Thinking Out Loud

March 24, 2014

Phil Vischer Wraps What’s In The Bible with Revelation

Twice at the beginning, characters in the final of the 26 episodes in the 13-DVD series What’s in the Bible? express their hope that the series will “end with an easy one.” With the Book of Revelation the only possible candidate for a wrap-up, that’s one wish that doesn’t come true.

Being a regular listener (and now viewer) of The Phil Vischer Podcast — a series that’s not for kids — I was curious about how the series would handle two particular books, Genesis and Revelation. My church library was only too obliging when it came to the former, but anxious to view the latter, I arranged with the series’ Canadian distributor to quickly get my hands on video 13 at nominal cost.

What's in the Bible - RevelationThe first episode on the video, number 25, deals with the general epistles: Hebrews, Peter, James and Jude. (They opted not to do a Beatles parody for Jude; to take a sad song and make it better.)(Or something.) Then it was on to final episode 26.

At one point a character remarks on something in the text and says, in effect, ‘that would give kids nightmares.’ But then in the scene that immediately follows, there are mentions of things that could, I suppose, give kids nightmares. (Our kids, raised on Veggie Tales, are in their 20s now, so this no longer becomes a personal concern.) There are some themes in Revelation from which there is no escaping, nor does the video shy away from trying to explain the difference between literal, poetic and apocalyptic writing.

Phil, Buck Denver, Sunday School Lady, the lounge-singer/priest, and the rest of the gang outline some of the basic symbols and imagery. The use of numbers like 4, 7, and 1000 are explained, yet the dimensions city descending from heaven is left at 14,000 miles cubed with no indication if the reference to thousands here simply means ‘a great number’ as it did a few minutes prior, of if it is more literal.

Either way, the plagues and the dragon and the judgments are covered quickly in order to focus on the ending, showing the Bible’s story arc from “garden” to “garden city” and then there is a quick overview of all 26 episodes. Younger children shouldn’t actually end up with nightmares if they have the ‘happy ending’ in view.

What’s in the Bible is the product of much consultation with children’s ministry specialists (an area of specialty now referred to simply as ‘Kidmin.’) I wouldn’t want to try to fault their efforts when presented with challenges like the first and last books of the Bible.

Rather, I think that past the banter with characters — some of which does get tedious from an adult perspective — this is a series that parents should watch with their children. There is much here that I think adults could learn, both in the substance and the presentation, and a few things they may have not heard before, or not heard presented so clearly.

I can’t wait to see what Phil Vischer is up to next!

March 1, 2014

Is Sunday School Destroying Our Kids?

Filed under: books — Tags: , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 6:42 am

Earlier this week, a package turned up in the mail containing the book Is Sunday School Destroying Our Kids: How Moralism Suffocates Grace by Samuel C. Williamson (Beliefs of the Heart Press, 2013). The book is a quick read at around 86 digest-sized pages so I was able to complete it in a single morning.

Samuel C. WIlliamson

Samuel C. Williamson

The author’s background is compelling. I’ll let him tell it in his own words:

  • My father was born in China to Pentecostal missionaries. My mother was born in a farming family in Kalispell, Montana.
  • Though sympathetic to the work of the Holy Spirit, my father disagreed with aspects of AOG theology. He became a Presbyterian and was a PCA pastor until his retirement in 1995…
  • I studied European Intellectual History, Philosophy, and Hebrew at the University of Michigan.
  • I served in missions overseas for three years and felt God say “not now.” So I moved back to Ann Arbor, Michigan and got a job at a software company. (There weren’t many jobs in 17th Century, European Intellectual history.)
  • With two partners, I bought the software company and worked there as an executive and Chief Product Manager for 25 years.
  • In 2007 I heard God call me to writing and speaking. I left the business world and began Beliefs of the Heart.

I agree with the premise of the book as the subtitle defines it. We are teaching kids behaviors and virtues which, while they are important part of passing our values on to the next generation, are not necessarily distinct from what other religions teach. The heart of gospel is most evident when we’re not living out the fruit of the spirit; when we’re angry; when we fall into sin; etc. The heart of the gospel is the grace of God. It’s that grace that sets us apart from other belief systems.

