I love Vacation Bible School. I served as VBS Director at my home church before I became a pastor. It was hard work, but I loved it. As a pastor I loved VBS because I saw the church doing ministry and evangelism and I saw the gospel being shared with children in our community. Several of whom I was privileged to baptize! Here are some ways pastors can enhance their church’s VBS.
PROMOTE VBS FROM THE PULPIT!
The pastor sets the excitement level for the church. If you’re excited, let it show! If you’re not excited, get excited. In the weeks approaching, integrate VBS into your sermon application. Preaching on evangelism? Highlight VBS as a time to share the gospel. Prayer? Call people to pray for VBS. Consider having a VBS promotion Sunday where you pray over the workers and use some of the music. Maybe even preach the VBS theme verse.
TRAIN YOUR PEOPLE FOR VBS!
Host an evangelism training event before VBS. Whatever evangelism method your church decides to use, make sure your workers are trained properly to share. Failing to plan for evangelism is planning to fail.
You could also consider teaching the VBS lessons in a five-week series on Wednesdays prior to VBS. Your teaching the subject matter to your VBS teachers could help them teach the material more faithfully themselves.
CONNECT WITH FAMILIES DURING VBS!
Set up an information booth for your church which contains membership information, upcoming events, new sermon series, a FAQ about the church and its ministries.
Have a specified child pick-up station for parents. Station your friendliest faces here to connect with families through VBS.
And don’t forget to have fun with the kids!
FOLLOW-UP WITH PROSPECTS AFTER VBS!
This is where most churches drop the ball. After all the preparation and execution of VBS, most people are ready to go on vacation and forget about it till next year! Host a worker appreciation party or banquet banquet on a Sunday night a week after VBS. Make if fun, let people unwind, share success stories about this year’s event, and THEN… talk about follow-up.
Use VBS as a funnel into Sunday School. Maintain an enrollment list and have Sunday School teachers follow up prospects in their age group. Make baptism, membership, and Sunday school enrollment a priority for those who have made professions of faith.
I preached “The Temptation of Jesus” from Matthew 4:1-11 in Broadus Chapel at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary April 8, 2016.
Here are the books I read in 2015 in addition to my Bible reading from the English Standard Version and the Greek New Testament.
- Reading the Gospels Wisely, by Jonathan T. Pennington
- Matthew: Evangelist and Teacher, by R.T. France
- Studies in Matthew, by Dale C. Allison, Jr.
- Matthew 1-7: Volume 1, International Critical Commentary, by Dale C. Allison, Jr.
- Matthew 8-18: Volume 2, International Critical Commentary, by Dale C. Allison, Jr.
- Matthew 19-28: Volume 3, International Critical Commentary, by Dale C. Allison, Jr.
- The Apocrypha, English Standard Version
- The Old Testament Pseudepigrapha: Volume 1, by James H. Charlesworth
- The Old Testament Pseudepigrapha: Volume 2, by James H. Charlesworth
- Jesus the Sage, by Ben Witherington III
- Wisdom, Christology, and Law in Matthew’s Gospel, by M. Jack Suggs
- Early Judaism: A Comprehensive Guide, by J.J. Collins and Daniel C. Harlow
- Introducing the Apocrypha, by David A. DeSilva
- The Apocrypha Oxford Bible Commentary, by Martin Goodman, John Barton, and John Muddiman
- Can These Bones Live? by Bill Henard
- The Great Evangelical Recession by John S. Dickerson
- Prepare, Succeed, Advance: A Guidebook for Getting a PhD in Biblical Studies and Beyond by Nijay K. Gupta
- New Testament Textual Criticism: A Concise Guide by David Allan Black
- Reading Romans in Context by Ben C. Blackwell, John R. Goodrich, and Jason Maston
- 40 Questions About Christians and Biblical Law by Thomas R. Schreiner
- Romans (Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament) by Thomas R. Schreiner
- The Trinitarian Controversy, by William G. Rusch
- Confessions, by St. Augustine
- Discourse Grammar of the Greek New Testament, by Steven E. Runge
- The Language of the New Testament, by Eugene Van Ness Goetchius
- Advances in the Study of Greek, by Constantine R. Campbell
- Basics of Biblical Greek, William D. Mounce
- The Pastor as Scholar and the Scholar as Pastor, by John Piper and D.A. Carson
- The First Days of Jesus: The Story of the Incarnation, by Andreas J. Kostenberger
- Is There a Doctor in the House: An Insider’s Story and Advice on Becoming a Biblical Scholar, by Ben Witherington III
- Praying the Bible, by Donald S. Whitney
- Rich Dad, Poor Dad, by Robert T. Kiyosaki
- How to Win at the Sport of Business, by Mark Cuban
