Children’s Pastor, Tony Whitley, has been hosting WinShape Camps for Communities at his church in Warner Robins, GA since the very beginning days of Camps for Communities — 11 years, to be exact!
WSC for Communities Location: Warner Robins, GA
Host Church: Shirley Hills Baptist Church (Part of the Rehoboth Baptist Association)
Host Chick-Fil-A: Pat Braski – CFA Warner Robins & CFA Warner Robins South
“We started in the very early days of WSC for Communities. Back then it was still called ‘Day Camp!’ Our church had a relationships with Ken Thomas & Gabe Norris from our work in other camp circles. The conversation went something like… ‘KT and Gabe are up to something new? We’re in!’ Back then we had no idea that the relationship with Chick-Fil-A and the other churches were coming. We trusted their leadership and we haven’t been disappointed.”
Over the years, Tony has seen WSC for Communities develop as a ministry not only in the WinShape Nation, but within his church as well.
“This ministry has gotten better over the years because of the strength in the relationships within the WinShape family. Hosts, volunteers, staff, and CFA leadership have become dear friends who are concerned about me, my ministry, my church, and my kids. I, too, get the privilege of celebrating with them as they succeed and praying for them in times of need.”
He has also seen changes in the trajectory of his children’s ministry over the years.
“We have seen an energy associated with camp that we have recognized as having a powerful impact on kids. We have shifted several ministry programs that lacked the excitement of camp and implemented a much more active approach. Kids are now up, moving, and learning about Christ in an environment that is much more exciting for them.”
Tony’s take on children’s ministry is unique because it doesn’t just include the youngest members of Shirley Hills Baptist. Rather, he believes that children’s ministry should consist of members from all age groups within the church; existing as a “family ministry” that depends on the help of parents in the spiritual development of their children.
“The concept of ‘family’ ministry has taken on a new dimension in Warner Robins and camp has had a significant role in making that a reality,” he explains. “For younger children still forming their earliest understanding of faith, I have always felt it vital to keep parents engaged in this process. WSC for Communities is the ONLY camp model that works directly with parents giving them the opportunity to truly partner with the camp staff and church ministers to nurture their child’s heart toward Christ. By getting our churches together and collectively sharing this passion we have seen a greater integration of parents in each of our other ministry areas.”
Some of the most evident fruits of WSC in the Warner Robins community are found in the adults and community members affected by camp.
“Shockingly, the most powerful stories are not from the children who have attended camp, but from the parents, volunteers, and youth who have experienced camp.”
Tony recalls an interaction from one of the earliest years of WSC at his church.
“I know ‘Adam’s’ dad from greeting him every afternoon at dismissal. He was a tough tattooed guy who smelled of old beer and his last cigarette. He typically kept his eyes down and was a challenge to engage. He didn’t’ seem like he wanted to be in our church buildings and honestly wasn’t interested in talking with a pair of khakis and a polo. So, after several attempts I gave him space,” he tells.
“On Chick-Fil-A Friday Family Fun Day, everything changed! He was watching Adam play soccer and Adam was loving his dad’s attention. Adam was playing well, and his dad was cheering and celebrating. Maybe he loosened up because he wasn’t in the church building, but he was smiling and his eyes were bright.”
“As I moved toward him to attempt another conversation, I heard another mom already chatting with him. Their kids had been in the same team time and were playing soccer together. The two families came from very different backgrounds; but while their kids played together, the differences didn’t matter. Logan’s mom and Adam’s dad just enjoyed the community.”
“As the two parent’s sat enjoying a soccer game, Logan asked if Adam could come to church the next week. Seeing the smile on his son’s face and the gentleness of another parent who genuinely welcomed him into the church made more of an impact that I could as a ‘staff’ guy. I was blessed to sit on the front row and watch as God did something great in that family.”
Moments like these are what drive Tony to host camp year after year.
At the same time, he has also been impacted by the community found in the WinShape Nation.
“On a personal note, I have found such incredible friendships in the WinShape family. Children’s ministry can be quite an island. The community of hosts is unlike anything I have ever experienced before. We have continued to share prayers, concerns, ministry ideas, and encouragement. If you add the relationship with the former staff, who are now serving in dynamic staff positions across the country it is overwhelming! These are people with whom I truly share in the passion and work of teaching children the truths of the faith and leading them as they grow in their faith.”
We, as a WinShape Nation, are truly blessed to have hosts like Tony, who are dedicated to teach the children in their communities about Jesus Christ all year round. Camps for Communities would not be possible without the foundational work done by our incredible hosts like Tony!
Thanks, Tony, for a remarkable 11 years!