My thoughts on youth ministry and Vacation Bible School.

Summertime means BBQ, swimming pools, fireworks, and lemonade. But it also means sweltering heat, mosquitoes, and Vacation Bible School.

For many Christians this is the time of the year when they’re all abuzz about the wildly popular week-long evangelical event known as Vacation Bible School (commonly referred to by its acronym, VBS).

In terms of the high level of anticipation, collective excitement, Madison-Avenue-style marketing, and pulpit-driven hype, this event has vaulted in importance within Christendom to rival that of Christmas and Easter. If there are only three events on the Christian calendar that get highlighted every year, VBS is certainly one of them.

Because of Vacation Bible School’s prominence in the church, I wanted to take this opportunity to make some observations about this annual cultural Christian phenomenon and (by extension) youth ministry as a whole.

Before we begin, allow me to be brutally honest.

First let me say that it is no secret to the readers of this blog (and those who know me personally) that I am a youth ministry abolitionist. I am passionate about this subject and I’ve pulled no punches in my conversations and my treatises about it, but at the same time I do recognize that many involved in these types of ministries are well-meaning and have the best of intentions. Unfortunately, pure motives and best intentions do not excuse or justify the wholly destructive nature of the extra-biblical model of youth ministry (and VBS).

I also want to make it abundantly clear that I do not believe those engaging in various forms of youth ministry are in danger of Hell-fire because of their involvement or participation (for salvation is by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone). I also have dear Christian brothers who are involved in youth ministry (in fact one of them leads such a God honoring and holy life that I feel like a heathen next to him and despair that I will never reach his level of love, grace, and sanctification) and although I adamantly disagree with them on this subject, I can still have meaningful fellowship with them.

But I would appreciate the reciprocal consideration from youth ministry proponents regarding their misrepresenting and making a caricature out of those who oppose youth ministry (and those who encourage others to return to the biblical and traditional church model of raising and teaching children) as is so often done.

In their efforts to preserve youth ministry, critics of family integrated worship and family integrated churches (FICs) often defend their position by warning that proponents of family integration run the risk of becoming overbearingly patriarchal, Pharisaical, legalists who erroneously believe that worshiping together as a family ensures their children’s salvation, who refuse to evangelize anyone outside of their immediate family, and who place their family in higher regard than the Bride of Christ.

These are unfair depictions that I keep hearing levied against those who reject youth ministry for family based worship, yet these critics have failed to cite one example of these extreme wayward families they keep warning about (or claimed to have even met one).

Ironically, even though they reject the FIC model because they believe it has potential to be taken to extremes, youth ministry proponents overlook, make excuses for, or simply dismiss the problems inherent with youth ministry. These are not rare exceptions, they are very common and almost the standard. The mountain of dysfunctionality seen in so many youth groups can be cited (and many have been featured on this very blog) as well as the mind-numbing statistics that have proven the utter failure of youth ministry.

I have yet to become or meet even one of these types of families that youth ministry proponents keep warning that we have a great potential to become. Is it likely that there are some families out there who do fit that caricature? I’m sure there are, but these are the exception, whereas it seems to be the norm to see utter foolishness exhibited in youth ministries; so many of which resemble a scene out of William Golding’s Lord of the Flies.

I sincerely do not write this missive (some would call it a tome) with the intention to cause division or create animosity among my brothers and sisters in the Lord. I pray that this is not received as derision, but as a thoughtful critique; prompting us to examine why we do what we do. It is meant to shed light on a practice that many promulgate without ever examining or even considering what the results (or ramifications) are. I also hope that this will serve as a clarion call for readers to eventually abandon this practice and return to the biblical model of raising and teaching our children in the Lord. But to those who do not, I will still love you, still fellowship with you, and still consider you my brothers and sisters in the Lord.

Let’s begin.

Allow me to begin by presenting some questions about VBS and youth ministry that I think are worth asking:

1). Is age-segregated evangelism, youth ministry, and VBS the prescribed way the Bible teaches (or examples) for us to raise up children in the Lord?

No. And fortunately, God did not leave it up to us to wonder if or experiment with whether or not age-segregated youth ministry is a good way to teach children.

The concept of youth ministry is completely absent from the Bible and the Scriptures are completely devoid of any instruction in which the responsibility of raising a child is the job of the pastor or youth minister (a position also not found in Scripture). Scripture clearly gives the responsibility of raising children in the fear and admonition of the Lord to the parents, specifically the father (see Deuteronomy 6:6-7 and Ephesians 6:4 for examples), and there is no instruction or example of children ever being separated from their families during the worship of God. Any deviation from this biblical norm should be the exception, not the rule.

Scott Brown, director of the National Center for Family-Integrated Churches, said:

“There is no indication from Scripture that children were ever removed from the meetings designed for preaching, Scripture reading, prayer, and worship. But, in our culture, it is automatic and comprehensive.”

And Banner of truth posted an article by Jeremy Walker where he observed:

“The constant presumption of Scripture is that children were present in the worship of the people of God. In Nehemiah’s time, men and women and all those who could hear with understanding gathered to hear Ezra the scribe read the Law (Neh 8.1-3; Ezr 10.1). Moses certainly anticipated the literal ‘children’ of Israel to be present when the Law was read (Dt 31.12-13). Paul’s letters, intended to be read to the churches, assume the intelligent presence of children (Eph 6.1-4; Col 3.20), and children were present when the Lord Jesus taught (Mt 18.1-5; 19.13-15).”

