Ten years ago marked my first day as a leader at camp. In fact, it marked the very first day ever of Camp Vertical: an 8-week day camp we run at Elmbrook Church. I remember feeling nervous – no, let’s face it, terrified – as we welcomed around 100 kids into our church building. Would the kids even like me? Would the activities that I had planned be fun? Could these kids learn a single thing from me? Thankfully, all of these questions were answered with a resounding, “yes” over the course of the summer, as I invested in kids, developed relationships with them and spent time pouring into their relationships with Jesus.

Over the years my role has changed. I’m no longer leading small groups or planning crazy fun games where we run around, soak leaders or practice our basketball skills. Today I run Elmbrook’s Summer Camps program, and rather than welcoming 100 kids into our building we are flooded with more than 650 split into two different camps. Over the last ten years I have watched with joy as the kids I had in my small groups and activities moved up the ranks, first aging out of camp, then serving as volunteers and now assuming leader and key leader positions.

I wondered why these kids wanted to come back all these years later to lead groups themselves, so I found three leaders I had all those years ago as campers. And when I asked why they wanted to give a summer to get paid (not nearly enough for the work they are doing), all three said: “There was a leader I really looked up to and I wanted to be just like them when I grew up.” They saw the investment made by the leaders. They saw how they treated these campers with love and respect. They saw leadership modeled for them and now they have taken their turn to pass it on to the next generation.

camp leaders

Over time, our staff has become family. We are a faith community for one another. Every morning we open God’s Word together and start our day focused on Him. We celebrate the wins, we encourage one another and we show up when something goes wrong. I have watched many of my staff grow from awkward, lovable campers to incredible leaders that get to spread the good news of Jesus to a fresh batch of campers that I hope will one-day lead in our places, and I praise God for them.