Saturday, June 17, 2006

VBS Fun and the Gospel to Children

As mentioned before, I was a crew leader for my church's Vacation Bible School this past week, and it was so much fun and such a blessing. I had six rising 1st and 2nd grade girls in my group, and it was so good to get to know them and talk with them. We had some good conversations related to the lessons for each day, and it is amazing how much faith and comprehension even children that young can have! Every time I work with young children it just makes me all the more eager to be a mother of my own brood of chicks :). Little girls, especially, are so loving and just soak up the love you give them. One of the girls (who doesn't attend my church) was leaning against me yesterday during the lesson and said, I'm going to miss you, Miss Susan. Awww. It just melts my heart :). Six and seven year old girls are still in that stage where they love to snuggle and giggle without fear of seeming babyish, yet they can also comprehend a lot. Their faith, though simple now, is so precious! For of such is the kingdom of God.

Isn't it amazing how selfish little girls can be, though? My crew was very well-behaved, but all (except one) of them were so self-centered! They each wanted to be the first in line, etc., and if they did something "good" they wanted everyone to know! It is so hard to explain the balance between doing good and announcing it! One of the girls really did understand, though (she obviously has been very well-trained by her parents), and she would often do little things for the others, like letting them have a turn first or letting them pick the nicer craft supplies, etc., and she never looked for praise from me or the others. I could certainly learn many lessons from her!

My girls were very well-behaved this week, but I saw enough childish selfishness from them this week - and misbehavior from the other kids - to only seek to confirm what I already knew. Children are not innocent. I mentioned to Mother and Sister Dear that John Locke must not have had much exposure to young children or he would have had to "revise" his blank slate theory, to which Mother Dear replied, Revise it nothing! He would have had to throw it out! Ah, so true.

I'm afraid that the gospel is very often presented to children in a reverse fashion, or at least in a confused, mixed-up fashion. Each day this week, we had a different theme: Monday was Jesus is our friend (proper response: Viva!), Tuesday was Jesus is our life (Viva!), Wednesday was Jesus is our leader (Viva!), Thursday was Jesus is our Savior (Viva!), and Friday was Jesus is our helper. Each theme was good and had a Biblical basis. Indeed, to a Christian, Jesus is his friend, life, leader, Saviour, and helper. . . . but not in that order!

The first three days in VBS it was all about the kids learning to do good things because Jesus is their friend (Viva!), their life (Viva!), and their leader (Viva!). The problem? Sin wasn't even mentioned until Thursday. Until then the lessons focused on what we can try to do to please Jesus, rather than what we have done to offend a perfectly holy God. It didn't show the children just how much they need a Savior, and it didn't tell them that they can't do anything to earn God's favor and salvation.

Every day the kids were given a challenge to complete before the following day - something nice that they had to do to show someone else that they act different because Jesus is their friend (Viva!), or life (Viva!), or leader (Viva!). The next day they would tell their crew leaders how they fulfilled their challenge. Sister Dear overheard one lady complimenting one of her charges after hearing what he had done (to complete his challenge), and she told him, You know what that means? That means you're a good person. *cringe* Think of the message that sends to that little boy!

Oh, well, that's nice to know. Now because of a single, solitary act that I did by coercion, my debt of sin has been bumped off the charts and replaced with a positive credit in the bank of my holiness. I guess I don't need a Savior anymore.

It is so dangerous to present the gospel to children in this manner! The last thing I want for a little child is to come away from VBS or church with the idea that they can somehow be "good enough" for God. That is not the gospel message, and it pains me when kids view the gospel as such. The morally rich (those who think they have it all together) have the hardest time entering the kingdom of God. It is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle. . . The message of the first three days bordered on a works-based salvation, which is definitely not the message of the gospel!

Thursday we finally used the word sin. During the Bible story we talked about sin, how we have all sinned, and how we are all in need of a Savior. The teacher really did a good job explaining this to the group, and then we had individual time with our smaller group of kids to talk about sin and our need of a Savior. But I think that lesson should have come earlier in the week, before we talked about Jesus being the Lord of our life. How can Jesus be our friend or our life (more important than anything else) or our leader unless he is first our Savior? As Walter Marshall once said, [Christ] knew that we could perform nothing holily, except he made us first partakers of salvation, and that we shall never obey him as a Law-giver, until we receive him as a Saviour.