2). Has youth ministry and VBS been successful, accomplishing their stated goals?

No. Statistics prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that the whole youth ministry movement, which includes VBS, has been an absolute failure as kids continually (and now predictably) reject the faith long before they enter adulthood.

And this is what’s so mind-boggling to me: In spite of the statistics and failing track record of youth ministry, well-meaning parents and church leaders continue to ignore these realities and work diligently to maintain the status quo. These same church leaders and parents then wonder why little Johnny and little Suzie eventually begin talking like the world, dressing like the world, looking like the world, and acting like the world (before they walk away from the church to completely embrace the world). But praise God, although there’s no fruit in their life, they gave their heart to Jesus at Vacation Bible School when they were ten and attended youth group every week, so they’re Christians . . . right?

Sadly, in the overwhelming majority of cases, the kids of Christian parents are completely indistinguishable from the kids of unbelievers. Youth ministry, along with its dismal results, is a classic example of the emperor without clothes.

3). Was the Church able to survive, thrive, and raise up children in the Lord before the advent of youth ministry and VBS?

Yes. To claim that we need youth ministry and VBS to reach youth indicates that we have not only moved away from the prescribed Biblical method of teaching kids, but even from how the church traditionally taught their children for almost 2,000 years.

4) Is the youth minister/teacher more skilled in handling, preaching, and teaching the Word of God than the pastor?

Usually not. So why do we remove our kids from the main sanctuary just when the pastor is about to deliver the Word? What message does this send to the kids?

A). We need a break from you?

B). You constantly need to be entertained?

C). You’re not smart enough for the preaching to be of any advantage to you?

D). What the pastor has to say doesn’t concern you or have any bearing on your life?

E). We Christians are called to be one body, but it’s okay to exclude you because you’re just a kid?

F). Our expectations for you are so low that we don’t expect you to behave well enough to sit through the service?

Pastor Brian Borgman opines (in this article):

“So here we are, gathered as God’s people, ready to hear the Word of the living God, prepared to receive the manna from heaven, but before we get to this serious redemptive event, we send the kids OUT so that they can go color or get a ‘lesson geared for their age.’ I am in favor of having times where kids get a lesson geared for their age, but it is not when the Word of God is being preached in the other room! We say that faith comes from hearing and hearing by the Word of God (Rom. 10:17). We hopefully believe that preaching is truly a redemptive event. So why would [we] remove our children? Do we think that little of them or that little of God?”

5). Does the gospel need to be dumbed down or dressed up?

Absolutely not.

By claiming or implying that we need to modernize, water down, or make the gospel kid-friendly, are we not suggesting that man has more power over the conversion of the soul than God? Are we not declaring that the Holy Spirit is unable (or needs a little help from us) to convict a child of sin and regenerate him or her? Are we not overtly rejecting the axiom that the gospel is the power of God unto salvation (Romans 1:16)?

Pastor Borgman asks:

“The assembly of God’s people is where the King of Heaven is enthroned upon the praises of His people. The assembly of the saints is where our heavenly Father meets with His family. The Lord Jesus is present in the midst of His church. His worship is glorious. There is truth and heritage in the hymns. There is love and adoration in our songs of praise. The Spirit of God is in His holy temple. So why would we deconstruct the Divinely appointed worship of God for children? Why would we take the majesty of corporate worship and juvenilize it with happy clappy kids songs and crafts and little homilies?”

Youth ministry and Vacation Bible School is man’s attempt to make the gospel entertaining enough to be palatable to kids. If you disagree, then ask yourself why VBS has a plethora of entertainment-based, kid-based themes? Why is VBS and youth ministry structured to appeal to a kid’s appetite for amusement? Is the message of the gospel not enough? Is the story of redemption lacking?

I again appeal to Pastor Borgman:

“’Children think church is boring and children’s church makes God exciting.’ Does it really? If you substituted Barney for God, the kids would still have the same excitement levels. Frankly, kids think lots of stuff is boring. They are kids. What do they know? Are you really going to allow their childish worldview to shape itself by allowing them to dictate what worship activities are acceptable to them or are you going to patiently teach them about the wonder of worship by making them worship with you?”

It is all too common that while the adults are in the main sanctuary being taught from Genesis about God’s terrifying wrath poured out on wicked mankind and how Noah’s ark was a foreshadow of God’s saving in the promised Messiah (in addition to learning that the prophet Jonah was a foreshadow of the Messiah as seen in Christ’s death, burial, and resurrection as well as the story of Jonah gloriously putting on display God’s sovereignty over His creation and His willingness to save even the most wretched of sinners) . . . elsewhere, behind closed doors (and separated/divided from the fathers who are tasked by God with the teaching of their kids), masses of theologically anemic children are coloring pictures of the elephants, giraffes, monkeys and other fun animals that Noah put on the ark, and believing that the story of Jonah is a tale about a fish.

Still disagree with the bleak assessment by Pastor Borgman and myself regarding the current youth culture and VBS curriculum? Then let’s peruse a sampling from the smorgasbord of shallow, theme-based VBS programs that trivialize the gospel in order to make the message of the cross fun and appealing.

- Pandamania: Where God is Wild About You

- Shake it up Café: Where Kids Carry Out God’s Recipe

- Hometown Nazareth: Where Jesus was a Kid

- SonSurf: Beach Bash

- Rev It Up: Full Throttle for God

- Backstage with the Bible: A VBS Experience

- Kickin’ it Old School: A VBS Experience

- SonRock: Kids Camp

- Mission to M.A.R.S. (Meet A Risen Savior)

(You can view more of these VBS themes here.)

