Monday, January 29, 2007

What's So Good About VBS: Part 2

Every church should periodically evaluate their programs. The line, “But we’ve always done it this way” isn’t a good enough reason to keep the program. I firmly believe that if a program isn’t meeting the needs of the congregation and isn’t effective in reaching the surrounding community, it should be dropped.

On the other hand, I’ve known churches who want to drop programs just because they’ve been around for so long. That’s not a good enough reason either. There’s good reason that we still do some programs and traditions in the church. VBS is one of those good ideas. Why?

1. VBS is an evangelistic tool. VBS was started to reach out to kids who couldn’t be reached for a regular Sunday morning program. Also, because VBS gives the staff more time to include more fun activities, VBS can be a great exciting draw.

Some wonder at the effectiveness of VBS as an evangelistic tool because some kids leapfrog from one program to the next all summer long. Some churches feel used as a free babysitting service. Don’t worry about this. You do your best to present God’s truth. You never know when something might click with a child. I think of my friend Susan who was one of those kids. She came from a dysfunctional family whose drunken father chased them through the house with a butcher knife. One summer, Susan heard at one of the many VBS’s she attended the verse, “When I am afraid, I will trust in you.” The next time her father came after her, she repeated that verse to herself and she realized there was a God who would take care of her. Today Susan serves with her husband in a para-church organization that translates theological books into other languages.

If VBS is indeed an evangelistic tool, then we need to work hard to use that tool. Don’t be satisfied with publicizing VBS to your own church kids. Use every available resource – newspaper, radio, flyers, word-of-mouth – to get the word out about VBS. Start early so families can plan ahead. In today’s society, your VBS program has stiff competition. Don’t let that stop you; instead, rise to the challenge! Then, don’t forget follow-up. Get the names and addresses of your visitors and send them a postcard, telling them you are glad they came. Give those names to your children’s director or your pastor so follow-up calls can be made. On the last day of your program, send home a letter with each child, detailing your other church programs. Use VBS contacts to help your other church programs grow.

2. VBS is a discipleship tool. VBS is a great time to train new teachers and incorporate new volunteers. People will be willing to serve for one week as a VBS teacher before they are willing to serve indefinitely as a Sunday School teacher. It’s also hard for new people to break into a children’s program. VBS is a fantastic way to get your newer members involved, to show them that they can teach. Also, it’s a place where people can discover how they can use their gifts and talents for the Lord. Not every one feels qualified to teach. However, they might be terrific in crafts or leading recreation. As they do the thing they love, suddenly they find that teaching children about Jesus is exciting.

My daughter Christine wasn’t interested in teaching, but she was willing to help the VBS song leader two years ago. By Thursday of that week, MaryBeth, our lead song leader,had totally lost her voice. With a poise and a finesse even her mom didn’t know she had, Christine calmly took over leading the music and decided she loved it and did it by herself the following year. The next year, she was my assistant as the Bible Storyteller. This year, she is talking about becoming a camp counselor at a Christian camp for 5th and 6th graders.

So, if VBS is a discipleship tool, use that tool effectively. Every single year, think outside the box of your regular volunteers. Pair the new volunteers with veterans so the veterans can mentor the newbies. Provide each staff worker with a staff devotion from your curriculum or write your own. Use this as a time to help both your children and your volunteers grow in their faith and service to Jesus.

Next time, I’ll share more reasons why your church should hold a VBS program this summer.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

What's So Good About VBS?

Vacation Bible School, commonly known as VBS, is an intensive week or two week long program held in the summer that churches have used over the last century to teach children about Jesus and to reach out to unchurched children in the community. In the beginning, the program copied Sunday School classes with the addition of a snack time, crafts, singing and a mission project. Wikipedia says that VBS was started in 1894 because teachers wanted to have more time to teach children religious education in the summer months when children were more available.

