The Problem With The Associational VBS “Expo” Model

VBS training is in full swing. State conventions are training associational leadership, and associational leadership are in turn preparing to train church leaders to have evangelistic and life-changing Vacation Bible School’s. These times of training take on different looks. One of primary ones is the clinic on the associational level where, traditionally, the local church is trained on how to lead the individual age groups and rotation sites.  Recently I learned that a few of the associations across our state are employing an “expo” style of VBS clinic. What this means is that the association will set up a display of some or all of the other publishers, in addition to Lifeway, who offer Vacation Bible School material. Some of those publishers include Group, Gospel Light, Standard, Regular Baptist Press, Concordia, and Cokesbury. Once the seven or eight options are presented, churches from the association “shop around” for the curriculum that best fits their need. In my opinion, this process of selecting a Vacation Bible School is flawed on several levels.

Now let me say up front, as a disclaimer, that I don’t believe that Lifeway is perfect. It would be unwise for me to say or to infer that. I believe that Lifeway is the best of all the rest. I personally have areas that I struggle with within the area of publication choices. Some of my children’s Sunday School teachers have some valid concerns with teaching material that I hope to see addressed one day in the future. I have pastor friends of mine who struggle with the cost of curriculum that is passed on to the churches. I have been involved in the teaching of VBS leaders at the state level for many years for two state conventions. I have intentionally studied other publishers VBS materials. In years past, I have used publishers other than Lifeway for our church’s VBS. I feel confident and qualified to say here, and hereafter, that Lifeway VBS is the best of all the rest. I don’t expect everyone to agree, and that it fine. I’m OK with that.

I want share why I think the “expo” style of clinic for the association is flawed. The reasons I believe this style of clinic is flawed are the same reasons I feel Lifeway VBS is the best one for our churches. Two come to mind.

1. The Issue of Doctrinally Integrity

Lifeway’s VBS is doctrinally sound. Churches that choose to use Lifeway curriculum won’t have to worry about the biblical content. There is a confidence in knowing that the material is written through the lense of the Baptist Faith and Message. The flaw of the “expo” model is that the DOM or some representative of the association would have to make sure that each of the publishers they were allowing to be modeled was doctrinally sound. Someone has to ask a question like “Does this curriculum present Jesus Christ as the sole means of salvation?” Someone has to ask a question like “Does this curriculum present the Bible as the perfect word of God?” Someone has to ask a question like this one “Does this curriculum acknowledge that man is lost and in need of a Savior?” In an associational “expo” clinic, that someone should be the DOM.

2. The Linking of  Southern Baptist Missionaries

In addition to being doctrinally sound, Lifeway VBS draws attentions to the work of our Southern Baptist missionaries. With the inclusion of a Missions rotation, students have the opportunity to study real life missions and missionaries from around the world and understand how Cooperative Program monies work. I believe this is invaluable for our children and adults as well. In the “expo” clinic model, this is absent. I cannot for the life of me understand why a Southern Baptist association would choose to model for its churches a VBS that does not highlight what our Southern Baptist missionaries are doing.

Some may say that it is “just” Vacation Bible School, it is no big deal. I don’t buy that. Some would say just pick the best looking theme that the kids would like. That should never be basis for a decision. Some would say that cost should be the deciding factor. I don’t believe that should even be the deciding factor. VBS has the potential to affect and change the lives of children, adults, and churches. I believe that within the ministry of VBS our future teachers, pastors, missionaries, and lay leaders will be called out. This is the reason why that as a pastor I am so passionate about VBS . It is also the reason why I believe it should not be treated so lightly and as carelessly as it seems to be treated at times.

My Thoughts on the Final Report of the Great Commission Resurgence Task Force

One week ago, the Great Commission Resurgence Task Force released their final report, including recommendations to be made to the messengers in June at the SBC Annual Meeting. I had written previously on the initial report that was released back in February. This final report was greatly anticipated across SBC life. There was a belief that that final report would contain recommendations that were not listed in the initial report. That did not happen. There was however a new wording of the previous recommendations with some additional explanation of the task force’s thoughts on their work. Also, one of the original components was divided into two separate recommendations. New to this report is a series of challenges set forth by the task force. There are challenges issued to the individual Christian, individual families, local churches and pastors, local associations, state conventions, Lifeway, our seminaries, the Ethics and Religious Liberties Commission, Guidestone, and all Southern Baptist leaders. These challenges reflect how each group can do their part in carrying out the Great Commission.

