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64% increase in ministry decisions recorded at Texas camps in 1998

FORT WORTH, Texas (BP)–The next generation of Southern Baptists in Texas and perhaps across the nation may have a seminary professor’s simple message to thank for helping provide leadership for the new millennium.
This summer, 846 Texas campers accepted God’s call for full-time Christian service, or special service, up nearly 64 percent from the previous year and ending a three-year decline. With a high of 663 in 1994, Texas Baptist encampments had been experiencing a steady drop in special-service decisions even though the number of campers was rising.
The increase comes a little more than a year after Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary professor Dan Crawford spoke to camp managers at their annual meeting in March 1997. He shared the significant role camp experiences had played in his decision for ministry and in the decisions of countless missionaries, pastors and other Christian leaders.
“I believe God is calling out more young people than are making the decision public,” Crawford said. “And I believe this is because we are not offering a public call to do so.”
The reminder, along with some practical suggestions, seems to have aided the camp managers. Danny Dowdy, then-manager of Chapparal Baptist Assembly, said that after Crawford’s presentation he immediately communicated part of what he had heard to the leaders of the groups who used the Chapparal facility.
“We asked them, if the Spirit led them, to begin to emphasize the call to ministry in their invitation times,” he said. He noted a 10 percent increase, or more, in special-service decisions.
Dowdy, now manager of Highland Lakes Baptist Encampment, said he makes the same request in a note attached to every application sent to groups desiring to use the facility.
Charles Kendall, manager of Mount Lebanon Baptist Encampment, said Crawford’s message was part of a “heightened awareness” among Texas camp managers of the decline in special service decisions at camp. Kendall, who just completed his third year at Mount Lebanon, said Crawford’s words were a reminder, an encouragement and a challenge.
Like Dowdy, Kendall began to encourage camp pastors and directors to include a call for special-service decisions in their invitation times. The encouragement resulted in a 50-percent increase in special-service decisions from1997 to 1998 at Mount Lebanon.
In addition to Crawford’s message, Kendall said he was challenged by the words of an evangelist who has seen millions respond to his crusades.
“Billy Graham says that 70 percent of all decisions for Christ are made at camp,” Kendall said. “Camp is a place where young people can ask, ‘What’s God trying to do with me now?'”
Crawford told the managers that as a teenager he accepted God’s call to vocational ministry at a summer camp in 1957 in Palacios, Texas.
“Although I was a member of a church that often extended this call as a part of the invitation time, I believe the spiritual environment at Palacios was instrumental in me hearing and responding to the call,” he said.
Red Colquitt, camp consultant for the Baptist General Convention of Texas, encouraged the officers of the Texas Baptist Encampment Managers to invite Crawford to speak after Colquitt heard the Southwestern professor of evangelism and spiritual formation share his testimony and his concern for the decline in calls for special service ministry.
Colquitt knows the way that God can work in a camp setting. At 40 years old, Colquitt decided to give up his career as a firefighter and devote himself to full-time Christian service while a counselor at a Royal Ambassadors camp.
“I think the quiet stillness of the place where people can go and let the cares of the world slip away for a time creates an opening for the Holy Spirit to work in people’s lives,” said Colquitt, who served as camp manager of Mount Lebanon.
Crawford said in his nearly 30 years of ministry with university and seminary students he has found that many of them have experienced their call to ministry at a church camp or at places like Glorieta (N.M.) and Ridgecrest (N.C.) Baptist conference centers.
Crawford told the camp managers they can help campers understand God’s call to ministry by helping them understand where they are in the process; leading them in a study of how God called people in the Bible; providing testimonies of how God has called pastors, missionaries, youth ministers and others in special service; helping them evaluate a possible call in light of what God is doing in their lives; encouraging them to seek the counsel of other Christians; and encouraging them to give a lot of time to prayer.
He said camp managers also can advise speakers to extend calls to Christian service during invitation times.
One of the camp managers was already doing what Crawford had recommended and viewed the professor’s comments as an encouragement to keep on fulfilling his role in the process.
Jerry Smith, manager of Latham Springs Baptist Camp, said he has always believed that his role is to encourage others, do what he can to help and allow the Holy Spirit to work.
Calling Crawford’s message a rally cry for camp managers, Dowdy said Crawford “reminded us that the folks in the mission field and the folks in the pulpit, many of them received their call at a camp. We want to give people opportunity to deal with that decision while they’re here.”

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  • Matt Sanders