I just returned from three days serving as a chaperone at my son’s sixth grade camp, where I survived weaponized cans of Ax body spray (I now know who buys this stuff) and a few kids who have little respect for authority. It probably doesn’t help their humility when, after being asked to thank their teachers, chaperones, and camp staff, they were told also to clap for themselves and the great spirit they brought to camp. I was never told as a child to thank myself along with the adults who sacrificially served me. But that was so twentieth century.
Sometimes our concern for self-esteem and positive thinking becomes silly, as when a camp staffer told us that a radio would be more valuable than water or a knife if we’re ever lost in the woods, in part because its programming might “boost our morale.” This staffer then told us that we need five things to survive: food, water, warmth, oxygen, and a positive attitude. We can’t live 3 weeks without food, 3 days without water, 3 hours without warmth, 3 minutes without oxygen, and 3 seconds without a positive mental attitude.
Of course, if she was right, Cleveland sports fans would all be dead (Go ahead LeBron, it wouldn’t be right if you didn’t win a championship soon after you leave—see Art Modell. At least we still have Jim Tressel. See what I mean?).
The funniest part of camp occurred during the “team building exercise,” when the staffer challenged my small group of nine campers to count to nine as a group, which each member contributing one number that hadn’t already been used. When he said to begin, my kids simply counted around the circle, from one to nine. What a team!
Overall the kids and the staff were great, as was the camp. It was a YMCA camp, and on a plaque in the dining hall it announced the YMCA mission statement: “To put Christian principles into practice through programs that build healthy spirit, mind, and body for all.”
I noticed that something important was missing from this mission statement, and remembering that the YMCA was the stomping grounds of D. L. Moody, wondered if the organization’s original mission statement had been so blandly “Christian.” I did some googling this morning, and I found the original YMCA mission statement:
“The Young Men’s Christian Association (YMCA) seeks to unite those young men, who regarding Jesus Christ as their God and Savior, according to the Holy Scriptures, desire to be His disciples in their faith and in their life, and to associate their efforts for the extension of His kingdom amongst young men.”
The YMCA continues to do a lot of good in the world, as does this camp, but its change in mission statements should be a warning to all Christian organizations. When we replace the Person of Christianity with the Principles of Christianity, we have already ceased to be authentically Christian. It won’t be long until we remove the “Christian” veneer altogether, content to merely encourage people to be generally good. As evidence, observe this mission statement of a YMCA in Cambridge, Massachusetts:
“The mission of the Cambridge Family YMCA is to promote and inspire life-long development for children, adults and families through programs that build healthy spirit, mind, and body for all.”
The YMCA’s “Christian principles” of “caring, honesty, respect, and responsibility” are good and necessary for everyone, but they won’t make anyone a Christian. If you are going to lead others to Jesus, you’re going to have to lead them to Jesus. And that is too important to ever remove from your mission statement.