VBS has changed tremendously over the years as churches have tried to freshen this century old program. But, in recent years, I’ve heard discouragement and doubts about VBS. Some people say VBS is a dying program. Others wonder what’s the use of their church holding VBS? After all, the same group of children hop from one church’s VBS program to the next. Is this really useful as an evangelistic tool? Yet other churches, discouraged by low attendance, a lack of resources to “do it up big” like the themed curricula suggests, or the lack of volunteers, have collaborated with other churches, sacrificing their chance to use VBS as a tool for church growth, softening their own doctrinal stance, and acquiescing to support a local community service instead of supporting one of their own foreign missionaries.

Since I write Vacation Bible School curriculum for Standard Publishing, you can probably guess how I feel about VBS. But let me say it bluntly just in case you wonder how I really feel about VBS. And it’s not just because I write the curriculum.

I’m for YOUR church sponsoring your OWN VBS.

Why am I so strong about a century old program? What’s so good about VBS? Should this tried and true program be changed to meet the changing needs, interests and time schedules of today’s kids? If so, how? I’ll answer these questions in the next few posts. I also intend to do a comparison of this years VBS curriculum near the end of February and will offer some tips on how you can revitalize VBS for your church.

Monday, January 15, 2007

The Tired Teacher

“What?” you might react. “Tired Teacher? Aren’t you a Sunday School teacher doing the Lord’s work? Teaching children about Jesus should be exhilarating, not exhausting.”

Yes, I believed that discrepancy for years. If I’m doing God’s work, then He should give me superhuman strength and I should be so thrilled with the honor of serving Him, that the work of teaching shouldn’t phase me. Then why am I so wiped out after teaching two hours? Why would my minister/husband rather sleep than eat right after morning worship services (so much for my stereotypical, traditional Sunday dinner)?

Don’t get me wrong. I love teaching. I love seeing how my plans come to fruition. I am thrilled when a student nails the answer to a question, saying it in even a better way than I could. Best of all, I love seeing children respond positively to the gospel message. But after that exhilarating adrenaline rush, I feel tired. When I was younger, I wondered why the “high” didn’t last. Actually, it was just my body saying, “Hey, you’ve worked. You need a rest!” But should doing God’s work make us tired?

When I read in one of the classic Bible stories we teach children that Jesus got tired, even taking a nap in a boat once, I realized it’s okay for me to feel tired too (Matthew 8:23-27). In fact, after the disciples short term mission project, Jesus encouraged them to rest (Mark 6:31).

When you labor for the Lord, you are laboring. That means work and sometimes, it’s hard work. Yes God gives me the strength, but He gives me the strength during the time I’m doing His work. I don’t need His strength any longer after the task is done. Also, the work we do is in a war zone. We are in a rescue operation to save lives for eternity. We can count on the fact that there will be forces at work to distract, oppose and hassle us to keep us from accomplish our work. Work is extra hard when you encounter the push of resistance. Ask any cyclist which is more tiring – to cycle uphill or downhill?

So, how do we cope with the fatigue that comes after teaching?

1. View your fatigue as a tithe of your energy to the Lord. We are to love God with all our strength. Well, you did!

2. Find ways to refresh and rejuvenate yourself. I’ve learned not to fix fancy Sunday dinners, especially on Sundays that I’m teaching twice. I usually cook a large meal on Friday night and save the leftovers for Sunday lunch. Sundays naps are mandatory in our household. We especially need it if we have evening church services as well.

3. Know and accept your limitations. Evaluate your other activities. What other volunteer activities do you do Sunday morning? Each of these responsibilities will sap the store of energy that could be focused into your teaching. Look carefully at what you do Sunday mornings and have the courage to make some hard choices. I know this will be difficult. I chose to drop out of our church choir several months ago and there are some people who still do not understand my decision. Your job is to please the Lord, not others. You need to do what is best for His work and for you.

4. Spend some moments debriefing and evaluating your teaching session. How did you see God at work in your session? What activities worked with the kids? What didn’t work? Who were you able to connect with in a special way? Who can you show more love and kindness to the next week? How could you be better prepared? Who wasn’t there that might need some encouragement this week.