Along with the myriad of VBS programs available to churches comes the avalanche of  advertising. When you examine the marketing behind the VBS frenzy, you have to wonder if churches are functioning at the direction of Scripture or at the direction of advertisers.

Here are just two of the many promotional videos hyping up the Big Apple Adventure VBS program:

If you were able to endure these videos, let me ask you, does this type of product marketing, pandering to children, and furtherance of the appetite for entertainment (all in the name of the gospel) cause your children to aspire to the deeper, more mature things of the faith, or does it promote and perpetuate a lack of maturity? Should we be encouraging our kids to mature in the faith, or should we be exampling for them that it’s ok for grown adults to act like children—that this is how a mature Christian man or woman should act? (This is another abhorrent phenomenon plaguing our society where adults—also known as rejuveniles—refuse to grow up.)

Here is another video from the Gold Rush VBS program, much milder than the above two videos, but whose subtle message is just as insidious.

Did you catch it? Did you notice how the the driving thrust behind this VBS advertisement is the utter disengagement of the son from his mother while the solution provided is of an external source? There is obviously no healthy relationship between the child and his mother, and his affections are then set toward a figure or person outside that of his own family (and it’s not God, it’s a man panning for gold).

The message here is clear: Your disengaged, disinterested, disenfranchised child needs our VBS program for spiritual nourishment. And the visible church is perpetuating this warped philosophy!

Instead of encouraging children and parents to knit their hearts together in common love of Christ, the church has bought into the adolescence lie that kids are inevitably going to disengage (and even rebel) from their parents, so this video assumes this erroneous view of the parent-child relationship and capitalizes on it in order to advance a VBS program. Don’t we receive enough of this kind of indoctrination from secular TV, books, and movies that constantly portrays kids and parents with estranged relationships as normal? Why are we who are of the church not taking a stand?

In his article The Invention of Adolescence, Otto Scott observed:

“Throughout all the previous centuries of Christianity — and of Judaism before that, twelve had been considered the age of maturity. Both confirmation in the Christian religion in Pre-reformation centuries, and the Bar Mitzvah in Judaism (then and now) took place at that age. Thereafter, a young person was expected to behave as a responsible adult, and to assume a place in adult society.”

What’s good for the goose . . .

We rightly reject silly theme-based sermons when a church introduces it in the main sanctuary, but we don’t even bat an eye when we employ silly theme-based sermons with our own kids. What’s the difference?

We boldly renounce the man-centered programs employed by the seeker-sensitive megachurches which are designed to reach the “unchurched,” yet we accept this same pragmatic approach to evangelism when it comes to our children. Does anyone else see the irony (or hypocrisy) in this?

We love to learn from the stalwarts of the faith such as Ryle, Spurgeon, Owens, and Edwards, yet when it comes to our kids we’re content with them learning from youth ministers who act like children, theologically shallow panda bears, and Bob and Larry the talking vegetable duo. Oh, how we short change our kids when we underestimate their ability to grasp plain gospel truths.

Again, Pastor Borgman notes:

“The way we minister to children often does nothing more than betray our lack of confidence in God’s Word and Spirit and His appointed means. It also often reveals a short-sighted understanding of human nature and the power of God unto salvation.”

Now, does the average five-year-old understand such doctrines as propitiation, imputation, and the penal substitutionary death of Christ? Usually not. But is that the child’s fault, or is it the fault of the father not taking the time to train up his child and instead, relying solely on youth groups and VBS?

I have personally exampled such concepts as Christ’s substitutionary death to my children without all the gimmicks. When they have done wrong I’ve suggested to them that I will take their innocent baby brother and spank him for their transgression. It’s amazing how quickly they grasp God’s unmerited favor, His amazing grace, and His wonderful mercy when you couple biblical doctrine with examples like that . . . and I didn’t even have to dress up like a vegetable or put on a puppet show to do it.

Busy, busy, busy.

Parental instruction and catechizing of children was effective for all generations before youth ministry, and it is still effective today to those willing to take the time to do it. The big difference between then and now is that Christian parents today are too occupied with “stuff” to be bothered with tending to the shepherding of their own children. And astonishingly, the modern church has made it far too easy for parents to continue to abdicate this God-given responsibility to someone else (as well as keeping some parents so busy with various church functions that they see very little of their spouse and kids). The Evangelical American church is guilty of helping to divide the family; turning the hearts of the children away from their parents and toward a youth leader.

It’s hard for me to understand why Christians (especially Sola Scripturists) weigh everything in light of Scripture (rejecting what fails the Berean test) yet youth ministry–which has absolutely no Scriptural support–is blindly accepted. And it’s even more mind-boggling to me that when presented with these facts (including the abysmal failure of such programs) we continue on this course. Why? Why do we continue to practice an unbiblical methodology whose fruit is the mass production of lukewarm religionists and false converts?

Continuing to reject God’s prescribed (and proven) method for teaching children, and continuing to tenaciously cling to a failed, man-made, man-centered methodology that all but guarantees your kids will grow up to reject the faith, is not only utter insanity, but it ensures the destruction of the next generation of the church.

In all fairness.

I would be remiss if I ended my critique without examining what I consider to be the best argument for Vacation Bible School: “VBS provides an opportunity to get kids (and some parents) into church to hear the gospel message.”

One could argue that VBS is a form of outreach much like a convalescent home outreach, a cancer ward outreach, a prison outreach, or even street preaching.