Is Sunday School Destroying Our Kids - Samuel C. WilliamsonAs such, the book is commendable, but as the author confesses in an afterword at the end, the book’s main title is mostly provocative; he’s not addressing specific Christian Education or Children’s Ministry issues here as he’s also concerned with the predominance of moralism and performance-based faith that is found equally in adult sermons and Christian books, which are often concerned with offering a “quick fix” or “ten easy steps” to meeting any challenge.

There were also some areas where the book suffered the fate of self-published titles in its overuse of bold face type (though thankfully, not capital letters) on things like the titles of other works or for emphasis where italics is the common standard. I mention that only because I think that if some of the chapters were fleshed out more, and the book went through more editorial vetting, a major publisher could pick up this title, even though Christian publishers are not spared in the sixth chapter!

All that said, there was enough of interest here to render this worthy of recommendation and the above comments notwithstanding, I think that Christian educators and Sunday School teachers should give this a look as well, especially given its pricing at only $5.99 US, and especially due to a chapter on how simply teaching moralism may be part of the reason kids exit the church as soon as they’re old enough. As John and Kim Walton showed us in a much longer work, The Bible Story Handbook (Crossway), too often we are pulling out the wrong interpretation or spinning the story incorrectly anyway.

I encourage you to check out the author’s blog BeliefsOfTheHeart.com where you’ll also find more info on the book and podcasts. The book is available from A-zon online or if you order through a bookstore, you can tell them it’s available from Ingram using ISBN 9781941024003.

Sometimes I’m very happy to write a review and move on, but this time around, my appreciation of this little book grew as I wrote this analysis. If anything here or on the author’s blog resonates with you, I hope you’ll track it down.

February 3, 2014

Kids and Communion: Sacrament or Snack-Time?

This is a topic that was covered here twice before, in February of 2011 and December, 2011. I’m presenting both complete today, but including the links because the December one attracted a number of comments. You can join that old comment thread or start a new one here that might get seen by more people.  The first article is more practical, the second more doctrinal. The first article also appeared on the day after a piece about children and (immersion) baptism, which is why it begins…

Continuing where we left off yesterday…

I like the story of the little boy who wanted to take part in the communion service that followed the Sunday morning offering. When told by his mother that he was too young to take communion, the eager participant whispered loud enough to be heard five rows back, “Why not? I just paid for it, didn’t I?”

~Stan Toler in Preacher’s Magazine

Last week was Communion Sunday at our home church. We attended the 9:00 AM service so that we could actually get to a second service at 10:30 at our other home church. The 9:00 AM service is attended by families with young children who wake up early, and I was horrified to glance and see a young boy of about six or seven helping himself as the bread and wine were passed. Maybe this story describes the kind of thing I’m referencing:

At my church, we had a special Easter night service, and we took communion. My brother was in there, and he’s only 6, so he doesn’t understand the meaning of it. When he saw the “crackers” and “grape juice” being passed around, he said “mommy! Its snack time! I want a snack too!” Obviously, he’s too young to take communion. But for those of us who do take it, do we see it as “snack time”? Communion is great. I love to hear Pastors words describing the night when Jesus and his 12 apostles took upon the 1st Holy Communion. I think since we do take communion regularly in church, we overlook the importance there is in it.

~Summer, a 15-year old in Illinois

But not everyone agrees with this approach:

I have allowed my children to take communion ever since they have told me that they love Jesus. I think 3 was the age they were first able to verbalize that.

We explain it to them each time as the bread and wine come around, and while they dont get it all, they know they are considered ok to partake.

This would not have happened in the world I grew up in.

~Andrew Hamilton at Backyard Missionary (no longer available)

The latter view is the one currently gaining popularity among Evangelical parents. And there are often compelling reasons for it. A children’s ministry specialist in New Zealand only ever posted four things on his or her blog, but one of them was this piece which argued for including all children because:

  • The historical reason: Children would be included in Passover celebration;
  • The Passover parallel: It is a means of teaching children about Christ’s deliverance for us;
  • Salvation qualifies them: If they have prayed to receive Christ, which is not exclusive to adults, they should participate;
  • The alternative is complicated: The age at which a child would be considered “ready” would actually vary for each child, and setting a specific age adds more complication;
  • Communion is an act of worship, something children should be equally participating in.

