Wednesday, March 8, 2023

Vacation Bible School - Going Beyond Outreach (Part 1)

Vacation Bible School is one of the most evangelistic things most American churches do, and is usually the biggest outreach event of the year. When it comes to children's ministry and outreach, there are several things to think about when planning and producing a VBS.

The first big question any and every children's ministry needs to answer is fundamental to all ministry and event planning. It is a pretty easy question to answer as well. 

Is our children's ministry a first-generation or second-generation ministry? 

A second-generation children's ministry has as its primary goal to "bring children up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord.” - Ephesians 6:4. The church and parents partner together to disciple children, teach them the scriptures, instruct them in wise living, and model how to follow the command to love your neighbor as yourself. The assumption of this kind of ministry is that the super-majority of the participants are being reared in a Christian home. Outreach is assumed to be through friendship networks of the families already involved, and events like VBS are intended to be easy on-ramps into the children's ministry programs of the church.

A first-generation children's ministry has as its primary goal to "preach the gospel where Christ is not known" - Romans 15:20. Rather than partnering with believing parents to deepen the discipleship of children, this church seeks lost children from lost families to share the gospel and fundamentals of following Jesus, and also reach their parents. The assumption of this kind of ministry is that the super-majority of new participants will come from outside the church body and have little orientation to church life. Events like VBS are intended to be primarily evangelistic and a relationship builder between the church and unchurched families.

One primary philosophy will drive the children's ministry of the church. Any church that is primarily empty-nesters and beyond must return to first-generation children's ministry, if it is to have a children's ministry at all. Churches with many child-bearing age families will naturally need a second-generation children's ministry. The two philosophies are so different that a children's ministry must be one or the other. It shapes everything they do and the way they do everything.

  • The programs of second-generation children's ministries are better and much more polished than those of first generation children's ministries. 
  • Most curriculum and children's ministry programs are produced for second-generation children's ministry.
  • Smaller churches tend to wish they had good second generation children's ministry programs, and when they seek to implement them, at great cost, they do not see results of sufficiently increased participation rates in the children's ministry. (If you build it, they will not come, and if they do, you are luring them away from another church, not from the harvest field.)
  • First generation children's ministries do not have their own self-sustaining momentum and funding like second-generation children's ministries. (Think of first generation as uphill and second generation as downhill).
  • Churches that hire children's ministers to direct the ministries to the children they have, usually have good success in their hires. Churches that hire children's ministers to more effectively reach children, usually have disappointment with their hires. (Again, this is because most Children's ministry training programs are designed to give second-generation ministry skills.)
Back to VBS

I mentioned earlier that VBS is one of the most evangelistic things churches do. This comes from nationwide VBS statistics by LifeWay Christian Resources. Accordingly, 25% of SBC baptism nationwide come from Vacation Bible Schools. 

That said, there is still a fundamental difference in the way the gospel is presented at a second-generation children's ministry VBS and a first-generation children's ministry VBS. Second generation philosophies (most published VBS curriculums) focus on discipleship matters ("Jesus is with us when we are afraid", or "I wonder what spiritual gifts God gave me?"), but they do have an evangelistic element. The gospel presentation is primarily focused on how to respond to the gospel, rather than the gospel itself (Just do a web search for ABC Admit Believe Confess to see what I mean). 

First generation VBS is extremely selective and spends most of its time carefully presenting God as creator, who Jesus is and what he has done, and how all people must respond. The focus is not on life lessons, getting along, serving God, or teaching morals. Rather, first-generation VBS is exclusively evangelistic, including only Bible verses and narratives that lead towards a decision to follow Jesus, following the example of John. Jesus performed many other signs in the presence of his disciples that are not written in this book. But these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name. John 20:30-31

I hope this helps.

