VBS: The Mission of Matthew 19: 13-14
As I stood in the foyer the Sunday afternoon before VBS started, I couldn’t help but reflect on a thought that had been planted, and was now rolling around in my mind: “Sure seems like a lot of work and fuss for only a week. Do you really think going to all this trouble matters?” For those of you who know me, you know I can overthink things; a lot. I was definitely running this notion over and over in my head. Was it over the top? Was it much ado for nothing? True, it was a lot of hours and energy, given by many different people, to get all of the amazing (and may I add free!) decorations, the teaching curriculum, the volunteers, the logistical aspects, the paperwork, the safety procedures, and all the myriad of small - yet necessary - details put into place in order for VBS to begin and hopefully run smoothly. Was it a lot of work that really in the end wasn’t going to matter? I’ll admit a spirit of discouragement settled on me for a moment (or two, if I’m being completely honest). In a way, the question: “Do you really think going to all this trouble matters?” was legitimate. If all we were doing was creating a week that was just entertaining and fun, but lacked any depth or purpose, then it was (as my grandmother used to say) “a bunch of fluff with no real stuff”. Children in this day and age certainly do not need more empty entertainment opportunities. They do, however, need Jesus; they do need the truth of the Gospel; and they need it presented to them honestly, intentionally, and in a way they can understand. In that moment, God reminded me of the sense of purpose He had laid on the hearts of Leadership, Lance and I, and the Children’s team for why all this work was worth it: children matter to Jesus. In Matthew 19, Jesus is debating and discussing deep theological thought with the pharisees. He is doing important work. Then, some people bring a bunch of kids to him and the disciples are irritated.
“Then people brought little children to Jesus for him to place his hands on them and pray for them. But the disciples rebuked them.” In the opinion of His disciples, Jesus was too busy to be bothered by a bunch of kids. But that was not the heart of Christ: “Jesus said, ‘Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.’ When he had placed his hands on them, he went on from there.”
Ministering to children looks very different then ministering to adults. But if the end goal is to present the life-saving truth of the Gospel, to provide opportunities for discipleship and spiritual growth, and to create a sense of community within the context of their local church, then it is not only good work - it is necessary work. More importantly, it is Kingdom work. Support for the idea that children’s ministry is making an impact comes from some extensive research that The Barna Group has done over the years. They have found the following statistics to be true:
● 2/3 of Christians came to faith before the age of 18.
● 43% came to Christ before the age of 12.
● Less than 1/4 of current believers came to Christ after the age of 21.
In addition, Steve Chang, writing in an article for the Gospel Coalition, says this: “One of the biggest mistakes I’ve seen among those who have a heart for the lost is that they don’t see the children in their own church as lost. Every child, even the cute ones in our Sunday schools, needs the gospel. Our goal is not just to get the children into church, but into Christ. So if the church is to be missional, let’s be missional with those closest to us—the ones already within the church walls.”
Steve goes on to say “that in a 2015 survey, the National Association of Evangelicals found that 63 percent of Christians accepted Jesus Christ between the ages of 4 and 14.” Many churches do a pretty good job at putting time, money, and resources towards evangelizing the 10/40 window, and yet many are neglecting the 4-14 window (as Steve Chang calls it) right in their own community. It doesn't need to be either/or, it can - and should be - both/and! I am grateful that here at Bethany, the Pastors, Leadership team, and parents grasp the importance of ministering to the hearts of children, and that having a Vacation Bible School has proven to be an effective ministry tool that reaches children with the gospel. It is not outdated or overrated. In fact, in an article written by Ministry to Children, it was stated that,
“Non-church parents remain very open to their children attending VBS with another child”. They also quoted a finding from LifeWay Research that makes this clear: “More than two-thirds (69 percent) of all American parents (not just Christian) say they would encourage their child to attend VBS at a church they don’t attend if their child was personally invited by a friend.”
We saw this to be true with our recent VBS. We averaged over 100 children each night, with 124 kiddos being our highest number. Out of that number, a large portion were kiddos who came to our VBS without having any previous connection to Bethany. We had several families who saw our sign or found us online and registered. We also had many kids that were invited by friends and neighbors and decided to come. Among those that visited, there were kiddos who had never attended church before. One of these first time visitors was a neighbor boy who came with a family that regularly attends Bethany. He went home the first night asking for help understanding and reading the Bible. This family was happy to show him how to navigate the pages of his “Treasure Map”-the Word of God! This little boy took his Bible, started reading it, and became so excited to read and retell all the stories he was hearing about each night during VBS. On Wednesday, he accepted Christ and wants to start coming to church.
Another family that brought children shared that they are the custodial parents of some kiddos who have had a hard and broken story. Prior to VBS, the children wanted nothing to do with God or the Bible. As VBS progressed, however, they came home asking to hear Bible stories especially at night before they went to bed, and became excited to learn more about God! One of the children even had to have a number of teeth pulled during the week of VBS, but insisted his guardian bring him after his procedure so he wouldn’t miss out on the last night!
A story that shows the eternal impact VBS is making, was shared by a family whose daughter prayed to accept Christ as her Savior! What made this story unique is that 2 years earlier, at our last VBS, her brother had also accepted Jesus! The mother and father came to me and said “you will never fully understand how grateful we are for the impact this church and it’s VBS program has had on our family”. We had at least 10 children raise their hands the night the Gospel was presented, and we have heard testimonies from many of those children who made honest and sincere confessions of faith in Christ.
These children were also challenged this week to meet the needs of others; to love their neighbors in a real and tangible way. They not only met this challenge, they far exceeded it. The goal was to bring in 100 rolls of paper towels and 100 canned goods for Lake Township Fish, and 100 summer pj’s for Foster our Community. They also were given the goal of raising $500 dollars in addition to these donations. In the end, these 124 kids (and their families) gave out of the generousity of their hearts and brought in approximately 177 Paper Towel Rolls, 267 canned goods, 132 Pj’s, and over $1700 dollars in donations that was split between the two organizations! We believe the fruit that the Holy Spirit produced in the lives of these children is continuing to multiply and we may never truly know the full impact. We saw an example of this during the service this past Sunday. It was so encouraging to hear the testimony of a father who was being baptized. He shared how his family came to Bethany for the first time because they were invited to VBS 2 years ago, and how that led to their family becoming regular attenders. By becoming involved and connected to a church family, he clearly acknowledged that it impacted their commitment to following Christ and deepened their relationship with God. Wow. What great work God is doing in kids and families in part because of the impact of VBS!
So was it a lot of work? Yes. Did everything go as planned without any issues or mistakes? No. Was it over the top? Maybe. Was it worth it? Absolutely. I think the comment by one of our volunteers really sums it up when they said, “this was one of the best VBS weeks we have ever had, and not just because of the fun stuff”. Jesus made time and space for the children. He paused in his important work, to do equally important work; to pray for and bless the children. To welcome them to draw near to Him. Those children mattered to Him and so do the children in our church and community. Praise God for the great work He did through this week of VBS and through all of the volunteers who poured their hearts into loving these children as Jesus did.
 https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/article/want-missional-dont-neglect-4-14-window-childrens-mi nistry/  https://ministry-to-children.com/childrens-ministry-statistics/