdom of God in the wider world?

While we face many challenges in keeping youth engaged in the church and reaching out to draw in more youth, if we act smaller, go deeper and think wider, we might see that change.

John Stoltzfus is the Conference Youth Minister for Franconia Mennonite Conference and Eastern District Conference.

 

God’s “acolyte” in youth ministry

by Scott Franciscus, Covenant Community

From an early age, church has played an important part in my life. Growing up in the Episcopal Church, which followed a consistent liturgy, and very rarely missing the early morning worship each Sunday, I sought to become as involved with the church service as possible. As soon as I was able after being confirmed, I became an acolyte (which means “helper” or “attendant” in Greek), also known as “altar-boy”. The role of the acolyte is to assist in the worship service by carrying a processional cross, lighting candles, helping to set up and clean up the altar for communion, holding the Gospel Book that the priest read from, swinging incense, and holding the collection plates after the offering was taken.

Throughout my years in middle school and high school, I continued to take on more responsibilities as an acolyte including reading the Old or New Testament liturgy or administering the shared communion cup during the celebration of the Lord’s Supper. Even though my family was proud of my involvement in the church and occasionally someone from the church would comment on my “future” in the church, I did not ever see myself “called” to formal ministry. While I stayed connected to the church during my high school and college years, it was done more out of obligation than desire.

When I started attending Messiah College—in part because it was close to home— ministry was not in my plans. I entered Messiah College as a declared accounting major. Since I enjoyed accounting and did well in my accounting classes in high school, it seemed like the perfect fit for me, especially since it seemed like the perfect profession so I could get the most out of life and accomplish my dreams. Little did I know at the time that it wasn’t about my dreams and what I wanted out of life.

While at Messiah, I became involved with a group called “I’m Worth Waiting For” which offered abstinence-presentations to health classes and church youth groups. During this time, God began instilling a passion in my heart to work with young people. At the time, the church I grew up in didn’t have a ministry to youth outside of Sunday School where I could go to talk with someone about faith or struggles, or even just to hang out.

The more opportunities I had connecting with youth, the more God called me to change who I was living my life for. Although I enjoyed working with youth and taking the Bible classes at Messiah, the last place I saw myself was in ministry. I made the decision that, regardless of how I felt God leading me, regardless of his gentle persistence, going into ministry was not an option.

It took almost failing out of college for me to realize that it wasn’t about what I wanted out of life. I can still see myself walking around the bases of a baseball field as the snow was gently falling, wrestling with God on why I was not the right person. I tried to convince him there were better people to be in ministry and explain why he didn’t need to call me.

God showed me that the call wasn’t about my goodness but his, that my decisions weren’t the best but his were, that it wasn’t about my goals but his call.  He showed me that no matter how far I tried to run, he would be there waiting for me.

It was then that I decided to follow his path and listen to Christ’s voice. It was then that I realized the abundant life Jesus Christ offers. What a joy it has been being God’s “acolyte” in youth ministry ever since!

Young people need to be part of renewing the church

By Sheldon C. Good
Mennonite Weekly Review

I might get in trouble for saying this, but I think religion is failing young people. I believe the church is the living body of Christ, the primary vehicle for extending God’s love. But bad religion, and in some ways the church, is stifling good religion — our ability to more fully join in God’s movement in the world.

Young people can and must be part of renewing the church. There’s a movement of young people right now who are fired up about moral and spiritual issues. We need to tap into this energy.

A bit about people under 30: We’re some of the most educated, technologically savvy, globally connected people ever. But we’re coming of age in turbulent economic times and in a polarized political and religious climate.

Many young people love the church. They may have been baptized in a congregation and may have lots of church friends and mentors. But for many of us, church isn’t working and has been or perhaps still is painful.

So how and why is religion failing young people?

Partly because of increasing polarization, according to Robert D. Putnam and David E. Campbell. In the landmark book American Grace: How Religion Divides and Unites Us, they show how since the 1990s young people have disavowed religion at unprecedented rates.

Many young people, the authors say, are uneasy with the linkage between religion and conservative politics. The number of religious conservatives and secular liberals is growing, leaving a dwindling few religious moderates.

Pew research shows that more than a quarter of people under 30 say they have no religious affiliation — four times more than in any previous generation when they were young. People tend to become more religious as they age, yet young people today are the least overtly religious generation in modern U.S. history.

Yet those of us under 30 are fairly traditional in our religious beliefs and practices. We pray and believe in God at similar rates as our elders. We are no less convinced than previous generations that there are absolute standards of right and wrong. We believe the best faith is lived out in creative, Christlike love.

