Brian Colbath: Watering souls in dry West Texas

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Brian Colbath has been the executive director of Circle Six Baptist Camp and Conference Center, an oasis in a dry place, since 2011. From deep in the heart of one Texan, he shares his background and thoughts on camp ministry. To suggest a Baptist General Convention of Texas-affiliated leader to be featured in this column, or to apply to be featured yourself, click here.

Background

Where else have you served in ministry, and what were your positions there?

I was the maintenance director at Circle Six from 2009–2011. I also served at Highland Lakes Camp and Conference Center (Summer Missions Team, 2006-2008; Intern/Maintenance Staff, 2009).

Where did you grow up?

I grew up in Dripping Springs, Texas.

How did you come to faith in Christ?

I gave my life to Christ the week after I attended the Austin Baptist Association youth camp at Highland Lakes my sophomore year in high school. I was called to ministry during my sophomore year of college.

Where were you educated, and what degrees did you receive?

East Texas Baptist University: Bachelor of Arts in religion with an emphasis on missions

About ministry

Why do you feel called into camp ministry?

After giving my life to Christ right after attending summer camp, I have had a special place in my heart for camp ministry. It wasn’t until my third year as a summer missions team member at Highland Lakes Camp that I felt called to camp ministry. The first two summers were fun because of the people, but I thought that you had to be crazy to want to work this many hours. After going overseas on a mission trip, preaching at a few churches, and helping out the youth ministry at my church I knew that God wasn’t calling me to do any of that, and He continued to open doors for me in camp ministry.

I have always had a servant’s heart, and camp ministry allows me to serve guests on a daily basis. We are a small enough camp that I get the unique opportunity to be very hands-on in interacting with all the guests that come through our gates.

What is your favorite aspect of camp ministry? Why?

Serving the kids every summer. I love being able to watch the kids grow up each year they come back. I enjoy seeing them grow closer to God while they are at camp. The fact they can’t have their electronic devices with them forces them to focus more on why they are here at camp. I enjoy walking through camp in the mornings during our campus-wide quiet time and seeing all the kids reading their Bibles. I enjoy the kids coming up to me to tell me random jokes.

We have an awesome and unique opportunity to impact these kids one week every year at camp. Camp might be the only time they get to hear the word of Jesus. Hopefully, while they are here we can provide a safe and loving atmosphere so they can see Jesus through our serving staff.

What one aspect of camp ministry gives you the greatest joy?

Seeing both kids and adults come to know Christ for the first time while at camp. I would do it for just one person to come to know Christ. All the all-nighters I have pulled getting the camp ready for groups, the 16-hour work days, the missed holidays, all of it is worth it knowing we are making an eternal impact.

A few years ago, we had a camper pass away in a car wreck two weeks after coming to camp. One of his last Facebook posts was, “Just got back from church at Circle Six best week of my life gave my life to Jesus at Circle Six Ranch Baptist Camp.” That’s why I do it and enjoy it. We never know what these kids are going through, but hopefully, we can impact them enough to change their lives.

What one aspect of camp ministry would you like to change?

I enjoy every part of camp ministry…except cleaning showers. Give me the toilets, sinks and the trash, and I am fine, but if I never had to clean a shower again, I wouldn’t lose sleep because of it.

I really enjoy what I have been called to do.

How has your ministry or your perspective on ministry changed?

When I first got into camp ministry, I absolutely hated all the work that was required. The first two summers of summer staff were exhausting. You can easily get stuck in the rut of comparing your work ethic to the effort of others and can get burned-out pretty easily. Now that I just finished my 13th summer, I have a completely different outlook on things. I know why I am here and who I serve and will do it to the best of my ability.

How do you expect camp ministry to change in the next 10 years?

It’s hard to say. With the way technology is changing, there is no telling what will come next. People are continuing to become busier and busier and more attached to their electronic devices. I hope people will continue to see the value of camping and the beauty of nature. The need for coming to camp will grow greater and greater due to the fact people don’t know how to disconnect and get away.

Name the three most significant challenges and/or influences facing your ministry.

  1. We get overlooked by church groups often because we don’t have a lot of trees, we don’t have a pond or a lake, and we aren’t in the mountains of New Mexico. We are in the desert. We have continued to update, upgrade and build new buildings, but often we aren’t given a chance because of our location. We might not have all the fancy bells and whistles, but we do continue to preach the Word and continue to see hundreds come to know Christ every year.
  2. We continue to grow, but one of our biggest challenges is finding volunteers. We have so many projects going on around camp, but we sometimes struggle to get them all done because we lack extra help. We are extremely grateful for the churches and schools that come out and help, as well as the Campers on Mission, Volunteer Christian Builders and the Texas Baptist Men.
  3. Funding is always a big one. With 32 buildings to maintain, staff to insure and food to buy for the groups, our expenses add up pretty quickly. We are able to keep our rates lower than most camps because of the church support, but we could always use more as we continue to upgrade our facilities.

What do you wish more people knew about camp ministry?

The amount of work it requires to put on camps and take care of guests. We had a volunteer out here this summer who said she thinks it should be a requirement for everyone in her church to come and volunteer one time just to see how hard we work. I wish people could just see how passionate we were about our ministry and in turn either help us out more financially or with their labor.

About Brian

Who were/are your mentors, and how did/do they influence you?

Alton Belew, Mike Wilson, Rob Kessler, Phil Springer and Danny Dawdy. I was a young guy when I first took on the Executive Director position here at Circle Six, and had so many questions. I can’t tell you how many times I have contacted these guys asking them for advice at all hours of the day. They have been around camping a whole lot longer than I have, and I enjoy learning from them.

What is the impact of camp ministry on your family?

Camp is a huge part of our lives. I was saved right after attending camp, I met my wife while working at camp, we got married on site, and all four of our children were born and raised at camp. It is great living onsite at a safe place where my kids can grow up swimming, playing and hanging out with other campers and attending the worship services. My kids enjoy helping me with little stuff like picking up trash and watching me work. My wife and I get to serve together every day, and it just makes camp so much better.

Other than the Bible, name some of your favorite books or authors, and explain why.

The Monk and the Merchant, EntreLeadership, Who Moved My Cheese, and Raving Fans are all great books on leadership. I try to read them all at least once a year along with a couple of others. I am a huge fan of Dave Ramsey, and these are several of the books he requires his team to read. Because of Dave’s teachings, we also run the camp as a 100 percent debt-free ministry.

What is your favorite Bible verse or passage? Why?

My favorite verse or passage changes during different seasons of life. This past summer, our theme for our pre-teen camp was overcoming obstacles. The theme verse for the week was John 16:33, which reads, “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” We have gone through a lot this year and have been down at times, so this verse has been on my heart for the better part of the year. I believe it was the first devotion I shared with our summer staff this year.

Who is your favorite Bible character, other than Jesus? Why?

My favorite would be Paul. He was an outstanding missionary and wasn’t ashamed to preach the gospel. He had a positive outlook in the hardest of times.

Name something about you that would surprise people who know you.

I used to work at a Hindu temple.

If you could get one “do over” in ministry, what would it be, and why?

I would have tried harder my first two years in camp ministry to have a better attitude and better work ethic. I was there for a summer job and had a poor attitude about it. I spent a lot of time fishing, playing video games and swimming while I was supposed to be working at the camp. I would disappear for hours at a time to go and goof off doing those things. I remember one night just walking in circles around the kitchen in a hurry because I had a theory that as long as I looked busy no one would ask questions. I made it around the kitchen 47 times before my future wife caught on.

I look back at those first two summers and laugh about it now, but I also think of how much more I could have helped the camp accomplish if I hadn’t acted like that.

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