The final report includes seven recommendations written out in the form that each will be presented to messengers in June. As parliamentary rule goes, this report, including all seven recommendations will be voted on as a whole, unless a motion is made to divide and vote on each one individually, which is 99.9999% likely. I hope this is the case. I believe that an up/down vote on the entire report would not be in the best interest of the convention. However, I am just one pastor. Listed below are the recommendations exactly how the messengers will receive them. If presented as a whole, I would still have to vote no.

Recommendation #1:

“That the messengers to the Southern Baptist Convention, meeting in Orlando, Florida, June 15-16, 2010, adopt the following as the mission statement of the Southern Baptist Convention:”

As a convention of churches, our missional vision is to present the Gospel of Jesus Christ to every person in the world and to make disciples of all the nations.

I plan on voting yes on this recommendation. I feel this is a good solid vision for the convention as a whole while allowing the church to keep their individual visions.

Recommendation #2:

“That the messengers to the Southern Baptist Convention, meeting in Orlando, Florida,  June 15-16, 2010, adopt the following as Core Values for our work together:”


We depend on the transforming power of the Holy Spirit and prayer to make us more like Jesus Christ.


We stand together in the truth of God’s inerrant Word, celebrating the faith once for all delivered to the saints.


We work together in love for the sake of the Gospel.


We consider others more important than ourselves.


We tell each other the truth in love and do what we say we will do.


We value Southern Baptists of all generations and embrace our responsibility to pass this charge to a rising generation in every age, faithful until Jesus comes.


We believe the local church is given the authority, power, and responsibility to present the Gospel of Jesus Christ to every person in the world.


We join other Christ-followers for the Gospel, the Kingdom of Christ, and the glory of God.

I plan on voting yes on this recommendation. These are solid value to pursue.

Recommendation #3:

 “That the messengers to the Southern Baptist Convention, meeting in Orlando, Florida, June  15-16, 2010, request the Executive Committee of the Southern Baptist Convention to consider recommending to the Southern Baptist Convention the adoption of the language  and structure of Great Commission Giving as described in this report in order to enhance and  celebrate the Cooperative Program and the generous support of Southern Baptists channeled through their churches. We further request that the boards of trustees of the International Mission Board and North American Mission Board consider the adoption of the Lottie Moon and Annie Armstrong offering goals as outlined in this report.”

I plan on voting no on this recommendation. I personally believe that creating another description of giving in order to recognize and celebrate churches that choose designated giving over CP giving will only lessen the emphasis on Cooperative Program giving.

Recommendation #4:

” That the messengers to the Southern Baptist Convention, meeting June 15-16, 2010, request  the Executive Committee of the Southern Baptist Convention to consider any revision to the  ministry assignment of the North American Mission Board that may be necessary in order to  accomplish the redirection of NAMB as outlined in this report; and that the Board of  Trustees of the North American Mission Board be asked to consider the encouragements  found within this report in all matters under their purview.”

I plan on voting yes on this recommendation. I share the concern for a re-emphasis of the North American Mission Board.

 Recommendation #5:

“That the messengers to the Southern Baptist Convention, meeting June 15-16, 2010, request  that the Executive Committee of the Southern Baptist Convention and the International Mission Board of the Southern Baptist Convention consider a revised ministry assignment  for the International Mission Board that would remove any geographical limitation on its mission to reach unreached and underserved people groups wherever they are found.”

I plan on voting no on this recommendation. On the surface this recommendation makes sense. With the recent funding issues of IMB missionaries, it seems appropriate to me to keep their focus, time, and resources committed to people groups around the world.

Recommendation #6:

 “That the messengers to the Southern Baptist Convention, meeting June 15-16, 2010, request the Executive Committee of the Southern Baptist Convention to consider working with the leadership of the state conventions in developing a comprehensive program of        Cooperative Program promotion and stewardship education in alignment with this report.”

I plan on voting yes on this recommendation. I feel that the state conventions are in the best position to promote and educate the local churches regarding the Cooperative Program.

Recommendation #7:

” That the messengers to the Southern Baptist Convention, meeting June 15-16, 2010 in  Orlando, Florida, request the Executive Committee of the Southern Baptist Convention to consider recommending an SBC Cooperative Program Allocation Budget that will increase the percentage allocated to the International Mission Board to 51 percent by decreasing the  Executive Committee’s percentage of the SBC Allocation Budget by 1 percent.”

