Why I’m All in for Vacation Bible School

I’m all in for Vacation Bible School and here’s why.

I’m all in for Vacation Bible School at my church. We have a great group of volunteers, but I love being a part of the opening and closing rallies and helping out any way I can. I look forward to greeting parents as they drop their kids off and giving out high-fives to those same kids as they make their way down the hall. This year, I get to share the gospel with the children at a few key points throughout the week.

Here are my top 5 reasons why I’m all in for VBS:

  1. VBS is fun. I know that it takes a lot of hard work and advanced planning to put a VBS together. The daily schedule can be a little tiring, but it’s a good kind of tiring. The music is upbeat, the decorations are colorful, and the kid’s smiles are fantastic. Add in some crafts, snacks, and games, and you have a recipe for a memorable time.
  2. VBS encourages the church to focus on the next generation. There are all kinds of activities that can happen in church, but you can’t have VBS without children. Children and youth are the future and they need to be a priority.
  3. VBS encourages the church to look outward. Parents are always looking for things for their children to do during the summer months when school is not in session. VBS is a natural connection point that is easy to share with the community. These factors and more, make it easy for the church to use VBS as an outreach opportunity.
  4. VBS encourages the church to think about the gospel. The daily schedule usually includes a lot of activities. But a full schedule is an invitation to think about what kinds of messages are truly important. In other words, what do we really want to pass on to our children? The good news about Jesus Christ – his death, burial, and resurrection for us – is the best message of all and VBS an ideal time to share it.
  5. VBS brings out the best in our church volunteers. All kinds of people can volunteer at VBS. People who enjoy working with their hands and building can help. People that like to teach and organize can be a part. People that enjoy music and crafts can do their part. Even athletic types can serve.

These are my top 5 reasons why I’m all in for Vacation Bible School. Feel free to share your own reasons why you love to participate in VBS in the comment section below.

Why is Children’s Ministry So Important?

Why is children’s ministry so important?

People bring their Bibles to church, but they also bring their expectations. Sometimes, those expectations clash with other churchgoers in the same congregation. Since children are rarely involved in church leadership, their needs and interests can take a backseat to other “more important” ministries. Here are 10 great reasons why churches prioritize children’s ministry.

  • 1. The family is an important part of God’s plan for the world. He invented gender, marriage, and procreation – God invented the generations! The 10 Commandments and the Epistles both include important instructions for children to honor and obey their parents (Exodus 20:12, Ephesians 6:1).
  • 2. The majority of people who make a decision for Christ do it before the age of 18. Most studies place the percentage around 85 percent. This number may vary slightly by family or by the stripe of church, but surely it is above 50 percent. Consider your own experience – did you make a decision for Christ as a child or a teenager? If so, then you know about the importance.
  • 3. If a person comes to Christ at a young age, they can follow Christ for their whole lives. The rich young ruler in Mark 10:17-27 is identified by his age, as well as his wealth. What if this young man would have decided to follow Christ? That would have been an amazing story of God’s grace.
  • 4. Children can be examples of sincere faith. Jesus’ disciples drove children away, but Jesus welcomed them into His presence (Mark 10:13-16). The way children accept things as truth is a living illustration of what it means to have saving faith.
  1. 5. Believing parents are commanded to disciple their children – and they need help. Parents in the Old Testament were expected to teach their children about the things of God (Deuteronomy 6:4-9). This expectation is continued on into the New Testament as well (Ephesians 6:4). Parents can have a huge positive spiritual influence on their kids, e
  2. 6. There are all kinds of forces clamoring for our kid’s attention and loyalty. Retailers and advertisers have focused their efforts on children for decades. Today’s social reformers are directing their efforts at younger and younger ages to capture kids while they are still impressionable. The destructive power of Satan takes on a whole new level of meaning if you think about it in relation to our young ones. (1 Peter 5:8)
  • 7. Reaching out and ministering to kids is the key to ministering to the whole family. Children’s and youth ministry is one of the top three ministries that modern families are looking for in a church. (The other two are worship/music style and preaching). Some church planting experts are recommending a children’s minister/director as the first staff hire beyond the church planter himself. Parents will come to and even in engage in the church if their children are happy and growing.
  • 8. Churches need the energy and enthusiasm of up-and-coming generations. It’s inevitable – we all grow older over time. Churches need a balance between the wisdom and experience of older generations and the energy and enthusiasm that children and youth bring. I’ve had several conversations recently with apologetic parents and concerned church members about the noise and activity level of some of the kids in our church. In my opinion, that’s a good thing because we need these kids!
  • 9. God blesses the discipling efforts of those who minister to children. Proverbs 22:6 is a general principle rather an iron-clad promise. As a church, we have an opportunity to partner with parents as they “train up their children.” This kind of ministry focus invites God’s blessing and we need all the blessings we can get!
  • 10. Every person, no matter how young they are, is precious and important to God. The sanctity of human life begins at conception and extends all the way to natural death (Psalm 139:14). Sanctity refers to the holiness and intrinsic value of every human life. The very young and the very old are frequently discounted in our culture, but not so with God.