5. Keep in mind the words of 1 Corinthians 15:58: “Therefore my beloved brethren, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourself fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain. (italics mine)”

So, go take that nap, Tired Teacher. Put your feet up. You’ve earned it!

Saturday, January 06, 2007

Preparing To Teach

It’s Saturday night and I have both my Sunday School lesson and my Junior Church lesson done. Actually, I finished them yesterday. No Saturday night specials for me!

I’ve learned over the years that flying by the seat of your pants in your preparation usually means you’ll fly by the seat of your pants during the lesson time as well. Saturday night used to creep up on me; I’d study furiously Saturday night, then pray like crazy that God would rescue me in spite of my lack of preparedness. He is such a gracious God. Sometimes my best lessons have happened when I was the least prepared; but instead of getting cocky and taking advantage of it, I knew deep down that it was His doing, not mine, and I’d better not push the point.

I know one lady who would start preparing her next Sunday School lesson Sunday afternoon. I have tried studying Monday or Tuesday, but life would get busy and as I got older, by Saturday, I couldn’t even remember what I had studied! So, after twenty five years of teaching, here’s what I find works for me.

1. Start studying the scripture passages early in the week. Take notes of what impresses you and what you learn from the Scripture. Spend time reflecting on how you need to apply the Scripture to your daily life. I incorporate this study into my daily quiet time, studying the Scriptures several days in a row.

2. Read the curriculum lesson sometime in the middle of the week. Purchase necessary supplies. Choose your activity options or think through how you need to adapt the options to your particular group of students.

3. Try out any craft ideas new to you. I had to do this just this week. I’m glad I did because my directions said to use a thin line of glue and I found that only a couple of drops were enough. I’m a little nervous about this craft because I know how kids are with a bottle of glue. I may yet decided to put a teen age helper in charge of the glue bottle.

4. Write out an outline of the lesson on an index card so you don’t have to keep looking at your teacher book. Put key words for questions or examples you want especially to use.

5. Read the scriptures and look over your outline either Saturday night or Sunday morning. Spend time praying for yourself and your students, that the Lord might speak through you and through the activities you use. Pray that morning preparations for the families of your students go smoothly so they will have time to come and will arrive in a right frame of mind.

Happy teaching. May God bless your Sunday.

Monday, January 01, 2007

The Best Gift

My 16 year old daughter was low on cash this year, so her choices for presents were limited. When my doctor put me on a severely restrictive diet five days before Christmas, Christine despaired. So much for her standard ideas of either chocolate or special tea, my favorites. So she gave what she had – a bit of herself. A whiz at computer graphics and a budding writer in her own merit, she wrote two poems, one each for my husband and me, stylizing them on the computer, complete with color graphics. My poem is entitled “These Hands” and my husband’s poem is entitled, ‘The Man in the Pulpit.” Then she worked with her sister to sift though our collection of digital photos, then put six select family photos in a collage photo frame.

As my husband, a typical tough man, started to open the folder containing his poem, he said, “Oh my! I think I’m going to cry.” My hand immediately felt my pocket-did I have my usual stash of Kleenex? By the time we opened the picture frame we were both bawling. I said to someone later, “You give to y our children year after year. Then they start giving back.”

But I was wrong. My children have always given me a bit of themselves. I still treasure the wobbly cut poster board angel ornament with scribbled features and the shellacked wreath fashioned from scrap puzzle pieces. As a parent, I give out of my abundance, often buying frivolous presents they want but don’t need, even (I admit) buying useless things just to even the score between the two girls. The best gifts are those where we share a part of who we are to touches and acknowledge who they are.

That’s what Christmas is all about. Jesus Christ gave the ultimate gift – Himself. Philippians 2 says, “Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus, who being in very nature, God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness; And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death, even death on a cross (Philippians 2:6-8).” Jesus gave all of himself to touch who we are: sinners in need of a Savior.

My goal this new year is to give as Jesus gave: to give of myself to touch the deepest needs of others and to acknowledge and celebrate who they are. I can learn to do that by deepening my relationship with Jesus who has given me so much and by watching the children I teach Inside My Classroom.