In addition to starting with a mission statement that does not include camping, the Camping board also sought to begin its process without tying itself to existing camping facilities. As the chairman of the Board explained: “We kind of imagined, let’s just say that there’s no structure, there’s no committee, there’s no conference staff and there’s no properties. What would we be, what would we do?” (6:24). As he says at another point: “If we just start with a blank slate, where do we go from here?” (12:24)
There are, no doubt, times when radical breaks with the past are necessary. But in general such an approach should be reserved for extreme situations. There are good theological reasons for this. As H. Richard Niebuhr (a great theologian and a native Missourian!) pointed out in his book The Responsible Self, in the Christian worldview human beings are not primarily creators, they are responders. It is God who creates ex nihilo. As creatures, humans must be reminded that we are not God. Responsibility begins, he says, when human beings respond to God’s original activity. In this way, the Church does not create its own mission, but rather participates in the eternal Missio Dei (the mission of God).
Thus, Niebuhr suggests that “responsible” activity begins not with the question “What should we do?” but with the question “What is God already doing?” This does not mean that the Christian never acts to bring about change, but it does mean that change ought to grow out of a careful accounting of what has already been provided by God, and where God is providing the context for change. I wonder, in retrospect, what would have happened if the Camping Board had started by asking “What is God already doing in our Camping Ministries?” rather than beginning with the presumption that their task was to create an entirely new structure.
As it turned out, thought, it was only after a year-and-a-half of “visioning” (that is a year-and-a-half through their two year process) that the Board turned to explore the already established camping facilities in the Missouri Annual Conference and interview the present camp directors. (32:50) This was long after they had looked at alternative models of camping from other Conferences. (They do not report looking at any successful camp-site approaches to camping ministries).
In fact, as the Camping Board has found, many current ministers recount that their calling to the ministry came to them while at a camping facility. (16:13) God, it seems is active in places where young people have been pulled out of the contexts of their local congregation’s ministries and forced to move themselves outside their normal social and physical locations. What would the decision of the Camping Board have looked like if they started by reacting to God’s activity in these encounters?
Please continue on to read about the problems with the ecclesiology envisioned by the Camping Board in Part IV!