Assuming that what is presented at VBS is actually the pure, unadulterated gospel and not a watered-down, candy-coated aberration of God’s redemptive plan for mankind, then I concede that—as an outreach tool, and if the gospel presented clearly is not eclipsed by amusement—then this is a remotely viable argument in favor of VBS, but it still has  consequences.

Here are some of my reservations that lead me to tread very cautiously in this area and why I feel the risks of this type of age-segregated ministry outweigh the alleged benefits:

1). One must always remember that what you attract them with is what you must keep them with. If kids come to church because of games, pandas, and rock music, they will expect this type of amusement all the time or else walk away. And when we make feeding the flesh part of what draws people to the assembly of the brethren (and not their love for Christ and Christians) then the flesh will always crave more attention, more entertainment, and more stimulus. What was new and exciting last year just won’t be good enough this year, and you’ll quickly find yourself (like the world) pursuing the ever-elusive next big thing.

2). What unnecessary and undo strain on church members does this cause? How much time, money, effort, and energy is spent on making VBS a success, and what toll does it all take on those involved? If we’re going to be pushed to our limits (and beyond) shouldn’t it be for the sake of the gospel? Can we still reach people with the gospel without over-extending ourselves with unnecessary pressure to dress up the gospel with decorations, skits, games, crafts, and other peripheral distractions that require so much of our time?

A dear friend of mine (who is a VBS proponent) admitted to me that the preparation and execution of a recent VBS week at his church caused stress among many of those involved to the point that the ugly side of some people bubbled to the surface.

3). Desiring to reach the youth in your community is commendable, but at what point does the cost to your own kids and the other kids in the church outweigh your desired results?

In an effort to reach children outside the church by employing various amusements–while simultaneously dressing up the gospel with silly programs–what message are we sending to our own kids inside the church? When we trivialize the gospel, as is so often done with age-targeted, theme-based programs, the impact of the gospel is diminished among our own kids and in the end they are the ones who ultimately suffer for it.

Even in those rare cases where we don’t use entertainment to attract the kids and the gospel is presented clearly, without reservation, does our time and attention to these outreaches come at the detriment to our own kids?

I have seen (too many times) all the hours put in at youth groups or VBS by a parent whose own family (specifically their spouse and/or children) are neglected.

When did sacrificing your family for ministry become the accepted norm among Christians? There’s a reason pastor’s kids commonly rebel and are often known as the worst behaved. I would argue that their father’s neglect of them for the sake of ministry is a large contributing factor.

Both youth groups I attended when I was younger (at two entirely different churches) come to mind. They were both led by a husband and wife team and both of those marriages eventually ended in divorce. One can’t help but speculate that if they had stepped down from their commitments to ministry in order to work on salvaging their marriages, they may still be together today, and that would have been a much better witness and testimony to those they were trying to reach. I’m certain that these tragedies are not isolated cases, and I wonder how many other marriages have been sacrificed on the altar of ministry.

A few years ago I stopped in at another church one evening during the middle of the week to speak to the pastor. He was busy assembling a basketball hoop for the youth group with another man from the church. I knew that this other man’s oldest son had moved out of the house and completely severed all ties with his family, this man’s next oldest child (still living at home) was in her teens and in rebellion, and his youngest son was an obviously undisciplined child in the church. I remember thinking to myself back then, Why isn’t this man at home with his family working on that obvious problem? (And this observation came long before I arrived at my current opinions about youth ministry.)

Currently, this man—and now his entire family—are all very busy in the affairs of the world. His family has been fractured and it doesn’t appear that youth ministry was of any spiritual benefit to his kids. What I have noticed, though, is that his children have adopted their dad’s love of sports and politics. Too bad he didn’t example for them a love of Christ equal to or greater than his love of worldly affairs. It is amazing the influence a parent can have on their kids, positively or negatively.

Sola Fide AnarchyConclusion.

Let’s be honest: The very foundation of most VBS and youth ministries is nothing more than pragmatic, unbiblical, man-centered, entertainment-style programs designed to lure youth into church, baiting the hook with promises of fun and excitement with the purpose of switching from fun and frivolity to deep matters that aren’t so fun and amusing; subjects like sin, death, judgment, Hell, eternal torment, and a bloody and battered Savior hanging from a rugged Roman cross in order to take on our sins (and absorb God’s wrath) while imputing His own righteousness to an undeserving people. How one can effectively make the transition from amusement and frivolity to the grim realities of the gospel to a group of kids hyped up on Mountain Dew and pizza provided by the church is beyond me (this is presuming, of course, that there are still some churches out there that are even attempting to present the gospel in such an unadulterated fashion).

So what do the “unchurched” kids and their parents walk away with after a Sunday morning in youth group or a week at VBS? One message that is inescapable is that Christianity is entertainment-driven, just like their secular world. And what does the church walk away with? The hope that maybe, if the kids had a really good time, they’ll be back next year.

If your church has been participating in VBS for a few years now, do you know where those kids are today? Where will this summer’s VBS kids be five, ten, fifteen or twenty years from now?

One of the worst consequences of such programs of VBS and youth ministry is that they inoculate children to the true gospel of Jesus Christ. I’ve met many former youth ministry kids, and it’s not a pretty sight. Living a life of gross immorality, they reject the true saving message of Jesus Christ because, after all, they already “did that” (repeated some meaningless prayer asking Jesus into their hearts) when they were a kid.