For too long, the church has  reflected the polarization and miscommunication of society. Life isn’t about being right or wrong, Democrat or Republican, Cath­olic or Mennonite. Good religion addresses the world’s deepest moral and spiritual questions.

Young people need to be on the vanguard of renewing the church and the world. In fact, we already are.

Young people today are building bridges across faiths. Young people are challenging assumptions of what worship looks and sounds like. Young people are on the front lines, leading protests at military academies and protesting economic injustice and greed in Occupy demonstrations.

Here are two more opportunities for renewal in ourselves, in our churches and in our world.

1. We need to do Christian formation together. Though texting and Facebook are compelling ways of staying connected, young people want and need deep, face-to-face conversations. We need to move from living as individuals in worldwide webs of communication to intimate communities of believers sharing God’s redeeming love.
2. We need to heal our broken world together. Young people are increasingly liberal on social issues. We care less about the culture wars and more about broader social, economic and environmental justice. Rather than allowing our differing viewpoints to hinder conversations, we need to honestly listen rather than jump to defend ourselves.

I don’t think young people want to be less religious. We are plenty spiritual. But our generation will continue losing our religion unless we find ways to live and share the peaceable way of Jesus with a broken world.

Adapted from a chapel presentation given Nov. 30 at Christopher Dock Mennonite High School in Lansdale, Pa.  Reprinted by permission of Mennonite Weekly Review.

To each according to their need: Ongoing partnership in the Vermont Mountains

Brandon Bergey, Bethany, brandon@bethanybirches.org

Ayn Rand’s novel Atlas Shrugged presents ideas that are seemingly opposed to the Reign of God. Ayn Rand’s philosophy on the matter of need suggests that people should get only what they earn, regardless of their needs. If you earn it, it’s yours. If you need it, well, you can’t have it until you earn it. She believed that this would create a society full of contributing individuals. Consider that.

Now, consider Acts 4:32-35 from The Message.

The whole congregation of believers was united as one—one heart, one mind! They didn’t even claim ownership of their own possessions. No one said, “That’s mine; you can’t have it.” They shared everything. The apostles gave powerful witness to the resurrection of the Master Jesus, and grace was on all of them. And so it turned out that not a person among them was needy. Those who owned fields or houses sold them and brought the price of the sale to the apostles and made an offering of it. The apostles then distributed it according to each person’s need.

I realize that Ayn Rand may not have seriously considered the Reign of God as a legitimate economic model. That doesn’t mean Bethany Birches Camp (BBC) shouldn’t. While I’m not advocating for communism or even a reversion to the early church, I’m advocating for an acceptance of God’s spirit and way, best viewed through the person of Jesus: a person who sent his followers out to the world with almost no earthly possessions; a person who told his students to give their shirt away to someone who demanded it, rather than put up a fight; a person who taught that if two or three gather in his name and agree, whatever they ask for will be given. Jesus was not a person focused on rights and earnings. He was a person who understood that anything he had was a gift from his Father in Heaven.

Summer campers at Bethany Birches. Photo by Brandon Bergey

Since the beginning of BBC in 1965 we have tried to offer a unique camping experience, creating a community of love with whoever joins and we’ve tried to do this at a low price. While a camping community is a different version of the church than what we see in Acts, there is much similarity.

Obviously, offering something to someone for less than what it costs to provide that something runs up a deficit somewhere. Let’s put this in the context of camp. If it costs us about 400/camper, and we charge $200, there is $200 of expense remaining. Who will pay the remaining $200? Enter: donors. Donors give gifts from the riches they’ve been given.

Bethany Birches was initiated with a donation of land. And since that very first day, our story has been one of people providing money, time and other resources to make the camp possible; an ongoing illustration of God’s provision for kids to have a special, faith-developing experience.

In a board meeting in 2010 we were discussing these issues around the topic of pricing. We talked about the fact that some of our camper families have much resource and some have very little. We developed the idea of tiered pricing.

We are just now finished with the first summer season that used a tiered pricing structure. The highest tier is about what we figure it costs to have a camper at camp (no profit built in). Both of the lower tiers are donor-subsidized rates.

Could we consider this a Kingdom economic model? Or perhaps foolishness? Maybe we can just call it a system built for taking advantage of. Whatever you call it, we’re trusting that the Christ who inspired the craziness in the book of Acts will continue to inspire us and show us a way so that “not a person among them was needy.”