. . . and that is how I think the gospel is often presented to kids in a backwards fashion. Kids first need to be taught their need of a Savior, before they can be encouraged to obey God with their actions. Our good works are out of gratitude and obedience to God, realizing that we have no hope outside of the mercy of the cross, so they are meaningless unless under the shadow of Calvary. Heaven forbid that the little ones this week should come away from VBS thinking more of their actions to please God rather than focusing most on Jesus's sacrificial actions on the cross to save them from their worst enemy - themselves.


Jessie said...

What a good post. Thank you for letting us all in on your experience this week. You are quite right about how it's too easy to give children the happy part of the story (Jesus is our friend) without telling them the sad part (He can't be anything but a Judge to us while we are still in sin (ourselves) without Him). I think this goes back to the posts about truth and love. We don't want to "offend" one of these little ones by "scaring them" so we sort of skip that part of the story, all the while we are greatly offending them, by not telling them what should be of the highest importance and most love to their souls.
Paul said to Timothy that "from a child thou hast known the holy scriptures, which are able to make thee wise unto salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus." Several things from this verse (1 Tim. 3:15)
1- The word translated "child" in the KJV literally means "infant" in Greek. Even infants can and should be taught the Word of God. We don't need to dumb anything down for them. Explain it, yes. Dilute it, no.
2- Timothy had known the Holy Scriptures from the time he was an infant. Wait a minute- what scriptures did Lois and Eunice have from which to teach Timothy? They only had the Old Testament. So we see here that even infants can be taught efficaciously, the Old Testament scriptures, as well as the New. Think how much Old Testament knowledge is lacking from even the adult church members of our day! And yet, here was Timothy, not only being taught "what happened" but taught to see the Messiah in it all.
3- The Holy Scriptures (even the O.T.) are able to make people (even infants) wise unto salvation, but it is only through faith which is in Christ Jesus. Head knowledge of Bible events is not enough. We must have faith to believe. But that faith doesn't come from ourselves, "it is the gift of God," given to us by Christ Himself. We are totally depraved. We can't even make ourselves have faith enough to believe. I think one reason the Gospel is not presented accurately to young children is the fact that we get tricked into thinking that "they aren't old enough" to understand enough to have faith enough to believe on Christ. How backwards is that!? No one ever has enough faith to believe on Christ. No one ever has any faith unless it is given to him through Christ. When we feel that we can't present the Gospel in its fulness to children, we are forgetting the fact that God is God and the only One Who can grant the faith to believe to these little children.

(Sorry for the incredibly looong comment ; ) )

Jessica said...

Excellent post...and I completely agree! It's just another extension of the modern church's over-focus on God's love for us. Yes, the Lord loves us...but it's only because His wrath has been met and our wretchedness covered through Jesus' sacrifice.

John Dekker said...

Oh, there are two Jessicas posting here - I don't think I ever noticed that before.

Question: is VBS aimed at Christian kids / kids from Christian homes? And would that make a different to either the content or the structure of the message?

Is there a different imperative involved here (be thankful for what Jesus has done for you vs. coming to Jesus)? Is there a case to be made for (on certain occasions) moving from the subjective to the objective?

Well, to (partially) answer my own question, I note that the Heidelberg Catechism, which is written for Christians, says that the three things I need to know are, in order:
1. How great my sins and miseries are.
2. How I may be delivered from all my sins and miseries.
3. How I shall express my gratitude to God for such deliverance.

And yet, I'm not totally convinced that the order at VBS was wrong. Scripture seems to employ a variety of ways in which to communicate the gospel imperative. Sometimes Jesus says "Repent and believe the gospel," but at other times he says "Follow me."

One could also argue that missing from this list was "Jesus is our creator."

I wonder also whether it would have sounded different if the lady in question had said, "That mean's you're a good boy."

John Dekker said...