Take your pick – there a lots of reasons why children’s ministry should be important in today’s church. Investing in children will pay off dividends now and for eternity. 

What Happens When a Church Doesn’t Know or Act on Its Values? (Part 3)

What happens when a church doesn’t know or act on its values?

This is the last post in a short series on the importance of core values in the local church. Core values are helpful in emphasizing what makes a particular church unique. But what happens when a church doesn’t know or act on its values?

So far, I have described two scenarios that can spring up in a church where they don’t know or act on their core values: perpetual conflict and mission drift. These of the symptoms of the greater problem of ignorance and apathy. Here is a third scenario that can arise from this problem.

Scenario #3: Misplaced Priorities

Calvary Church has had many ups and downs during Pastor Mark’s tenure. During the last few years, however, the downs seem to be happening more regularly. In order to “rebuild momentum” and “turn things around,” Pastor Mark has encouraged his church to lower their standards for membership. In fact, they have discussed removing membership from their church altogether. The line of thinking is that people are just people. If they make it as easy as possible, with no expectations or required beliefs, then maybe more people will opt in. This idea gains a lot of traction with the church’s existing membership and they make it a major emphasis as they promote their church out in the community. For a brief time, the emphasis seems to work, attracting a handful of newer people to the church. But they don’t stick around very long because their commitment level is so low.

Another problem pops us in Calvary Church as well. Some of the newcomers to the church hold some unbiblical views and others are involved in some questionable practices. One charismatic and persuasive newcomer offers to teach a study that describes heaven and hell as a myth instead of real places. Another caring and creative newcomer begins a class on the benefits of all world religions. In time, these groups weaken the church’s convictions about the necessity and uniqueness of the gospel message.

All values are not created equal. Some values are real and some are aspirational (“I wish we believed in X, Y, or Z”). Some values are shared and others are personal (Think back to the scenario about perpetual conflict). And more importantly, some values are biblical and some values are not. This may one of the most important reasons for a church to identify and define its core values. If a church chooses and implements an unbiblical value, it will wander away from its Scriptural basis.

Being open and welcoming to newcomers are good and healthy things. Removing unnecessary barriers to participation and membership is a must. For example, people shouldn’t be expected to meet a specific dress code to attend or join your church. But removing any and all doctrinal boundaries or expectations for membership is a value that goes too far. In fact, it’s unbiblical. The Scriptures make repeated references to the importance of being a recognized part of a local church (Acts 2;47, 1 Corinthians 12:12, Hebrews 13:17).

It is important that church leaders and church members know their core values to make sure they line up with Scripture. Things that are unexamined and unexplained can lead subtly in the wrong direction.

Feel free to leave a comment about what you’ve observed about core values in the local church.

What Happens When a Church Doesn’t Know or Act on Its Values? (Part 2)

What happens when a church doesn’t know or act on its values?

This post is a continuation of my last post on the importance of core values in the local church. Core values are foundational concepts that shape a church’s personality and “drive its ministry”, according to Aubrey Malphurs.

So far, we’ve been exploring what happens when a church doesn’t know or act on its values. In the last post, I described a church that was damaged by perpetual conflict because influential parties in the church refused to take ownership of their own personal values.

Here is another scenario…

Scenario #2: Mission Drift

Pastor Mike has served at Christ’s Fellowship Church for more than a decade. He is well known for his strong pulpit ministry and his shepherd’s heart. Christ’s Fellowship is known in the community as one of the busiest churches in town. They have events and programs going at the church building every day of the week. Sunday’s schedule is full of Bible studies, worship services, and volunteer training. Monday and Tuesday feature specialty studies, outreach programs, and a full slate of committee meetings. Wednesday evening has a long list of age-graded ministries along with ministry teams preparing for upcoming services. Thursday, Friday, and Saturday include affinity groups for outreach, numerous social gatherings, and a large youth sports program. Pastor Mike and his church members work hard to maintain all of these ministry opportunities. They don’t have as many people involved as they once did, but they are faithful to “get the job done.”