“If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all.” I don’t know where this saying came from, but many of us have heard it as children and probably shared it (or at least wanted to share it) with others. I generally like to keep things positive online, sharing something funny or helpful or posting something from my studies. However, lately I’ve spoken out quite a great deal about the recent issues that are bombarding us from every media outlet: the gay marriage SCOTUS ruling, Bruce Jenner, and most recently, Planned Parenthood. I know that people generally would rather read positive, encouraging things on Facebook. I certainly get more likes and comments when I share “nice” things online. I’ve even been unfriended for the things I choose to say and share (this isn’t persecution, by the way). So why so serious? I’m glad you asked.
There are generally two extreme responses from the church concerning these kinds of issues and I’m sympathetic to both to a degree. One is to become angry and use the pulpit as a sounding board against the evils of society. This approach does little good. It generally abandons any Great Commission emphasis and only serves to calcify those already convinced of their view. It is a blowing-off of steam that accomplishes next to nothing. The other response is one of minimalizing at best and ignorance and avoidance at worst.
Many churches and pastors have reacted against the political activist response to the point that they don’t even want to deal with issues that are perceived as “political.” I get it. I really do. However, evil is evil, even if it has political baggage. Sometimes the refusal to speak to these issues comes from a less conscientious motivation. Some churches heavily rely on corporate excitement and momentum. Calling gay marriage a sin harshes the mellow. Demonstrating the evil of abortion doesn’t generate excitement. The pastors that lead such churches generally try to connect with their congregation with an abundance of funny stories and culturally relevant illustrations and it would be difficult to tackle these issues in their typical manner. Such churches and leaders will typically shy away from cultural issues because they want to remain “true to the mission” or they want people to “know what we’re for, not what we’re against.”
We expository preachers don’t get a pass here, either. Preaching verse-by-verse through a book or a through a large section of Scripture is in my opinion, the most faithful way for a pastor to preach to a congregation. However, it is sometimes easy for us to continue in our exposition on Psalm 23 rather than prepare a specific sermon for such a time as this. We boast that expository preaching declares the whole counsel of God, but “a word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in a setting of silver” (Proverbs 25:11). Sometimes, it’s just time to speak specifically to what is at hand. Also, it is difficult to sufficiently tackle contemporary issues with a strict verse-by-verse model. There are no texts specifically on abortion or about internet pornography. Sometimes these sermons have to be crafted with special care.
But why tackle these issues? Why not remain true to the mission and not get involved in politics? Shouldn’t we just try to win people and stop ostracizing and polarizing with our political stances? First, let me say that marriage and sanctity of life were theological and moral issues long before they became politicized. The fact is, we aren’t invading the government’s territory, the government is encroaching on the church’s territory. I’m all for less political involvement by the church, but sin is sin and the truth is the truth. This isn’t a partisan issue, it is a gospel issue.
Secondly, we have a responsibility to speak concerning these issues. John Piper recently tweeted “They weren’t martyred because they were vague.” I love this. John the Baptist baptized thousands in the river Jordan. He called individuals to repentance and was beginning a spiritual revolution that was upsetting all of Judea. But it wasn’t until his message of repentance got very specific toward Herod’s unlawful marriage that he was imprisoned and subsequently beheaded. We have a responsibility to serve as a prophetic voice to the culture around us. If the church does not set forth God’s perspective on the issues at hand, who will? We also have a responsibility to serve as a voice of perspective to the congregations that God has entrusted to us as pastors. Any Christian minister that has not provided his congregation with a biblical perspective on these issues in light of the times is not a faithful minister and is more concerned with the bodies in the pews than the souls in his care. Those who sit in the pews not only need assurance of the truthfulness of Scripture and what Scripture says to these issues, but they also need help to process what is happening around them from a biblical perspective without erring into panic or apathy.