Monday, July 23, 2012

A Mark on Your Hand and a Band on Your Forehead

When I was a teenager, I liked wearing Christian tee-shirts. My cousin had the one I admired most. It said simply, “I’m a fool for Jesus. Whose fool are you?”
Most of my shirts were similar. They were bold, quickly evangelistic, and perhaps a bit offensive. They employed a billboard effect and used simple messages.
“Be cool. Meet Jesus,” said the front of one. “Or fry in hell,” on the back.
Going further back, there was another fashion trend that was popularized among the kids in vacation bible school. They were little bracelets with five colored beads which were reminders of the basic truths of the gospel. We called them power bands.
Their purpose was mostly to serve as evangelistic tools. To that end, the bands were probably better than the T-shirts. There are more poorly conceived Christian t-shirts in the world than effective ones.
Still, there is something deeply scriptural about wearing clothing items that point to Jesus. Consider the command in Deuteronomy 6.
Listen, Israel: The LORD is our God. The LORD is the only God. Love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength. Take to heart these words that I give you today. Repeat them to your children. Talk about them when you're at home or away, when you lie down or get up. Write them down, and tie them around your wrist, and wear them as headbands as a reminder. Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates.
The Biblical purpose is not so much to be a walking gospel billboard (Eat at Joe’s), but to create a daily reminder of our identity, both for ourselves and for others to see. We become targets for both seekers and antagonists. We also remind ourselves moment by moment the necessity of dying to self and living for Jesus.

One more thought. There are some who wear religious items, carry rosaries, or even get religious symbols tattooed on their skin, but neither as a commercial nor a personal reminder. They hope that by doing so, they will receive some mystical power or spiritual blessing or protection. There is nothing biblical about that at all.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Best Overlooked Posts on Beyond Outreach

On Blogger there is a tool that give statistics for how many times each post was viewed. I noticed that most posts have a number around 30 with some much higher and some much lower. There are some post with five views or less, so I thought I would highlight those today:

Net-Drawing Stories

There are a number of short little proverbs, parables, and sermons in the first five books of the New Testament. Each one takes less than two minutes to tell. They are great tools in the repertoire of a soul-winner. More than that they are broadly applicable and often serve as encouragement at the right time. Here are a few that are worth learning by heart in your own words and telling often… read more

Downward Mobility

I guess 8 years on the mission field gives a person a better perspective on the problems of clinging affluence while trying to effectively live out the gospel. It is very very hard to do, and probably more than 99% of the people that try to do both end up letting go of either a life fully lived for Jesus or the comforts and securities that affluence provides… read more

Bringing the Gospel through the Gates of Hell.

My cousin is working on the set of a new Nicholas Cage movie called Drive Angry. She forewarned us that this movie is a movie that contains gratuitous violence, sex, and nudity, has satanic spiritual themes and foul language. Obviously, these things dishonor God and are counter to his kingdom. So, why would she choose to work there if she is a professing follower of Jesus? Would Christ approve? read more

Out of sight, out of mind.

It was the Sabbath day and Jesus took his disciples to the synagogue in Capernaum, where he taught the people. All the people that heard him were amazed at his teaching. They were even more amazed when a man overcome by an evil spirit began to shout at Jesus, because just as soon as he started, Jesus silenced the demon and freed the man. The whole city began to talk… read more

Friday, June 29, 2012

The P-Scale

p-scaleThere are a couple of simple scales that help illustrate the cultural distances between the announcers and hearers of the gospel and what it requires of each.

In an earlier post I presented the E-Scale, which represents the cultural distance that Christians go, or need to go, when sharing the gospel. This post will look at the P-Scale.

The P-Scale represents the cultural distance potential believers must move in order to join a church. Though the scale is principally a missionary tool for describing unreached people groups, it can be applied to local communities as well.

P-0: People “at home” in a local church setting.
(no cultural barriers to belief)

These people have not repented and trusted Jesus for forgiveness and eternal life. They do, however, have a great portion of their social circles within the church and its culture. P-zeros would feel out of place without the church culture around them. The unfortunate TV show Good Christian Belles is probably a good example of p-zeros.

John the Baptist was reaching out to p-zeros (E-0 evangelism) when he said “Produce fruit in that shows your repentance. And do not begin to say to yourselves, 'We have Abraham as our father.' For I tell you, God can raise up children for Abraham from these rocks.” These people did not need to leave their culture, the needed to change their hearts.