Don’t believe me? Try street witnessing sometime. You’ll be amazed at how many professing Christians you’ll meet who are in full-blown unapologetic sin, but they’re o.k. because they “got Jesus” years ago at a youth camp. It is a heartbreaking but true axiom that it’s easier to reach a pagan in the jungle with the message of the gospel than a carnal professing Christian who grew up in church youth groups.

A final word of encouragement.

Please examine the history and results of the youth ministry movement and seriously weigh the negative affects it will ultimately have on your own kids (and family) before it’s too late. Your kids will benefit so much more when they are taught by their parents as God prescribed, and it is such a great and fulfilling joy to teach your little ones about the faith.

Fathers, I encourage you to teach your children “when you sit in your house and when you walk by the way and when you lie down and when you rise up.” Oh, dear Christian, do not abdicate any longer this God-given responsibility andrewarding pleasure to anyone else.

If you are at a loss of how to train up your children, how to teach them, how to conduct family worship time, how to properly instruct them, or how to get your children to sit through an entire church service with you (even infants . . . yes it can be done), either myself or many of our faithful readers would be honored to instruct you, direct you to more resources, and encourage you in your endeavor to take back the responsibility of teaching your kids about the God that saved you and the God whom you’re praying will one day save them.

Yes, you can effectively teach your children, and yes you can keep them with you throughout the service to hear the Word of God preached from the pulpit. Once you start doing this and begin to see the fruit, you’ll regret that you didn’t do it sooner, you’ll wonder why anyone would want to outsource this wonderful privilege to anyone else, and you’ll be perplexed as to why so many in the church are opposed to it.

Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord. Ephesians 6:4

Assemble the people—men, women and children, and the aliens living in your towns—so they can listen and learn to fear the LORD your God and follow carefully all the words of this law. Their children, who do not know this law, must hear it and learn to fear the LORD your God as long as you live in the land you are crossing the Jordan to possess.” Deuteronomy 31:12-13

You, however, continue in the things you have learned and become convinced of, knowing from whom you have learned them, and that from childhood you have known the sacred writings which are able to give you the wisdom that leads to salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus. 2 Timothy 3:14-15

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For further consideration on this subject, I highly recommend the following resources :

Examining Youth Ministry: Why I’m a Youth Ministry Abolitionist (Free audio download)

Semper Reformanda: Children in Worship Abolitionist (Free audio download)

The Role of Children in the Meeting of the Church (CD available for purchase)

Divided (DVD documentary available for purchase here)

Family Driven Faith (Book available for purchase here)

Already Gone (book available for purchase here)

20 thoughts on “My thoughts on youth ministry and Vacation Bible School.

  1. Sue C (NE Ohio) says:

    I do not condone the “entertainment” culture that is prevalent in so many churches today. However, I am extremely THANKFUL to the Christian family who invited me to VBS back in the 50s and exposed me to the Word of God, praise songs, and the message of salvation. No, I didn’t walk out of that VBS as a Christian, but those seeds were planted deep in my unchurched soul. Even though I was a 3rd grader and am now 63, I still remember the theme of that VBS… It was “The 10 I Am’s” that Jesus claimed… The Good Shepherd, The Door, etc. It was also a VBS where, as a newly born again Christian mom, I was first introduced to my first flesh and blood missionary family.

  2. Gosh, Pilgrim. You make it sound as if man’s imagination in “reaching people for Jesus” is not pleasing to Holy God, Creator and Sustainer, Redeemer and Refuge, Who is eternal and perfect and HAS given us His Word that is SUFFICIENT for all things related to faith and godly living. /sarc off/

  3. I dislike VBS for the same reason I dislike veggie tales: mostly because it is just cheesy.

    We just got back from a choral performance which was the culmination of a weeklong music camp put on by our church and offered out to the community. So, it has some characteristics of VBS, but then, not. The children learn psalms in various classical compositions and even a few modern, but reverent compositions. They do some crafts and discuss the biblical meaning and historic significance of the compositions they are singing, I’m sure. The performance was great and was really an informal worship service. No silly singing performance by clowns or people dressed up as space aliens (not joking, I have seen it). I always hated that end of the week VBS “performance”, but today was nothing like it.

    I agree that children should be present during corporate worship (and actually participate according to their ability (e.g. sit, listen, look, sing, pray, kneel, fold hands, raise hands, be baptized, take communion, recite the creeds and confessions, etc.), but I don’t see how the concept of VBS on its own violates this. My greatest concern with regard to children’s ministry is the inclusion and participation of children during regular Sabbath worship, and regular family worship at home. If a church wants to organize other activities for children outside this, I don’t see the problem, unless the activities themselves are low culture goo, dripping with effeminate sentimentalism, and void of any weighty content, like every VBS I have ever witnessed.

  4. Ann-Elise says:

    Another great article, thanks. I watched those video’s and have lost part of my life that I will never get back. They were nauseating, and undermining our children’s intelligence.

    I’m not sure why youth ministry is defended so strongly despite it being clearly unbiblical. I also don’t understand how a parent could ever be happy or willing to relinquish their role as spiritual teacher of their children over to a happy-clappy, fluffy and relevant youth leader. I find it all distasteful. Teaching our children the things of God is an absolute privilege and should be taken more seriously than any other training we provide for our children, yet so many relegate the responsibility to another. Is it laziness? Is it because we don’t truly understand the value of it? We teach our children to walk and talk, and how to tie their shoe laces, yet we refuse to teach them that which is eternal, and that which is more valuable than anything else. I just don’t understand it.