May God grant us as pastors and believers in the inevitably difficult days ahead of us to speak with prophetic voice both to the opponents of truth and to the believers reeling from the many voices on both sides of the argument. May we not lose sight of the Great Commission and may we commit to evangelism and missions with a laser focus, knowing that we are calling people to repent and abandon the sin and philosophy of this present world order.
Since the Supreme Court ruling legalizing gay marriage, I’ve been trying to gather as many helpful resources as I can find for churches and pastors. I’ve gathered these to share with the pastors of the Union Association of Baptists where I serve as Director of Missions, but I realize that other pastors and churches would find these useful as well. Please feel free to share these with other pastors and churches who will benefit from this information.
PREPARING AND PROTECTING THE CHURCH
PARENTING AND GAY MARRIAGE
INFORMATION ABOUT THE SUPREME COURT RULING
ANSWERING THE GAY MARRIAGE ARGUMENTS
Church revitalization is one of my areas of special interest, as I have pastored two different traditional churches in East Tennessee and currently serve as a Director of Missions in an association of mostly older, established churches. When I heard that Dr. Bill Henard was writing a church revitalization book, I was anxious for its release. Dr. Henard is the pastor of Porter Memorial Baptist Church and teaches in the Billy Graham School of Missions, Evangelism, and Ministry at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. He is also from East Tennessee (I’m biased) and he pastored a church in my high school town for a number of years. I know that he is familiar with ministering in established churches in the Bible belt and was eager to hear what he had to say. Can These Bones Live? did not disappoint. An immensely practical book with sound foundational theology and methodology, Can These Bones Live? deals with the tough issues in the area of church revitalization.
Dr. Henard begins by laying a theological foundation for church revitalization. He stresses a commitment to the authority of Scripture, reliance on the Holy Spirit, and the ministry of prayer. Chapter two deals with evaluating the church’s current situation and assessing the challenges involved in leading an established congregation through the revitalization process. The rest of the chapters each deal with different problems concerning church revitalization. The chapter titles may at first glance sound pessimistic, but they represent problems that are dealt with by each chapter. The final chapter introduces The Change Matrix, a helpful system of bringing about lasting change in an established organization.
Can These Bones Live? is a very practical book that offers several concrete steps to revitalizing the local church. One of the most refreshing aspects of this book is Dr. Henard’s candid approach to the task. He doesn’t make grandiose claims, or unrealistic promises. Henard assures the reader that church revitalization is difficult work and is a spiritual warfare. However, he doesn’t just leave the reader discouraged, he jumps down into the trenches and begins teaching how to facilitate change in the church. Henard recognizes that some churches simply have no interest in growing, but even in cases like this, there is no cause to give up. Henard says, “If the church does not want to grow and the reason lies in the lack of spiritual growth in the church, the pastor needs to set aside most any major plans or vision and concentrate on developing disciples” (pg. 58). This is but one example where wisdom meets realism in Can These Bones Live? and I found this quite refreshing.
One might criticize Can These Bones Live? for being pragmatic and not dwelling enough on theology. However, this misunderstands the purpose of the book. It is written to address the oft-neglected practical aspect of ministry in a declining church. If one is interested in church revitalization, the practical considerations will have to be dealt with and this is exactly what Henard accomplishes. Each chapter is replete with practical wisdom and you can tell that Dr. Bill Henard has gained much of his knowledge through “on-the-job training.” Can These Bones Live? belongs on the reading list of anyone involved or interested in church revitalization.