I plan on voting yes on this recommendation. More funding to the IMB is vital to the effectiveness of missionaries around the world in pushing back lostness. With the task of CP promotion and education taken from the Executive Committee and placed in the hands of the state conventions, it is a good idea to reallocate what the EC used for CP promotion and education and forward that to the IMB.

As a pastor I feel this is an important time in the life of the Southern Baptist Convention. The passing of and rejection of these recommendations can and will have far-reaching effects upon Southern Baptist life as we know, effecting conventions, associations, and local churches. None of these recommendations will be implemented immediately. These proposed changes to the structure of the SBC may be years in the making. What we must do as a local is make an individual commitment to carrying out the Great Commission where we have been planted by God. I believe in the Southern Baptist Convention, but I believe in the local church more.

Coming Soon to a Church Near You

One of my favorite times of the church year is fast approaching: Vacation Bible School. I know that it is only January, but June will be here before you know it. I enjoy everything about VBS. As a pastor, I enjoy the opportunity to work closely with teachers and other volunteers preparing for the arrivals of our students. I enjoy having kids running up and down the hallways not knowing how to act in church. After all, is it not our goal to get unchurched kids to come to church? Believe it or not, I enjoy being there when the first student arrives and watching the last one get into the car at night. As a pastor I enjoy interacting with the students. I enjoy talking with them, laughing with them, and hopefully praying with them.

I enjoy teaching and preparing others for ministry. It is a passion of mine.  I have had the opportunity over the past several years to share my love for VBS with others at the church, association, and state levels. I have agreed to be a part of the VBS team for the Savannah River Baptist Association this year and help train others across our association. I am looking forward to what the Lord is going to do with Vacation Bible School this year. The potential is great. Begin praying right now as to where the Lord would have you to serve. More to come.

A Pastor’s Reflections on VBS

Vacation Bible School has ccome to an end. The screams and shouts of kids running through the halls and in the sanctuary are now a memory. Decorations have coome down and the once vibrant and colorful rooms and hallways have rturned to their traditional look. It is as if VBS never happened. It has been  an exceptionally long week. Longer than normal. I am a big fan of VBS and understand how important it is in the life of the church. Now than that VBS is over, I have a few observations I want to make from a pastor’s perspective.

1. Attendance: This is the criteria by which VBS is judged a success or a failure. Our average attendance for the week was 74. Our average was lower than in the past two or three years. I believe there were several factors contributing to this lower average. First, there were four other churches in our community holding VBS the same week and the at the same time as us. Second, I believe our low number on Sunday has to do with the fact that we started on Sunday. The kids who attend church were attending their church and the unchurched (those who were our focus) don’t normally come to church on Sunday, regardless of the event. Third, about Tuesday night I noticed that all of our kids that were enrolled in VBS were connected to someone in our church. There were no kids from the community in church for the first time this week. I was disappointed by this. However, I was encouraged that our people were active in inviting others to church.

2. Workers: I am thankful to all who worked this week. As  I mentioned earlier, it was a long week. It was also very hot. I am especially thankful to all teachers who worked full-time jobs and left work, came straight to church for five straight days. I want to especially mention and thank those who worked in the kitchen all week. During our VBS, we skip the Snack Rotation. Instead, we choose to provide a meal every night. Our kitchen workers come out early, set everything up, served the kids, and stayed until all was cleaned up. Thankyou.

3. Ministry: Anytime you have kids on campus you have an opportunity to be engaged in real, one-on-one life-changing ministry. I have to believe that is what happened this week. VBS is intentionally evangelistic. We are diligent to make sure that we communicate the gospel message all week long, not just on the night of the “evangelistic” lesson. With that being said, we did not have any public professions of faith this week. This is the second VBS in a row this has happened. I can not explain it. What  I do know is this. We are here to share a message and plant a seed, understanding that it is God that gives the increase. Real ministry takes place when you take time to listen to a child, talk to a child, and show love toward them in the name of Christ. This is what we did this week. If down the road a year or two, in God’s timing, a gospel presentation is given and they respond because of something that planted in their heart this week, then we were faithful to have done our part.

4. Sharing: Once again this year we had the opportunity to share and pass on the decorations we used to another church who needed them. The bulk of our props, supplies, and decorations went to two different churches. I believe this is a stewardship issue. Lifeway VBS material is not cheap. It does not make sense to speand all of that money and then store everything in a closet. One of the churches using our material was thinking about not having VBS at all due to a small budget and limited funds. I am pleased that we were able to help them.

Overall, we had a great week and look forward to what comes out of the efforts of this week. I again want to thank every teacher, worker, and parent who allowed their child to be a part of our VBS.