Having read that, it might be easy to conclude that this is the side to which I personally lean.

That would be a mistake.

Despite the arguments above, I really think that Summer’s comment adequately describes the situation I saw firsthand last Sunday. As with yesterday’s piece here — Baptism: How Young is Too Young? — I think we are rushing our children to have ‘done’ certain things that perhaps we think will ‘seal’ them with God.

I thought it interesting that one of the pieces I studied in preparation for yesterday’s post suggested that the parents of children who would be strongly opposed doctrinally to infant baptism have no issues with their non-infant children being baptized very young. Another article described a boy so young they had to ‘float’ him over to the pastor, since he couldn’t touch the bottom.

I’ve often told the story of the young woman who told me that when she was confirmed in her church at age 14 — confirmation being the last ‘rite’ of spiritual passage for those churches that don’t practice believer’s baptism by immersion — she stopped attending because she ‘done’ everything there was to ‘do.’ She described it perfectly: “The day I officially joined the church was the day I left the church.”

Are we in too much of a hurry here to see our children complete these things so we can check them off a list? Are parents who would be horrified to see their daughters wearing skimpy outfits because that constitutes “growing up too fast” actually wanting their sons and daughters to “grow up spiritually too fast?”

I was eleven when my parents deemed me ready to take communion. While I question my decision to be baptized at 13, I think that this was a good age to enter into the Eucharist. I know that Catholic children receive First Communion at age seven, therefore I am fully prepared to stick to this view even if I end up part of a clear minority.

(more…)

January 29, 2014

Wednesday Link List

Bible is like a software license
A lot of people are critical of short-term missions, but right now, a plane ticket to somewhere warm would look really appealing. In the meantime, here are some links to keep you warm, clicking anything that follows will take you to PARSE at Christianity Today and then you can click through from there.

We leave you today with “the thrill that’ll gitcha when ya get your picture on the cover of the Rolling Stone.”  In this case, Pope Francis in the current issue; click the image to read the story.

Pope Francis Rolling Stone Cover

Paul Wilkinson is based in Canada — “You liked the first Polar Vortex so much we’re sending you another one” — and blogs at Thinking Out Loud and Christian Book Shop Talk

September 1, 2013

Children’s Worship

In the time and place where I grew up, the songs we sang in Sunday School, Children’s Church and at the Christian camp were quite different from what the adults were singing in the main auditorium at weekend services. Lately there has been more of a convergence of what is heard in the Christian Education wing of the building and what is sung in the main sanctuary (and what is played on Christian radio).

We could argue the merits of this and also the weaknesses, but my point here isn’t to get into a deep debate on the philosophy of Children’s ministry. I think there are obviously some pluses to having Mom, Dad and the kids all being able to sing the same worship songs in the car on the way home; and there are obvious benefits to age-appropriate worship songs, too.

This weekend I went searching on YouTube for an older song I remembered from my past: Lovely Noise. The only versions I could find were kid-min (children’s ministry) versions, but I appreciated the life and energy. Here’s that song and another I listened to more than once:

The same song is also available here. I liked the graphics on it, but preferred the audio on the one I posted.

I’ve always associated the song Undignified with, at best, youth ministry, but I suppose that with the right set up (explanation) you could teach it to older children.

Bonus video: Here’s a kid min version of Trading My Sorrows. I know there are probably more current songs being used in Children’s ministry, but I wanted to simply introduce the genre here with the ones I watched in the last 48 hours.

August 8, 2013

Thursday Link List

linksHere’s a few things that just missed being in yesterday’s list. I may add them to next week’s for the wider audience at Out of Ur; then again I might forget.