I’ve heard a lot of bad “God and Country” sermons. Quite frankly, I’ve preached some myself. You’ve probably heard them as well. They usually equate America with Israel in the Old Testament and claim the conditional blessings and cursings outlined by God in Deuteronomy and other passages as applying to America. II Chronicles 7:14 is often quoted. While I affirm that obedience brings blessing and disobedience brings judgment, we live in an upside-down world and sometimes God’s blessing doesn’t look like the blessings of Deuteronomy. We are following a crucified Savior, after all. The recent ruling by our Supreme Court which legalized same-sex marriage in the United States ought to help us understand that God and country are no longer one and the same.
THE TRADITIONAL CONCEPT OF “GOD AND COUNTRY” IS DEAD
We also need to understand that our American concepts of “God and Country” are incompatible with both the gospel and the current culture in America. American is becoming more like the Roman culture into which the church was born 2000 years ago. As Russell Moore of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission has said, “On the wrong side of history? We started on the wrong side of history—a Roman Empire and a cross. Rome’s dead and Jesus is fine.” The church survived and thrived in 1st century Rome. The church will not be overcome now. The Church has divine promises of victory over the forces of evil (Matt. 16:18). America has no such promise. Even in this dark hour, God is sovereign and I believe that God is using this present evil to call Christians away from our American dream fantasy and calling us to great gospel faithfulness and Great Commission vision. God is darkening the canvas against which we are to shine. We’re marching away from Mt. Rushmore and marching toward Mt. Zion.
HISTORY HAS A PREDETERMINED GOAL – HIS NAME IS JESUS
In Revelation 19:6-16 two important events are depicted at the end of this age: the marriage of the lamb and the second coming of Jesus. History is moving toward this glorious goal when the last marriage will be between Jesus and his spotless bride, the Church. This passage also depicts Jesus as a conqueror. He rides upon a white horse, he judges and makes war, his appearance is fearsome, and he strikes down the nations with a sharp sword a rules them with a rod of iron. He is called King of kings and Lord of lords. When Jesus stood before the high priest to be condemned he told him, “But I tell you, from now on you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of Power and coming on the clouds of heaven” (Matthew 26:64, ESV). Jesus was facing crucifixion, yet told those who condemned him that he would be revealed at his second coming with power. When Jesus comes again he will shatter the nations like clay pots (Psalm 2:7-9), all rule and authority will be put down (1 Cor. 15:24-25), and the kingdoms of this world will belong to him (Rev. 11:15). These are the same kingdoms that Satan offered Jesus during the temptation in the wilderness (Matthew 4:8-10). As American Christians, we need to remember that America is a kingdom of this world, currently under the dominion of Satan, destined to be judged and conquered by Christ. The Gospel is not a message of national recovery, but a declaration of divine takeover and a call to unconditional surrender. God is not interested in fixing nations. God is interested in establishing his kingdom and putting down all earthly rule and authority.
THE “RIGHT SIDE OF HISTORY” IS THE OTHER SIDE OF A CROSS
For Christians, this world is not our home and neither is this country. We are citizens of the kingdom of heaven living in a foreign land. We should not sound like complaining citizens of an earthly kingdom, but as prophetic ambassadors of a heavenly kingdom. While it is true that Jesus is coming again to conquer the nations of this world, it is important to notice that his robe is stained with blood. In Revelation chapter five, Jesus is presented as both a conquering lion and a lamb that has been slaughtered. The path to glory leads to a cross. We cannot forget that we are following a crucified savior. Let us not be surprised if we walk the same road of suffering he walked. Jesus left nothing unclear when he said, ““If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.”
This weekend, Americans will celebrate Independence Day. For many of us however, our celebration is darkened by the shadow of the Supreme Court ruling that redefined marriage for every American this past Friday. News like this tends to affect us in two ways: first we have an emotional response of anger, sadness, or shock. Secondly we have a sense of duty to do something; a feeling that we need to respond somehow. I think it is helpful for Christians first to zoom out and get an appropriate, wide-scope, biblical vision to give us perspective. Then in light of that we need to define specifically what our reaction should be and how we will proceed going forward.
SAME-SEX MARRIAGE IS A VIOLATION OF GOD’S DESIGN
We need to first acknowledge that legalization of same-sex marriage is a multi-layered, sinful decision. It is sinful because it accepts as good something God has declared to be sin. The Scripture is clear that homosexuality is sinful behavior (Lev. 18:22; 20:13; Romans 1:26-28; 1 Corinthians 6:9-10). In addition to plain statements of prohibition, there are many other negative examples, such as the wickedness of Sodom and Gomorrah (Gen 13:13; 19:1-38).
