My brother-in-law Mark, who is a missionary in the country of Belize, was born in Peru and came to America as a ten-year-old orphan where he received Christ as Savior. Mark, despite being raised in the United States, is very much Latino in his tastes, which includes, of course, rice. A meal is not a meal in his estimation unless rice is being served.
I, however, was raised in the Mid-West and am a firm believer that no meal is complete without potatoes. As far as I am concerned, you cannot ruin potatoes. Therefore, when Mark and I eat in a restaurant together, it is inevitable that Mark will order rice and I will order potatoes. And both of us would agree—rice is not potatoes.
We may be tempted to believe that within fundamentalism all camping ministries are created equal. This simply is not true, even though some camp directors may assert it. This week I had the privilege to preach, as well as get some rest and relaxation, at the Bill Rice Ranch in Murfreesboro, Tennessee. What a great time of fellowship with two very dear Christian friends – Dr. Bill Rice III and his son Wil, who is the President of Bill Rice Ranch! The Rices have always sharpened me, and I count it a joy to be in their company. The Rices are not small potatoes. The camping ministry at the Ranch is distinct in three very significant ways that warrant the attention of your local church.
First, the Ranch places a strong emphasis on Bible preaching. The Rices select preachers who are Bible preachers. They do not, for example, select speakers for teen week simply because they are buff or jocks. After all, they selected me! Nor do they select speakers based on entertainment value alone. The Ranch selects preachers who believe that the best preaching is Bible preaching. This should be unnecessary to say, but good preaching is not known for its humor or illustrations; it is rather known for its Biblical accuracy.
At the Ranch, this is a conviction. The mantra at the Ranch for a very long time has been that Camp is a controlled atmosphere for the ministry of preaching. And therefore preaching is not merely a part of what they do. To the contrary, everything that is done is done for the purpose of supporting preaching. When one pulls on to the campground, he immediately is aware of the John R. Rice Tabernacle, the preaching center on campus. Everything literally revolves around the John R. Rice Tabernacle. When kids leave the Ranch, their testimonies are not about the food or the games but about the preaching and the effect it has had on their hearts. Preaching is central with the Rices, and this is not small potatoes. It is a big deal!
A second distinguishable aspect of the Ranch is that campers are not separated from their church sponsors. In fact the role of the church sponsors is maximized, while the role of the cabin counselor is minimized.
Unfortunately, the opposite can be true in camps where the teens are separated from their sponsors. The role of the cabin counselor can become elevated, even to the point of minimizing the work of the Holy Spirit through preaching. For example, a young, aspiring Spurgeon, who possesses all of one semester of Bible college, might seek to pry out of the young person deep, dark secrets that no one else has been able to unearth. Instead of allowing conviction through preaching to bring questions from his campers, this counselor may feel that he must go fishing for psychological and spiritual trouble.
I remember years ago when our daughter went to a particular Christian camp, her cabin counselor tried to convince her that being raised in a pastor’s home was problematic and that my daughter was probably resentful of living in the fishbowl of the parsonage. My daughter felt nothing of the sort, but was made to feel that she should by this arm-chair philosopher. Obviously, her parents did feel this was small potatoes!
But at the Bill Rice Ranch, youth pastors and staff from your local church are not marginalized during the week of camp. The directors at the Ranch never thank you for driving the campers in and then politely ask you to get out of the way. To the contrary, you, as a church sponsor, are the number one counselor in the life of the camper because you will be the one who has the ongoing ministry once the week of camp has concluded. This is not small potatoes; it is huge.
This is why most of the activities are church versus church rather than Coke vs. Pepsi. The Rices, who are evangelists by calling, view a week of camp like an area-wide evangelistic crusade where churches cooperate together for evangelism and revival. As your church works together throughout the week, the Rices trust that your kids will continue to work together after the week is over. Is this small potatoes? I think not!
Finally, the Ranch has consistently sought to bring assurance to young minds by focusing on the objective criteria of assurance (the promises of God) rather than the subjective criteria of assurance (the character traits of the Christian). In short, many camping ministries, instead of trying to settle doubts regarding salvation by pointing to the promises of God, create doubts concerning salvation by pointing to the behavior of the camper.
The argument they make, of course, is that they are not trying to take away assurance, but rather to dispel false assurance. But false assurance primarily comes to light through clear preaching concerning the simplicity of salvation through faith in Christ, not by questioning the salvation of those who disrespect their parents, harbor bitterness, view pornography, etc.
Indeed, when a camper comes and “receives Christ” for the 85th time, we are doing nothing to alleviate doubt. We only create more doubt because now the camper wonders which time of receiving Christ was legitimate. The Bible is written to assure our hearts not unsettle them. And misdirected preaching that seeks for more decisions by asking Christian kids to get saved again is doing much harm to adolescent minds.
So if true Biblical preaching, local church unity, and assured salvation are three areas that resonate with you, I would encourage you to get in touch with the Bill Rice Ranch. The Rices would love to hear from you! In the final analysis, facilities, games, and food will not be the criteria by which a camping ministry is judged, though the Ranch does not fail in any of these matters. A Biblical camping philosophy such as that adopted by the Rices will make a significant difference in the life of your camper and church. These issues are no small potatoes, and so maybe next summer you might consider choosing Rice!