  5. My mom and I have debated the VBS issue. She says that if *one* child has a seed planted, that it is all worth it (like Sue who commented above). She says that not everyone catechizes their children at home as my husband and I do….so this is a way to reach them as well as those who come from homes where the name of Jesus is never even spoken.
    I helped with a VBS this year (I had the preschool age). I struggled with it, in my heart, wondering if it was the right thing to do. But…by golly, I gave those children the name of Jesus over and over for those days…asking them questions and reminding them of things constantly…hoping it is planted in them, in case their parents don’t teach them.

    I struggle, greatly, with things such as this…..as I feel that it isn’t necessarily *good* to have VBS and yet, as my mom says….if the seed is planted and one child finds Christ, out of it all, isn’t it worth it? Isnt that one soul definitely worth it?

    I definitely know *for sure* that teaching children the gospel is important without the over-entertainment factor, though. :)

  6. Laura says:

    I don’t understand why the organization Answers in Genesis, a solid Gospel-presenting organization, had an entertainment-driven VBS. Ken Ham, AIG’s founder and CEO, has written a book called Already Gone, which addresses the failure of the American church to present the Gospel clearly so that children and teens can be discipled and able to defend their faith. The book says that the church has taught the Bible as a collection of “stories”, rather than the historical, reliable Word of God that tells God’s plan of redemption for mankind. The Creation Museum near Cincinatti presents His Gospel unapologetically. It’s a must-see!

  7. Interesting. Did you notice that Gold Rush is brought to you by the same people that bring “Already Gone”?

    I think we segregate far too much (more in some churches than others) but a pragmatic argument is not an argument for truth. If so, then Rick Warren wouldn’t have any problem with this.

    You say “5). Does the gospel need to be dumbed down or dressed up?
    Absolutely not.”

    That is the crux of the issue. Until that is fixed, the methodology is secondary and changing the methodology will matter little. Since the great majority of Christian churches have this as their main problem, they need instruction on how to fix this before they worry about the rest.

  8. I do not intend on rekindling this debate, but this news story of a youth pastor putting on a “Fear Factor” game for the teens in which he surreptitiously video taped them showering (after covering them in honey during the game) reminded me that while I was searching for “youth pastor” images on the internet for use in this post, I saw a surprisingly large number of mug shots.

    Yes, yes, I know; not every youth minister behaves in nefarious ways, but if you’ll be honest you’ll have to admit that there are many, many instances (a disproportionately large number) in which youth leaders (and even the youth among themselves) have engaged in promiscuous behavior, even during youth events. I’m certain many of our readers know of stories firsthand and can attest to this.

    But not only was it disturbing that searching for images of youth pastors yielded such a plethora of mug shots, but equally saddening was that while also looking for images for “family worship” for this post, the overwhelming majority of pictures of families worshiping together came from the Jehovah’s Witnesses and Mormons.

    It is such a shame that Christians have relinquished the importance of family to the cults (a tangible component of their faith that has attracted countless people to those organizations) while conversely, so many Christian churches have become synonymous with fun, frivolity, amusement, music, and entertainment.

    I know that Christ is the only thing that should draw people (not family worship nor youth ministry) but these facts cannot be ignored as they’re a symptom of a much greater problem.

    When the world sees very little (if any) love from Christians (and in some cases even within Christian families) and yet they see (what they think is) genuine love displayed in the cults because of their devotion to family, the world sees in them one of the many things that they are supposed to be see in us. And that, my dear friends, is a tragedy.

  9. Elaine says:

    If you are trusting the spiritual well-being on the Pastor of the church by allowing your child to sit under him during a family service, you are also not taking the stand and leading your children spiritually. The purpose of a family service, children’s ministry, or youth ministry is to add to what the parents are teaching at home. Parents lack of responsibility in training and teaching children should not be blamed on youth ministries as a whole. Simply allowing a child to go to vbs or youth should not be saying, “Ok, I trust this person to teach you everything. Have fun and we’ll discuss God sometimes because I know you are getting it here.” Whether you are allowing a Pastor during a family service or youth pastor/children’s pastor to speak into your child’s life, you STILL have the responsibility to be the main teacher/trainer in the spiritual well-being of your child.

  10. I agree about youth ministry.
    I have a question about AWANA and children ministry.
    What do you think about them in light of your what you wrote?
    Thanks ;)
    Cristian

  11. 4HisGlory says:

    For consideration, check out Galations 4 Blogspot which exposes the patriarchy movement / vision forum / Bill Gothard / The Duggars, etc. We are living in a time of great delusion that is reeling the whole earth. Dominionism is on the Rise. Spiritual counterfeits preaching “another gospel (which is no gospel at all) and are multiplying in great numbers. The apostle Paul emphatically said (twice back to back) that if anyone preaches to you any other gospel let him be accursed. On the surface things seem like they are biblical and sound doctrine but when mirrored against he Word of God and tested by truth the lies from the one who has the power to transform himself into an angel of light (including quoting scriptures) is surfaced and exposed. Has anyone else noticed end times preaching on deception and the “great falling away” (as the bible tells us in 2 Thes. 2:3) has all but disappeared from the pulpits of most churches?

    http://galatiansfour.blogspot.com/2011/08/divided-family-integrated-churches-yet.html

    Although Divided the Movie on the surface makes some genuinely good solid points concerning youth separation and segregation but the movie has a single underlying agenda: To promote the NCFIC (National Center for Family Integrated Churches).