P-1:  People who could “fit in” at a local church with some adjustment.(1 barrier to belief, the micro-culture of the churched )

These people are those who don’t know or use the church vocabulary. They are not generally familiar with the church life of local churches and what these churches do. They do, however fit within the same cultural framework of many of the local churches. They may have many common points of interest and concern. (In Louisiana for example, Community coffee, Saints football, Crawfish boils, fishing, hunting, weddings and funerals in churches, etc.) In general, p-ones are firmly established as unfamiliar with the church, and may even have some antagonistic feelings towards church culture.

P-2:  People who would have to sacrifice themselves culturally to belong to a local church, requiring a significant loss of friendships and family ties.
(2 barriers to belief; culture itself, and the specific church culture as well.)

People who must cross barriers of culture, race, and identity in order to join a local fellowship of believers are very unlikely to be able to do that. When a p-two hears of Jesus, he may even develop high regard for Him, but he cannot see a way to become His disciples and still remain within his natural community. Faith in Jesus can mean immediate, significant, and even life-threatening persecution.

P-3:  People for whom there is no local church they could understand or in which they could reasonably participate.
(3 barriers to belief; language and communication, culture itself, and the micro-culture of the local church.)

Probably the most obvious and immediate example of p-threes are indigenous tribes who speak a language, that has no Christian work and whose culture has not developed a way of doing church.

How is this important to obeying the Great Commission?

There is something significant to take away from this.

Simply doing evangelism across these barriers (E1, E2, E3,and E4), is not going to be effective in reaching more than the occasional one or two over a lifetime of work. The call is to make disciples within the framework of a church and that can not happen if the only kind of church that exists is linguistically, culturally, and socially distant from the potential believer.

The only way P-2 and P-3 peoples will be reached is through evangelism and discipleship that has as it primary strategy, the starting of new indigenous churches among those in each culture. (By the way, this is the distinction I was making between daughter churches (p-0), church plants (p-1), mission churches (p2, p3) and church planting (p1, p2, p3) in the earlier post.)

No one church is going to reach its town or city for Christ, especially in modern-day America. There are so many different backgrounds, languages, cultures, and tribes that any one church that attempts to reach them all will not only fail, it will probably break itself. Wise churches find the appropriate means of reaching people across each barrier, and they work together with other churches to get the job done.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

"Don't ask, don't tell."

"Don't ask, don't tell" (DADT) was the official United States policy on homosexuals serving in the military from December 21, 1993 to September 20, 2011. The policy prohibited military personnel from discriminating against or harassing closeted homosexual or bisexual service members or applicants, while barring openly gay, lesbian, or bisexual persons from military service.

Steve Addison, of Movements that Change the World, just posted a nice blog entry called “They don’t ask. We don’t tell.” He makes a very good point in a tongue-in-cheek way.

The truth is, many Christians have come to an unspoken agreement with the world, that they will simply live their lives as private Christians and share the gospel only when overtly approached. This is a popular misapplication of a quote misattributed to Francis of Assisi. “Preach the gospel, and if necessary, use words.” The world responds to this truce with great enthusiasm by simply not asking any questions.

As you think about your relationships with your neighbors, co-workers, butchers, bakers, and baristas, have you been operating out of a don’t ask, don’t tell policy? How can you change that? What will change in your world if your Christianity were 100% overt? Are you willing to see that happen?

Monday, June 25, 2012

5 Priorities for a Healthy Church

1. Serious Prayer. 

The average church has so established itself organizationally and financially that God is simply not necessary to it. So entrenched is its authority and so stable are the religious habits of its members that God could withdraw Himself completely from it and it could run on for years on its own momentum.  --A.W. Tozer

Though we tend to judge the health of a church by its size, its financial stability, its busy-ness, its median age, its baptism numbers, or its unity, the true measure of a church’s health can best be seen in its prayer life.  A church that does not pray, that does not pray a lot, that does not pray seriously, and does not pray pervasively is sick.

2. Centrality of Scripture.

The Bible is our final authority for faith and practice -- Bob Utley

A church that does not constantly learn and return to Scripture, and teach its members to do the same is sick. A church that focuses on precepts and principals, but does not teach its people the Scripture itself is feeding its members microwave meals and junk food.

