Dave Shelley is a firm believer that God can use recreation and games to share the gospel of Christ.
And, he should know. Shelley, director of missions for Wilson County Baptist Association in Lebanon, is beginning his 51st year of leading day camps for children.
“We want to reach this generation. Kids like to play,” Shelley affirmed. “When I started, all I knew was to grab a ball (usually in the car) and start playing to begin to build a relationship. It is different today, but God still uses recreation to plant seeds to make an eternal difference.”
Shelley’s first experience with day camp happened 50 years ago in Atlanta. He was involved in a summer training for college students as they attempted to share the gospel with children through fun games and Bible studies, he recalled.
He noted the children listened as they played. Relationships with the children would later open doors into homes, Shelley said. “Some 450-plus day camps/neighborhood clubs later, God is still using games to impact lives for eternity.”
Ministry training ground
Shelley not only used day camps for reaching children with the good news of Jesus Christ, he also used it as a ministry training ground. He would use youth from area churches to help in the day camps. “It provided an opportunity for them to grow and get a preview of what God has for them to do,” he said.
One of Shelley’s earliest camp leaders was Vickie Anderson, who now serves as the executive director of Tennessee Woman’s Missionary Union.
“I am blessed to be among the many lives Dave has invested in over the years of his ministry. He has served as my children/youth minister, softball coach, bus ministry director, discipleship teacher, day camp director, mentor and friend,” she said.
Anderson noted that during her middle and high school years, she was privileged to be part of Shelley’s day camp staff at Immanuel Baptist Church in Lebanon. “Dave taught me how to work with children, lead games, tell stories, work as a team and stand my ground in the swimming pool as the children tried to dunk me. Dave saw potential in me and gave me opportunities to serve and grow,” she said.
“Through day camps and summer camps, Dave has touched the lives of many children and those who he served alongside. It was a joy to watch Dave serve at TBC camps like All Nations Camp and Journey Camp using his gifts as a master storyteller, creative game maker, energetic leader, discipler, mentor and encourager,” Anderson continued.
She expressed her appreciation for all Shelley has done through camps and other ministries to invest in the lives of others. “From one of many lives you have impacted, we are grateful,” Anderson said.
All Nations Camp
Shelley became involved with Tennessee Baptist Mission Board (then Executive Board of the Tennessee Baptist Convention) in 1995 when he went to All Nations Camp as an observer. He brought an Acteens Activators team the following year and has served as camp pastor and director of All Nations Camp since 1997.
“Dave Shelley has been the face of All Nations Camp for 28 years,” said William Burton, new churches team leader and ethnic evangelism and church planting specialist for the TBMB. “His tireless energy level and love for children and teenagers have been used by the Lord to connect with and point hundreds of campers to Christ,” Burton observed.
He noted that Shelley, who will lead the camp again this summer, epitomizes the biblical mandate of the Great Commission in Matthew 28:19–20. Children and teens from more than 40 different nationalities have heard the gospel preached at All Nations Camp, have been discipled by their local church and through their time at All Nations Camp, and some have been called to the ministry or missions service in the United States or around the world,” Burton added.
Burton stressed that the opportunity for immigrant and refugee children and teenagers from ethnic congregations to hear the gospel and respond to God’s call on their lives during the week-long camp led by Shelley is made possible by Tennessee Baptists giving through the Golden Offering for Tennessee Missions.
Shelley is grateful that after nearly 30 years of involvement with Tennessee Baptist-sponsored camps God has given him the physical ability to continue leading camps. He also still leads day camps for churches and the association as well.
“Through the years I’ve had the privilege to see lives changed as a result of camps. My son received Jesus at All Nations Camp. At least five weddings resulted from staff encounters at camp. Many precious children and youth gave their hearts to Christ and at least 12 of them are in full-time ministry. Only eternity will reveal the impact of camp,” he said.
“I do not remember names as well, and ‘kids’ grow up and change appearance, but occasionally I am reminded by a camper that I had mom or dad or a few times grandma or grandpa as a camper,” he continued. “To me that’s what it is all about — lives changed because of camp and meeting Jesus.”
Shelley is available to help churches or associations reach children. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 615-542-6374.
EDITOR’S NOTE —This article was written by Lonnie Wilkey and first published by the Baptist and Reflector of the Tennessee Baptist Mission Board.