And another comment on 2 Tim 3:15 -
The word translated "child" in the KJV literally means "infant" in Greek.

Yes and no. "Baby" is probably a better translation. This is the word used of John the Baptist before he was born (Luke 1:41), and of Jesus in the manger.

Yes, that's right - foetuses need God's Word as well. It's a good idea to read (and sing) to your child when you're pregnant.

"As soon as the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy," (Luke 1:44).

Susan said...

Jessica #1:

Don't apologize for the length of your post. It was so good! So very full of spiritual truths! It is so important to realize that even our faith is a gift of God. We can't force anyone to come to Christ and even adults don't have faith unless it is gifted to them.

I really liked your point that even very small children need the gospel. The sometimes-touted view that children are not "accountable" until 7 or even 10 years old is so saddening (for many reasons, actually. . .) But very young ones can be gifted faith. My dad, who grew up in a non-Christian home, came to faith at the age of 4 at a VBS, and he remembers it. Young children can have faith!

Jessica #2:

Yes, agreed that the modern church often over-focuses on God's love for us. We should focus on the good news of the gospel (I'm not in favor of a hellfire-and-brimstone preaching style), but the good news is meaningless without the bad news.


To answer your question, VBS is attended by a majority of covenant children, but it is considered one of the main outreaches for our church every year and always pulls in a lot of unchurched children. Two of my six girls, for example, were unchurched (I am almost sure), and it was much harder relating the message to them throughout the week when we started with "be good" and only mentioned sin and salvation on Day 4.

Hmm. Interesting point that Jesus sometimes called people with "Come, follow me." I'll have to think on that.

And I completely agree with you that "Jesus is our Creator" was missing from the list. I meant to mention that, as my mom and I discussed that earlier in the week. In fact, I think starting with that message is very important. Ken Ham would be so ashamed that I forgot to mention that. *hides face in shame*

Our sinful nature and our need of a Savior isn't very meaningful unless we place it in context, going back to the beginning and showing first that Jesus is our Creator, then the origin of sin. If God is not our creator, than so what? Just look at Paul's address to the Athenians in the Areopagus; because they are pagans, he first begins by telling them that God is their Creator. The U.S. today is also pagan, fraught with evolution and other false religions, and the same clarification is necessary now. We are not speaking of the Muslim god or "the force" or one of many Hindu gods; we are speaking of the one and only true God, who created the world.

John Dekker said...

The U.S. today is also pagan, fraught with evolution and other false religions

Indeed, there are good reasons to suppose that the 21st century is more like the first century than ever before - a common language, rapid communication, syncretism, etc.

Mrs.B. said...

Well said, Susan! I completely agree. And since there have been so many great comments I don't need to repeat what's already been said! (o:

Anonymous said...

Our church is using the same VBS material this July for our VBS (the Fiesta theme, which looks really fun!). I am helping with the music. I haven't taken the time to read all of the blog/comments, but I never really thought about not mentioning sin. We never give "invitations", etc, in our VBS, but the kids learn A TON about the character of God/Jesus, some who have never heard about Jesus, and come from troubled homes. That Jesus is their friend is very comforting to them. It is always surprising to me how many kids come from outside of our church,too. I was also impressed how this year's theme menitons Jesus a lot. I think sometimes the tendancy is to just say "God" because it's more acceptable. I just found your blog (really just found out what a blog was!)and am really enjoying it.

Sherrin said...

I really appreciated this post, and the comments. I identify with the selfishness of children :). I intend to link to this post and share my own story from school, which I think is funny. I don't know when that'll happen though! I also greatly appreciated your comments (and those of others) about how to share Christ with children. This is something I think a lot about as I seek to minister to the little ones at school.

Susan said...

Anonymous (I would love it if you'd leave your name next time :-D),

I'm glad you're enjoying my blog :).

Good luck with the music for Fiesta! Spanish words plus many hand motions equaled sometimes-confused Susan :). I really thought the group discussion questions were good, and added to the lesson, and allowed the crew leaders to individualize it. I hope that your VBS will go well.


I actually thought of you while writing this post :). I always love your stories from your classroom and the neat opportunities you have with your students!