A healthy church is one full of members who constantly engage the Bible on their own, even outside outside of church meetings, learning it, reflecting on it, singing it and sharing it with others, daily.

3. Obedience to Christ.

One of the most misquoted and misunderstood passages of the Bible is Matthew 28:18-20. Ask people, sometime, what this passage tells us to teach. I think you will be surprised by the number of people who will not say, “to obey.” -- David Watson

Healthy churches teach obedience to Christ’s commands, with baptism as the non-negotiable first step. Healthy churches are full of members who model this by being consistently obedient to the commands of Christ in public and in private, in word and in thought, regardless of the consequences.

These believers don’t leave worship gatherings satisfied to simply be inspired by new insights, rather they are resolved and committed to action.

4. Abundant, Relentless Laborers.

The Lord Jesus had compassion on the lost of this world. He sent 42 teams and said, “The harvest is ready but there is an acute shortage of harvesters.” Jesus gave a specific strategy for world evangelism “pray to the Lord of harvest to send forth laborers into His harvest fields.” Harvest is not the problem. Despite the huge Christian manpower in the world, there is a critical shortage of grass-root level harvest workers. -- Victor Choudhrie

A church whose focus is on filling the pews is sick. This kind of church keeps its laborers in bondage with assignments to simply sit passively, listen to sermons, and give money to support the show. It builds its own kingdom on a pastor’s personality at the expense of building God’s Kingdom.

Healthy churches are constantly training their people and sending them out to the harvest. They disciple from day one, not in classrooms with Bible study booklets, but by modeling and mentoring. Healthy churches never stop developing and sending new workers to strengthen existing ministries, the  start new new ones, and to labor in new harvest fields. They are always releasing their disciples to do even greater works according to their calling and giftedness.

5. Vision

Vision gets you on God's program and off your own. -- J. David Schmidt

Churches that have no understood vision or purpose other than to meet and have a worship service are very sick. Even when things are going smoothly and the church seems to be growing, a church without vision comes to a grinding halt as soon as the person they are following (usually the pastor) stops leading.

Healthy churches know what they are all about. They know their purpose and know why they are doing what they are doing. They take the great commission and build their strategies and tactics on those marching orders. Churches that do that succeed.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Daughter Churches, Mission Churches, Church Plants, and Church Planting

When my sister and I were kids, our Sunday school classes moved from room to room and building to building each year. Our church was a large and growing church, and we were always being shuffled. I remember one particular Sunday my sister came up to me with her eyes wide open and a strange expression on her face. She explained that she had gone to where her class always met, only to find a large group of smiling adults speaking a different language.

Our church had sponsored the start of a Korean mission, and had given them the old church building to use as their own. Our Sunday school rooms had moved again, but we had not gotten the message. I still smile when I think of my dad laughing at Heather’s story.

Is there a difference?

Probably not, but when I hear these terms I have different images in my head.

When I think of daughter churches, I think of Bayou Rouge Baptist Church in Evergreen, Louisiana, having sent out some to start First Baptist Church, Bunkie Louisiana. There was a growing community with no church, so a daughter church was started in that area. Daughter churches are new churches of similar style to the ones that start them, but in a new geographic location.

When I think of mission churches, I think of my opening story. Mission churches are different than daughter churches, in my mind, in that they usually take on a form more appropriate for a different culture. Often they are started because of language barriers. Mission churches don’t look like the church that started them and aren’t expected to. The key is starting a new church in a new culture, rather than a new location.

When I think of church plants, I am probably further off than I should be, but the image I have is of a pastor or seminary graduate with an ideal of how church could or should be. He raises the funds and recruits people (from other churches) and starts a new church in a more contemporary flavor. Church plants are, in my admittedly unfair caricature, attempts to do church differently with hopes of appealing to people who don’t like stereotypical church culture.

When I think of church planting, I think of something that doesn’t look much like the other three. I think of bringing the gospel to households, discipling them to faith and baptizing them as a group. If the household is culturally distant from the nearest church or in a situation where aggressive gospel planting is needed, helping them covenant together to form a new church and continue doing evangelism and discipleship the same way, forming simple churches as needed and as led by God. (To get a better idea, see David Garrison’s Handy Guide)

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