by Amy Jacober
You know what camp love looks like. You’ve seen it more than once. Teenagers gazing at one another across the room. The carefully orchestrated seating so paths cross. The choice of free time activities hoping for “chance” meetings. A few awkward questions. “Who is he?” Or, “Is she already with someone else?” You may even have a leader conspiring to see this happen. Some leaders are just born matchmakers. You can almost hear them singing the score from “Fiddler on the Roof” trying to convince everyone around them that camp is THE place to find someone who will change their life! This is, after all, church camp, so it must be God-ordained, right?
We’ve all seen this. Heck, many of us experienced this at some point growing up. Camp is like a weird interruption in the space time continuum where days feel like weeks and weeks feels like months. Everything is more intense and it seems perfectly natural to “date,” break up, and even find a second person to date all in a six-day spread. But what happens when it’s not a student in your group but a leader?
For many summers I worked with my denomination’s camp. Our summer staffs had a week of training before any youth groups arrived. One of the important conversations every year was given by our coordinator who came for that first week of training. The talk was about the “no exclusive relationships” policy. We read it, discussed it, and had to sign a covenant stating that we would not violate this. At the end of every summer, our coordinator would return. After we had covered camp details, logistics, evaluations and the like we would be addressed one final time. Every summer, the “no exclusive relationships” policy would be raised again and our staff would be asked who had hooked up and was heading toward engagement! This was a celebrated event. At one point in time the majority of the supervising coordinators in the denominational office had all met their spouses at camp. Needless to say, the “don’t form an exclusive relationship” policy was not exactly adhered to strongly.
So what is a relationship-loving youth pastor to do when he or she sees potential love across the registration line either for themselves or one of their leaders? Camp is a sacred time and often an important element in the spiritual formation of adolescents. As youth leaders, our first priority needs to be the teens we are at camp to serve. A few reminders ahead of time can prove helpful:
Every single move you make as a youth leader is being watched by the teens in your youth group. If the teens even suspect a crush is forming, they will weigh in and offer approval or disapproval. With said approval comes “help” to orchestrate this romance. It has potential to become THE focus of the entire week.
It is not OK to ditch activities or sneak out after lights out in order to get to know this person. It may be tempting because it feels like the only way to have a conversation not being monitored by everyone who knows you, but unless you want your teens doing the same, don’t do it.
The teens in your group know you back home. If you are seeing someone back home, whether the relationship is brand new or long-term, exclusive or casual, your teens know it. If you begin spending too much time with another person, they will view this as (a) cheating and/or (b) permission to do the same. If they see it as cheating you have lost credibility. If they view it as permission, you have inadvertently modeled for them playing the field.
Always ask the age and role of the person you are crushing on. More than once, I have seen a youth leader from one group flirting with a youth from another. It is an innocent enough mistake when the leader is 20 and the youth is 17, but the same rules that apply in your own youth group of “no leaders dating youth” also apply across youth groups at camp. Don’t even make me have the conversation when the age difference is even wider than mentioned here!
If it is meant to be (and it very well might be!) enjoy the few moments you have for getting to know one another and plan for contact after camp. Part of a grown up relationship is still following through on your grown up responsibilities. You can learn a lot about a person as you see her or him ministering.
Camp is a great time to be open to life changing experiences. While we plan, pray and hope this will be in the lives of our students…God just might have other things in mind! (Just don’t be distracting or obnoxious about it if you happen to meet someone.) Happy Camping!
Amy Jacober is the proud mom of two beautiful girls and one handsome son and wife of one husband. They spend loads of time as a family doing ministry together. When not at camp or on a mission trip, they can be found at home cooking and playing games. She is a professor of youth ministry, serves as a volunteer with teens and loves to write and read with the intent of being a part of kingdom work. She has most recently authored The Adolescent Journey and has two new projects in the works.