I would like to explore Camp Meeting by answering three questions.
- Why Camp Meeting?
- What is Camp Meeting?
- What is the future of Camp Meeting?
Simon Sinek has taught the world, through his books and wildly popular TED Talk, that “It all starts with why”. There is a danger that in starting with the what, to absolutize the means without truly understanding the end or reason. However, when we start with the reason, we become free to place the “how” in context. In doing so we can then start to ask the question “What can this look like in the future to accomplish the important goals for which it was started?”
Why Camp Meeting?
Francis Asbury has been said to describe Camp Meeting as “a battle ax and weapon of war.” They were not only to bring about spiritual renewal in the hearts and lives of Christians but also to empower them to do battle against the evils of the world. In addition, in our circles, they are a means to preach the message of heart purity, as John Wesley referred to as perfect love. Perhaps the largest benefit of Camp Meetings is the community created. They were skillfully designed to allow us to reconnect with other likeminded friends from other congregations and to develop new friendships. Additionally, they provided places where unsaved people could hear clear sermons on the way of salvation, and often concluded with prayers of salvation around the altar.
What is Camp Meeting?
Camp Meeting was in short, a gathering. It was a gathering centered on worship, preaching, and communion. While there is not time or space to go through the entire history, it can be summarized by saying Christians of similar persuasion would gather together annually to be taught, edified, worship, and share in the sacraments with one another. Eventually Camp Meetings grew so central and popular that families planned their calendars around them, denominations sprung forth from them, even entire towns shut down on the weekends because of them.
So what does Camp Meeting do? At its best, it provides a place for us to rest, to reconnect, to rejuvenate, and to recalibrate. Camp Meeting is a place where time moves more slowly, and the worries and weights of the world can be set aside for a time. Camp Meeting is a place where those we have not seen for some time can come together, share stories, celebrate victories and mourn defeats. Camp Meeting is a place where through worship and Word we can experience the power of the Spirit, and be empowered to serve in our local context. Camp Meeting is a place where we are reminded of what is important. We learn to reorient our lives in the Jesus way of living; we recognize the desperate need for evangelism and discipleship, and the power of the Gospel.
What is the future of Camp Meeting?
Dr. Leonard Sweet says four things must happen for revival to take place. 1) People have re-discovered a passion for the scriptures; 2) they’ve read the scriptures in the vernacular, the language of their culture; 3) they’ve rediscovered Jesus; and 4) they are convinced of the power of the Holy Spirit in their lives. What if this formula was applied to Camp Meetings?
Camp Meeting is strategically designed for the Scriptures to be re-discovered. In both preaching and Bible studies there are multiple avenues for the scriptures to be made fresh again in the lives of those attending. Further, Camp Meeting has always presented both worship and Word in the cultural context of the people. Many of us have memories of Camp Meeting days gone by, where songs spoke to us, stories inspired us, and scripture moved us. We owe it to the next generation to allow them to hear the Gospel of heart holiness in their own vernacular.
The natural result of both of these is we, as a people, will re-discover Jesus; not just in worship services, but in each other. In our communal acts, around campfires and cafeterias, in hymn sings and ring meetings, in ice-cream socials and late nights outside of campers, Jesus will be re-discovered. Finally, we will be convinced of the power of the Holy Spirit in our lives. It is this, which is perhaps the most important aspect for the Holiness movement. The fire of the Spirit can be rekindled within us and spread to our families, our communities, and our churches.