Not only does the legalization of same-sex marriage normalize sin, it elevates it to the sacred dimension of matrimony, thus polluting and diminishing the social concept of marriage. Marriage is a lifetime commitment between one man and one woman that is patterned after the relationship of Christ and his church (Eph. 5:22-33).
Same-sex marriage also destroys the biblical structure of family. Children should be raised by a masculine father and a feminine mother who model proper gender roles and adult behavior. Even the fertilization of an egg requires sexual complementarity. As Christians, we must acknowledge the sinful nature of same-sex marriage.
HOW SHOULD WE PROCEED?
Affirm God’s sovereignty in heaven and earth. This decision did not catch God off guard. He may very well be using this situation to purify His church and to rekindle our devotion to Him.
Pray for our nation’s leaders, the church, and the lost. We should pray for those who lead our nation as they make decisions that set the course for the nation. We should pray that God would grant wisdom to the church in these difficult days as well as courage to continue the work of the Great Commission. Of course, we pray for those who do not know Christ that they will be turned from darkness to light.
Speak with prophetic voice concerning national sin. While we learn how to best engage the culture over these tough issues, let us always speak the truth of God concerning sin. The call of salvation is a call to repentance. We must speak truth in the midst of a sea of lies.
Model the gospel in our marriages and families. Too long we have preached against homosexuality without removing the log from our own eyes. Let us sanctify our homes and marriages to reflect the glory of God. We are living in a day when simply living in biblical, covenant marriage will be a radical testimony to the gospel. Let’s faithfully represent Christ and the Church.
Recommit ourselves to the Great Commission. The church’s mission is not political activism, but global evangelism. The gospel doesn’t work from top down, it works from bottom up. We are to be making disciples of Jesus Christ. This is how we bring about the reign of God on this side of the second coming.
Prepare to minister to refugees of the sexual revolution. There are going to be people hurt from the fallout of same-sex marriages and the church needs to be wise enough to prepare to receive them. There will be people connected to families in our churches who will obtain same-sex marriages. We need to be ready to confront with the gospel and minister faithfully.
Live in anticipation for God’s coming kingdom. We should not panic. Jesus is coming and this moment in time is just another tick on the clock that brings us closer to his appearing. Live as though God is completely in control and is bringing history to its appropriate end – because this is exactly what He is doing.
Hello friends! It’s been a while since I’ve posted an update. This has been due to the hectic nature of last semester and the many other time constraints that have taken precedence. I found out the hard way that I was too ambitious last semester and took too many hours! No worries, though. I did well in all my classes; I just didn’t have much of a life outside of seminary!
Our journey has been exciting and eventful thus far. I’ve had some opportunities to do some pulpit supply work for some churches here in Kentucky and am planning to do more preaching work this year also. I had the privilege of meeting one of my heroes, Dr. John MacArthur, at the Expositor’s Summit in October. It was my first time hearing him in person and I was absolutely thrilled to get to speak to him after one of his lectures. I have been privileged to hear many other well-known speakers as well such as Dr. D.A. Carson and Dr. Michael Youssef.
Katrina and I have enjoyed our break and time back in Tennessee at Christmas, but now it’s time to jump back in to another semester. Today was my first day of classes and I’m pretty excited about this semester. I’m taking fewer classes but the classes I’m taking are more advanced and related to my course of study. I’m taking Greek Exegesis of Matthew with Dr. Jonathan Pennington, Pastoral Ministry with Dr. Hershael York, and Apocrypha and Pseudepigrapha with Dr. Jarvis Williams. I’ll be doing a LOT of reading this semester as well as translating passages from the Greek text of Matthew.
Continue praying for us that we will bear the burden of the coming semester wisely and well, that God will continue to open doors of ministry for us and that we will steward our time and opportunities in a way that is pleasing to Christ. Thank you for your continued prayers for us.