  • Bene Diction Blogs On has a good follow-up piece on the huge credibility gap with Tony Anthony’s book Taming the Tiger, which has culminated in the closing of his ministry.  Click here.
  • Who is Samuel Williamson? The name doesn’t register, but his blog, Beliefs of the Heart gets a lot of comment action. In a recent piece he suggests that Sunday School with its simplified-message Bible stories possibly does more harm than good. Click here
  • This is not a current link, but the above reminds me of a piece we did here about ten months ago about The Bible Story Handbook, by John and Kim Walton. See below for a quotation.  Click here.
  • I’m sure that when the Bible speaks about wives submitting to husbands, nobody had in mind the type of things Lee Grady has witnessed. Click here.
  • Rocky of Ages:  This is a current link, but pertains to some old information. An email is making the rounds about the conversion of Sylvester Stallone. Unlike many religiously flavored email forwards, this one actually made it into Snopes.com. Click here.

“If we present something as God’s Word when it is not, we are misusing God’s name. Students of the Bible expect their teachers to present the authoritative teaching of God’s Word as given by the inspired authors. If we substitute this teaching for some idea we think is important, students don’t know the difference. We are then violating the third commandment because we have attributed God’s authority to what is really only our own idea.” (John & Kim Walton, The Bible Story Handbook; p. 25)

July 2, 2013

Where You’ve Bean

Eugene Peterson in Tell It Slant (Eerdman’s, 2008, pp 60-61)

Eugene PetersonSeveral years ago I was conducting a seminar in the interpretation of Scripture in a theological seminary. It was a graduate seminar. Our topic that day was Jesus’ parables. All the participants were experienced pastors and priests. One of the priests, Tony Byrnne, was a Jesuit missionary on sabbatical from twenty years at his post in Africa. As we discussed the Biblical parables, Father Tony told us of his experiences with his Africans who loved storytelling, who loved parables. His Jesuit order didn’t have enough priests to handle all the conversions that were taking place, and he was put in charge of recruiting lay-persons to carry out the basic teaching and diaconal work.

When he first began the work, where he would find men who were especially bright he would put them in charge of their village and sent them to Rome or Dublin or Boston or New York for training. After a couple of years they would return and take up their tasks.

But the villagers hated them and would have nothing to do with them. They called the returnee a been-to (pronounced bean-to): “He’s bean-to London, he’s bean-to Dublin, he’s bean-to New York, he’s bean-to Boston.” They hated the bean-to because he no longer told stories. He gave explanations. He taught them doctrines. He gave them directions. He drew diagrams on a chalk board. The bean-to left all his stories in the waste-baskets of the libraries and lecture halls of Europe and America. The intimacy and dignifying process of telling a parable had been sold for a mess of academic pottage. So Father Brynne told us, he quit the practice of sending the men to those storyless schools.

June 30, 2013

Children at Church: The Place for Inter-Generational Worship

At your church are the kids off in another part of the building throughout the service, or are they dismissed to the basement part way through? Perhaps another world is possible.

The YouTube channel that I oversee is named after our retail covering, Searchlight Books, but consists almost entirely of classic Christian music songs that you can’t buy at Searchlight or anywhere else. More recently however, we’ve been including some sermon excerpts and this weekend we posted an eleven-minute segment from the Phil Vischer podcast where Wheaton College Associate Professor of Christian Formation Scottie May spoke about visiting inter-generational churches during her sabbatical. The full podcast runs about 45 minutes, and I knew no matter much I mentioned enjoying these each week, the click-through ratio would be fairly low, so we created this highlight.

This is a must listen-to segment for anyone who cares about church and especially for people in children’s ministry or youth ministry.

This is an audio-only clip with no moving images, so even if you are not on a high-speed connection and don’t normally click on video links, you should be find with this one.

December 4, 2012

Concordia Decides Enough is Enough with VBS Entertainment

Concordia VBS

VBS (Vacation Bible School) is a major industry. Let me be clear, VBS is big business. In North America, nearly two dozen publishers compete — in every sense of the word — for your church’s summer Christian Education dollars to be spent on their program. Each year the programs get more and more elaborate and involve an increasing number of ancillary products which help vindicate what each publisher spends on marketing.

