In July 2010, The Salvation Army’s Ontario Camping Ministries (OCM) launched the Timothy program to provide leadership training and experience for young people. Our goal is to see them grow in their relationship with Christ and live out the mission of The Salvation Army, with a servant heart, soldier spirit, positive attitude and moral compass.
At the heart of the program are the Apostle Paul’s words to Timothy: “Don’t let anyone look down on you because you are young, but set an example for the believers in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith and in purity” (1 Timothy 4:12). OCM believes that young people don’t need to wait to lead in the church—they can start now.
The program is divided into two parts, spread over two years: Timothy 1, a four-week camp to introduce high school students to Christian leadership; and Timothy 2, an eight-week internship that incorporates mentorship, Bible study and hands-on ministry opportunities.
Timothy 1 campers live in a village of canvas tents at Jackson’s Point Camp on the edge of Lake Simcoe. In addition to team-building activities and nightly campfires, they take part in community outreach initiatives near the campground and in corps across southern Ontario.
They also spend a week in Algonquin Park, where they paddle open waters, portage canoes and pitch tents. The goal of this trip is to help them develop leadership skills in a tight-knit community where they rely on each other to survive. When you take 20 teenagers out of the city and into dense forest, it allows them to disconnect from their phones and civilization and better connect with creation and their Creator.
In recent years, the Timothy program has partnered with the world missions department to support The Salvation Army’s Mombasa Children’s Home in Kenya. We wanted our campers to gain a sense of global citizenship, to leave the program feeling part of both the local and global mission fields. In 2017, Timothy 1 campers sold handmade crafts and T-shirts, raising $7,000.
Upon graduating from Timothy 1, campers return the following summer and join the Timothy 2 junior staff team, taking on various roles with OCM’s two adventure camps.
I participated in the first-ever Timothy 1 session in my first year of high school, and returned as the program co-ordinator six years later. One of the highlights of that summer was a four-day urban mission trip to Toronto, where our campers served meals and engaged with people over ice cream, Frisbee and board games.
Perhaps the most significant memory was watching them lead worship at Bloor Central Corps. Most of them had never participated in leading corporate worship and, for the first time, they designed what they wanted church to look like. From preaching to taking up the offering, the youth did it all.
To me, this service was a clear image of God’s vision for the church: young people bringing the gospel message through sign language, tap dance, old hymns, contemporary worship and vulnerable, yet honest, prayers. Putting a teenager in the pulpit can be messy, unpredictable and a little awkward at times, but I believe the church can handle that.
The Timothy program recognizes that young people aren’t just the future of The Salvation Army—they are the Army of today. They have something to offer, so we place them in roles that demonstrate this. The real challenge is getting corps and ministry units comfortable with youth in leadership. It’s up to mature church leaders to give them a platform. When youth know they have a place in church, they know they have a place in the kingdom of God.
We tell our youth that they are important. More than that, we show them that others are more important and challenge them to give back to their local communities. Above all, we encourage them to seek God and lead with integrity, knowing that he is the most important relationship they can invest in.
Brianne Zelinsky was the Timothy program co-ordinator for Ontario Camping Ministries from 2016 to 2017 and currently works as a youth co-ordinator for The Salvation Army in Toronto.