In time, Pastor Mike notices that his church members seem tired and worn out from all of the activity. He spends an inordinate amount of his time recruiting new leaders and volunteers. He is proud of all that His church is doing, but secretly wonders how long they can keep it up.

In addition, Pastor Mike has also noticed that Christ’s Fellowship seems to have a hard time keeping newcomers. Guests visit and attend for a few weeks or a month, but they fade away with no explanation. When he follows up with some of the guests who are more open about their experience, they share that they are unsure where to get started or how to plug in since there is so much going on at the church.

This is a more subtle problem with core values, but it is just as damaging. When a church fails to define and defend its core values, it begins to drift from its mission. If you try to chase too many priorities, you will get overwhelmed, and soon or later you will have to let something go. Churches leaders that do not know their church’s core values will be tempted to adopt every new ministry trend that comes along. Church members that do not understand their core values will try to start programs to meet every need. Or, they will have a very hard time letting go of a ministry that has outlived its usefulness.

Churches that drift from their mission will have a hard time retaining newer members. People are excited about joining in with a group of people that are going somewhere. They are less excited about joining up with a group that seems to be going everywhere at the same time.

It is important that church leaders and church members know and act on their core values. They are what brings the church together. Tomorrow’s post will describe a third scenario of what happens when that’s not the case.

Feel free to leave a comment about what you’ve observed about core values in the local church.

What Happens When a Church Doesn’t Know or Act on Its Values?

What happens when a church doesn’t know or act on its values?

Every church has the same mission, but its own personality. We all go about making disciples for Jesus Christ in our own unique way. Some congregations emphasize the relational part of church life, while others focus more heavily on the praise and worship part. Other assemblies pay more attention to community engagement and missions.

A church’s personality is shaped by its core values. Church leadership expert, Aubrey Malphus, defines core values as, “The constant, passionate, biblical core beliefs tha drive ministry.” A church’s top priorities are what bring a church together – or at least they should!

What happens when a church doesn’t know or act on its values? How can you tell if there is a breakdown in communication or a missalignent? What does ot take to reenergize a church that is struggling? How can you repair an unhealthy church culture?

This post will introduce the first of three church scenarios involving ignorance and inaction when it comes to core values. Each scenario is an example of what can happen when a church and its leaders are unware and out of touch with its operational convictions. The remaining church scenarios will be described on posts that will be released later this week.

Scenario #1: Perpetual Conflict

Pastor Tom came into First Church with a ton of energy and enthusiasm. He was excited to serve in his first senior pastorate and the church was excited to have him. First Church had been a thriving and growing church at one time, but recently they had been struggling. Pastor Tom introduced a number of well-thought out initiatives that were designed to attract new people to the church. In time, those initiatives began to work and the church was reinvigorated with stream of new faces. But some older members of the congregation were uneasy about the changes. The new changes interrupted the weekly schedule they had been accustom to. The new people were unfamiliar and hard to get to know. The increase in attendance meant that it was more difficult to get their pastor’s attention when they had a need.

In time, these older members began to complain about how their church had gotten “too big” and how the newer people were moving the church in the “wrong direction.” The complaints continued until they stirred up a significant amount of friction and discontent in the church. Attempts to address the concerns by Pastor Tom and other supportive church leaders were unsuccessful. In time, Pastor Tom felt pressure to leave First Church for another place of ministry, even though the church was evangelizing the lost and attracting new members.

This is an example of a breakdown in communication between a pastor and the congregation he is called to serve. Pastor Tom put a high value on evangelizing the lost and growing the church through new people. Few church members would openly oppose evangelism or church growth, but in this example, the disgruntled church members have a different set of core values. They are more interested in personal relationships and fellowship. These priorities are not bad or wrong. Healthy relationship are vital part of any healthy church. The problem happened when neither party (the church or the pastor) took ownership of core values that were driving their approach life and ministry in the church. They never sat down together and discussed why they felt so strongly about their opposing visions of the church.

It is important that church leaders and church members know and act on their core values. They are what brings the church together. Tomorrow’s post will describe another version of what happens when that’s not the case.

Feel free to leave a comment about what you’ve observed about core values in the local church.

Who or What Controls Your Church Schedule?

Are their things that are controlling your church’s schedule in unhelpful ways?

Photo by Sincerely Media on Unsplash

The pandemic has had some unexpectedly positive side effects on the local church. One of those side effects is an opportunity for church leaders to assess and adjust the ministries and programs of their church. This brings up the often unspoken yet critical question of who or what controls the schedule of your church? The easy answer is the Bible, but there are some other considerations that usually get added into the mix. Here are 5 things that may be controlling your church schedule in unhelpful ways.