    http://learningmylines.blogspot.com/2011/07/divided-movie-hmmmmmm.html

    Doug Philips Exposed? Dominionism Agenda (C. Peter Wagner). The connection with San Antonio Film Festival and Doug Philips Vision Forum: “As the followers of Christ, we have been
    given a mandate by God to establish dominion over the earth. We are called to be leaders in
    the worlds of business, science, and government (including the visual arts).” Really? Jesus said my Kingdom is not of this world. Our mandate as born again Spirit Filled / Led Christians is to preach the unadulterated, unpolluted gospel of Jesus Christ in all its power for the sole purpose of saving souls from hell which is reason for Jesus dying on the cross and conquering death once and for all by raising from the dead stripping the devil of the keys to death and hades. The devil today stands powerless against the cross, the resurrection, and holy spirit filled believers when we resist him. Its really sad how Philip and Christopher Leclerc have been convinced and deceived into believing that Jesus is calling them to spearhead and new cultural movement to reclaim the arts for Christ elevating this above preaching the gospel and saving souls from eternal damnation and hell. Nowhere in the bible did Jesus ever tell us to go on a crusade to redeem the arts for his name. The Jesus I read about in the bible did not hang there on the cross to redeem the arts or anything else that this world highly esteems and exalts (worships). Our crusade and primary mission should be to preach the gospel with the hope the souls would be saved from eternal damnation and separation from God.

    The wisdom of this world (and gaining more of it) is foolishness to God. It should never be any true Christians desire to put friendship and status with the world above our status and friendship with God and the truth. Paul said “I determined to know nothing among you accept Christ and Him crucified”. We are not called anywhere in the bible to “take dominion of the earth” or to “mass christianize it”. Being a follower and disciple of Jesus comes at a serious price…rejection (not acceptance) by the world. No, your best days are “not ahead” by any stretch of the imagination. (I recently heard this being preached by several post modern preachers). Jesus said many are called but few are chosen and broad is the way that leads to destruction and narrow is the way that leads to life and few there are that find it”. We are called to grow in the knowledge of Jesus Christ more and more, that the eyes of our understanding would opened. We are to discern and approve those things that are excellent and true according to Gods written word. When the true gospel is preached the holy spirit convicts the world of sin and of judgment. It is not a feel good message. When was the last time you heard a self denial message that you must die to yourself and take up your cross daily, and in this world you will have many troubles, or if the world hates you remember it hated me first? When did Jesus ever say to his followers that those living in the world would accept your message? In fact, its just the opposite. Paul said we are destined the be persecuted and in fact all those who live Godly in Christ Jesus will be persecuted (rejected, scorned, ridiculed, made fun of, etc.) Jesus said “take heed that no man deceive you” yet people who claim to be Christians are failing obey the Lords command to take heed and instead are running after the teachings of man with itching ears being deceived by every wind of doctrine that is tagged “Jesus”. The Devil is an expert at quoting versus and even the demons believe and tremble. Jesus also warned his disciples to beware of false teaching(s) because a little leaven leavens the whole lump. Paul reiterated this truth in Galatians 5:7-9. “Ye did run well; who did hinder you that ye should not obey the truth? This persuasion [cometh] not of him that calleth you. A little leaven leaveneth the whole lump.”

    This is not a time to shrink back or to become secluded Christians or to forsake the assembling together. We are called to exhort and encourage one another daily as we see the day approaching. How can we do this solo? Jesus said “By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another.” John said “Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him” yet the “demonionists” voices are telling us its OK to love and be loved by the world and to excel along side the world, to be friends with the world, to make “bridges” with other religions who deny the deity of Jesus Christ and the resurrection. Why are we giving way and being tempted and allowing the truth to be ripped out from underneath us by the “prince of this world, the accuser of the brethren, the roaring lion of the earth seeking whom he may devour and easily deceive? Satan freely walks ahead leading the deceived when he should be resisted and left behind us while our eyes are fixed on Jesus and His written word alone. Again, the devil taketh him up into an exceeding high mountain, and sheweth him all the kingdoms of the world, and the glory of them; And saith unto him, All these things will I give thee, if thou wilt fall down and worship me. Then saith Jesus unto him, Get thee hence, Satan: for it is written, Thou shalt worship the Lord thy God, and him only shalt thou serve.

    “And there was war in heaven: Michael and his angels fought against the dragon; and the dragon fought and his angels, And prevailed not; neither was their place found any more in heaven. And the great dragon was cast out, that old serpent, called the Devil, and Satan, which deceiveth the whole world: he was cast out into the earth, and his angels were cast out with him. And I heard a loud voice saying in heaven, Now is come salvation, and strength, and the kingdom of our God, and the power of his Christ: for the accuser of our brethren is cast down, which accused them before our God day and night. And they overcame him by the blood of the Lamb, and by the word of their testimony; and they loved not their lives unto the death. Therefore rejoice, ye heavens, and ye that dwell in them. Woe to the inhabiters of the earth and of the sea! for the devil is come down unto you, having great wrath, because he knoweth that he hath but a short time” (Rev. 12:7-12). Brothers and sisters in Christ Jesus, these are the last days, don’t let yourselves be deceived by the devils agenda through the false teachings of dominionism (ala C. Peter Wagner, World Christian Movement /Lausanne Movement, Rick Warren Peace Plan, etc) nor from any of those tied to it and who form their eschatology and doctrine, from such turn away, considering them as enemies of the cross and the true gospel.