1. Tradition. When asked about why a ministry or program is done the way it is, the traditional response (no pun intended) is, “That’s how we’ve always done it.” There is nothing wrong with familiar habits or established customs, as long as they don’t become an excuses or laziness or lack of creativity.

2. The Calendar. Another familiar response when discussing church activities ends in a day of the week. As in, “We always do X on this day or that day.” I am not trying to resolve the debate between those who prefer to gather “weekly” for worship and those who view Sunday as the appointed day for corporate worship. My point is that apart from a few clear principles in Scripture, there seems to be lot of flexibility for the church to do what works best in their context.

3. The Budget. Like it or not, giving, accounting, and budgeting are a part of today’s modern church. Bible study materials have to be purchased, lights need to be turned on, and staff members need to support their families. At times, a service or ministry must be canceled even if it might have a negative impact on the giving. Other times, churches may see the need to invest in a ministry, like an outreach to college students, that may be a draw on the church’s resources. As important as the church budget is, it should not become the most consideration.

4. Business Meetings. “Business Meetings” is code for the hodgepodge of concerns, interests, and preferences that exist in any local congregation at a given time. These interests maybe helpful, but they don’t always line up in clear and cohesive approach to ministry. To be clear, I believe that church members should alway voice their opinion in a vote, but not everything on the church schedule needs to be voted on.

5. A Denomination. Denominations can provide tremendous resources for church, but they can’t provide an effective ministry schedule. National or regional church leaders can provide opportunities for collaboration, information, or training, but they can’t provide an effective “plug and play” strategy to reach your community or disciple the people in your church.

After reviewing 5 things that may be controlling your church schedule in unhelpful ways, you may wonder who or what SHOULD be controlling your church’s week-to-week schedule. In my experience, the best way to build (or rebuild) a church schedule is by clarifying your outreach and discipleship. strategies. Your church schedule needs to be constructed in a way that will help more and more people come to faith in Jesus Christ and then grow in that faith. As pastor Robby Gallaty at Long Hollow Baptist Church has said, “Discipleship isn’t A ministry of the church, it’s THE ministry of the church.” The most effective church schedules, especially after the pandemic, will be constructed and controlled with this focus in mind.

Exalting Christ in Our Leadership

What does it look like to be a good leader in the church?

Photo by Jehyun Sung on Unsplash

This past Sunday I shared 5 principles about being a good follower in the local church and the greater kingdom of God from Hebrews 13:7-19. Each one of the principles I shared can also be applied to leaders so I promised to share those this week through this blog post. You can find a link to my sermon notes on good followership here.

Jesus Christ is exalted when followers follow and leaders lead. Here are 5 ways that leaders can step up to make a difference in their local congregations based on Hebrews 13.

1. Set an example that others can follow (v. 7). The first generation of leaders may have passed off the scene in the church that recieved the book of Hebrews, but they left behind a pattern that was worth replicating. The best leaders set the tone for others in performance as well as their behavior.

2. Spread the right doctrine (v. 9-14). Like many of the other first century churches, some of the original recipients of Hebrews struggled with false teaching. Christian leaders today would do well by grounding everything they teach in the Word of God. This may seem obvious in theory, but it’s not so obvious in practice.

3. Showcase your sacrifice (v. 15-16). This principle sounds prideful, but it’s not intended to be. These verses describe two practices that believers should engage in regularly, two “sacrifice.” They are the sacrifice of praise and the sacrifice of service. Pastors and teacher in the Church should lead the way in worshiping God and serving others with a spirit of humility.

4. Step up for your sheep (v. 17). Shepherding is one of the most familiar metaphors for leadership in the Bible. Sometimes sheep bite, butt, buck, and wander away (metaphorically speaking of course), but they still need to be cared for. Pastors and elders especially, will be held accountable for the “flocks” of believers under their care.

5. Share your prayer requests (v. 18-19). The writer of Hebrews is transparent about his needs and concerns. His request for prayer in verse 18 should be a model for today’s Christian leaders.

The writer of Hebrews (your guess is as good as mine) was concerned with the believers under his care. He wanted them to be good followers as well as good leaders so that their congregation would grow and flourish. We need good followers and good leaders in our churches today as well.

A Fresh Way to Craft a Strategic Plan for Your Church

There are several ways to build a strategic plan for your church. Here is a fresh way that may help you achieve clarity and buy-in.

A strategic plan is a document that establishes the mission, vision, values, and strategy for a church, organization, or business. Instead of being framed and hung on a wall, a strategic plan is meant to shape what happens down the hall and in every corner of the organization. A biblical strategic plan for a church is theology in action.

There are two approaches that churches use most often in establishing their strategic plans. The first is what I call “the leader on the mountain” approach. This is where the senior leader (typically the senior pastor) gathers his thoughts and ideas and shares them with a select group of leaders in a meeting or the whole congregation in a sermon series. The “the secret committee” approach is where the church elects a select group of members to research the options, formulate their recommendations, and then to share them with the congregation.

Each of these two pathways has their own strengths, but they also have weaknesses. This blog post about a fresh way to craft a strategic plan that features both clarity and buy-in from the congregation. This way could be called “the open invitation” approach. Here’s how we used it recently to establish a strategic plan in the church that I serve as senior pastor.

First, I gathered information about the basic components of a strategic plan for a church: mission, vision, values, and strategy. I found a biblical background for each component and reacquainted myself with today’s “best practices.” Care was taken to search out the best goals and ministries for our particular context.

Second, I announced that our church would gather for a series of meetings to “rediscover” our purpose and plan as a church. These meetings were held over a period of five weeks and open to anyone who wanted to attend. I used the idea of “rediscovery” to tie our future plans back into our history and legacy as a a congregation.

Each meeting included some form of collaboration and feedback in the form of question and answer, round-table discussion, story-boarding, or written comments. I engaged with several participants one-on-one after the meetings and in-between meetings during the week. Ongoing feedback was incorporated as we moved closer to our completed plan.

Third, I shared a summary of our shared results in a public message to the church body the Sunday following our last weekly meeting. The message was framed as plan for a “new season of ministry” at the church, rather than the end of series of meetings. Since that presentation, I have been working with the church staff and other leaders to implement our new strategic plan.

Strategic planning is a must for any organization, especially a church. The “open invitation” concept certainly has its weaknesses, but its strengths seem to loom larger in a church and season of ministry that requires a great deal of trust and thoughtful interaction. Church leaders who are looking for a fresh way to craft a strategic plan should consider this approach.

A Prayer List for Leaders

Psalm 101 describes the king’s commitment to lead in a faithful and godly manner. It was probably used at coronations or other celebration of the king in ancient Israel. A quick reading reveals principles that can be applied to political, business, or even church leaders in any age.

Dr. Daniel Estes turns these principles into a verse-by-verse prayer list for leaders in his excellent New American Commentary on Psalm 73-150. This list can be a series of prompts for prayer or a template for evaluating current and potential leaders.

  • May they maintain a genuine, humble commitment to live by the values of God (v. 1).
  • May they demonstrate integrity in their personal lives (v. 2).
  • May they have discernment to see through issues and people (v. 3).
  • May they be committed to godly standards of right and wrong (v. 4).
  • May they exercise wisdom in their choice of associates (v. 5-6).
  • May they take a courageous stand against evil, even at personal cost (v. 7).
  • May they be just in exerting active moral influence in their sphere of responsibility (v. 8).

Be sure to pray for yourself as you pray for others. Faithful and godly leadership is meant to set an example we all can follow.

Dr. Daniel J. Estes serves as the Distinguished Professor of OT at Cedarville University. While I was a student at Cedarville he was my academic advisor. He is an expert in the poetic books of the Bible and his writing encourages and challenges my soul.

Why I Love VBS

Here’s why I love VBS…

The church where I serve is getting ready to put on VBS this next week (That’s Vacation Bible School for the uninformed). I’ve been participating in VBS since I was a child and I love it. Here are 5 reasons why.

  1. VBS brings the church together around something positive. Summers tend to be a down time in church life when people are pursing other interests. But the weeks leading up to VBS are full of energy and excitement. People come together to get the job done.
  2. VBS forces the church to focus on the next generation. There are all kinds of activities that can happen in church, but you can’t have VBS without children. Children and youth are the future and they need to be prioritized.
  3. VBS allows the church to look outward. VBS is a simple, nonthreatening introduction. It’s so easy to invite families from the community to participate, even a kid can do it.
  4. VBS encourages the church to think about the gospel. VBS is full of a lot of actives , but it’s always organized around a central message – the good news of Jesus Christ. VBS provides church leaders with an opportunity to think creatively and succinctly about the message they want to share.
  5. VBS requires a variety of volunteers. People who enjoy working with their hands and building can help. People that like to teach and organize can help. People that enjoy music and crafts can help. Even athletic types can help with VBS. Men, women, teenagers, and senior can all find their place volunteering at a Vacation Bible School.

These are my top 5 reasons why I love VBS. I know there are more reasons and I’m sure you have your own. Please feel free to share the reasons why you love VBS in the comment section below.