  12. Emma Watson says:

    Our son is 24 years old. He doesn’t swear, he is polite and he is deeply faithful, genuinley saved. He attended youth group a few times and just never fit in. He said they were ‘silly’ and he couldn’t stand the forced ‘hipness’ of the youth minister. He tried many times to ask deeper questions during Bible study but was told to “not be so serious, dude”. He stopped going all together and we had no issue with it because it was just all a big game, something you ‘did’ in our church. It didn’t help that the kids all smoked pot and made-out during the youth retreat. As far as VBS, they put up the annual chart showing how many kids had accepted the Lord during VBS. Year after year after year, you never see any of these kids or their families again, though. I so agree with you. The problem is comfort and laziness. Isn’t it easy to just let your kid toddle off with the other little sheep so you won’t be bothered during the sermon? Isn’t it a nice summer of free daycare enrolling your kid in every VBS program in town (which I confess my neighbor and I did before I was saved)? We had 3 teenage pregnancys last year in our church, all girls who grew up in the church and attended youth group and volunteered for VBS. Enough said.

  13. hand2theplow says:

    I don’t believe the issue is Youth ministry or VBS. If any ministry, outreach or program is not Christ -centered than it is of no value. Those churches with ineffective youth and children’s ministries probably are ineffective in their ministring to adults as well so including children in their services would not change the outcome.

    It is disheartening to read so many posts that say “so and so went to VBS and now they’re pregnant” or “my neighbor’s son attended youth group and he does drugs” etc, etc. as if VBS and youth group were the root and cause of their rebellion. Guess what? I know familys who embrace the IFC model and they have rebellious children too. My children attended VBS and Youth group and one of them chose the world while the other two love and serve the Lord.

    As to segragating children or youth during the sermon, you make the assumption that the Word of God isn’t being preached to them, that they’re off coloring pictures or playing Xbox. Is there a difference between the ordained Minister preaching the Word in the sactuary and the ordained Minister preaching the Word to the youth?

    Finally, to all of those who posted links to stories about sex offender youth pastors as if it somehow proves the point of the author, you can Google an equal number of examples of sex offender ministers in churches without youth ministries and VBS.

  14. 4HisGlory says:

    Pilgrim, I thank you for this excellent information for exposing of one of satans devices as Group publishing is being used as his puppet to promote another gospel, which is no gospel at all, in which many churches have fallen prey using church funds to feed the wolf in sheeps clothing Thom Shultz and his Group Publishing VBS (viral baloney slices) fleecing the flock. I might be a little late in replying but you nailed it. Contexualization and storying of the bible is nothing new, especially to the NAR dominionists. Herescope blogger and Deception in the Church (Sandy Simpson) have some excellent articles on the subject, specifically herescopes 2006 article on the new heresy of the NAR: Orality. Ties right in with the subject at hand. http://herescope.blogspot.com/2006/03/newest-heresy-of-nar-orality.html

    Has anyone been on Group Publishing’s web site lately? Take some time to peel back the layers to see what is really going on beneath the surface. Does anyone know who Thom Schultz is and what he’s promoting and who’s he’s aligned himself with? Skip over to his blog holysoup.com and his emergent conversation site Lifetree.com.
    Would Jesus not take out his whip and be turning the tables of Group publishing promoters in the churches who have made many a den of thieves?

  15. Just Me says:

    I gotta be real honest with you here.
    I have been away from the church for a very long time, but back for a couple of years. The VBS of the early 60’s was very different, I think. I got volunteered for this, and as I read the book of what we’re supposed to do, I am appalled. We are going to be losing our everloving minds trying to come up with all the craziness they’re directing us toward. Why not drop all this hoola hoola and just teach them some Bible? Do they really need all this expense and insanity and confusion?
    I know I’m older now (60) but I don’t think I’m that much of a cranky old maid.
    I just don’t see where they’re learning anything. They’re just running around like crazy people, pretty much just acting like the lost world, which is already the problem. Is this really necessary to teach them?

  16. 4HisGlory says:

    Just Me, good points. Evangelical churches are filled with all sorts of false teaching and are using man made techniques to draw families to their churches. This is all an outward show that VBS promotes as a way to fleece the deceived in thousands of post modern churches around the world. The poor children are being fed a lot of spiritual baloney with emotional experiential stories that put Jesus on the same level as a Marvel Comic Hero. Thom Shultz seems to have all the answer why people aren’t drawn to churches (and/or are leaving them) and with his post modern demonic wisdom ascending from below churches and quickly figure out how to draw people back into their pews. Paul in addressing the church of Corinth in 2nd. Cor 2, he speaks of the wisdom and power of God opening the chapter with these words:

    “And I, brethren, when I came to you, came not with excellency of speech or of wisdom, declaring unto you the testimony of God. For I determined not to know any thing among you, save Jesus Christ, and him crucified. And I was with you in weakness, and in fear, and in much trembling. And my speech and my preaching was not with enticing words of man’s wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power: That your faith should not stand in the wisdom of men, but in the power of God.”

    The problem with VBS is it is full of human wisdom using props and sets (like a Hollywood kid show) to entice and lure the simple minded family (many who do not have the Spirit of God and are not Born Again) into their churches. They are not coming to the body of Christ and the local church because they need a savior or are being convicted of their sin and realize they are under the wrath of God and are heading for eternal fire and total separation from God forever, they are coming because of all the human wisdom that created the props and sets. Sorry Thom Shultz, your man made methods are powerless to save and are not pointing anyone to the truth but away from it and towards the wisdom of men.

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