And according to one publisher, each year it gets, from a Biblical viewpoint, more and more silly. Concordia Publishing has decided to swim against the current. Good for them.

On another blog that I write, I deal with issues confronting the world of Christian publishing in general and Christian bookstores in particular. Sometimes I link to articles at a Strang Publishing website called Christian Retailing, but usually I don’t need to because bookstore owners and managers already have that information covered and are regular readers there.

So normally, I wouldn’t reblog anything from Christian Retailing there, let alone here, but this is something every Kid Min director, every Children’s pastor, every Christian Education department head needs to be aware of. As always, reading at source is encouraged, click here.

Concordia Takes Stand Against VBS Entertainment Machine

Concordia Publishing House is calling on Vacation Bible School (VBS) publishers to make the gospel—not entertainment—central to their VBS programs.

“Our stand is against Vacation Bible School programs that confuse children with images and characters that are unrealistic and too similar to cartoons on TV and in the movies—where is the Christian focus?” said Emily Barlean, senior public relations specialist.

Acknowledging that VBS themes may use cartoonish figures or themes to “hook” children and get them interested in participating in a church VBS program, a company statement observed that “the steady transformation of VBS programs into full-on entertainment machines has created a rather distressing situation.

“Instead of being used to share the Word of the Lord, VBS is being used to babysit and cure boredom—and many children are leaving VBS more confused than ever as to who and what is real and who and what are just characters and stories.”

Laying the blame at the feet of publishers, parents and churches alike, Concordia, publisher for The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod (LCMS), has spent three years refocusing its VBS brand and creating programming that remains faithful to the gospel message and the Scriptures as a whole. The publisher calls this renewed focus “VBS with Purpose.”

“After many years of trying to mold our VBS programs after what was considered fun and popular, we decided that we’d had enough,” said Pam Nummela, Concordia’s VBS editor, who is also a director of Christian education and a 30-year veteran leader of VBS programs.

Concordia’s VBS curricula will be changing significantly as a result. Stores and churches will see the publisher’s VBS programs will no longer be set in locations that cannot be found in the Bible, stories will no longer feature characters outside of the Bible, all artwork will be realistic, and “wise-cracking animals” will not be the spokesmen for Concordia VBS themes.

“Kids love all kinds of art, but that does not mean all art is best for presenting Bible stories,” said Gail Pawlitz, a childhood education expert. “During the early childhood years when children sort out for themselves what is real from what is not real, realistic images for Bible stories trump others because they communicate the idea that if ‘it looks real, it is real.’ “

…[T]o learn more about Concordia’s 2013 program, click Tell It on the Mountain.

June 16, 2012

VBS = Free Child Care

Filed under: children, Church, parenting — Tags: , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 9:41 am

When Jon Acuff first published Stuff Christians Like (the book), part of the appeal was that a huge percentage of the material wasn’t available on the blog.  But lately he’s been posting some of the best nuggets from the book online, like this one about Using Vacation Bible School as free babysitting. Here’s the intro:

Denomination, schomenation, when our kids are out of school for the summer and we’ve suddenly got to fill eight weeks of time with activities, we Christians like to put aside our denominational differences and bounce our kids like Ping-Pong balls around the country to different Vacation Bible School programs…

Since some people read SCL just for the comments, and because this post was so timely, here’s a look at what some people said, in the order they appear among the 70-or-so responses currently posted:

  • My daughter made this statement about one church (she was 9 at the time): “I liked the snow cones, but a mean fat lady yelled at me for turning around in my seat. A boy pushed me and wanted to beat me up. They lost my color page and I didn’t get to bring it home. All the kids were SCREAMING (emphasis hers). I like regular church better than Jesus’s summer school. Overall I don’t think the snow cones were worth it.”
  • VBS is so culturalized down here that the local agnostics community group advertised ours in their … publication under “reliable, free childcare; 9 AM – 1 PM, June 4-8 at Meadow Baptist Church”
  • If you are using one of the pre-packaged VBS curriculum available for sale and your VBS is towards the end of the summer, a lot of children have been through it two or three times already. … Churches scramble to schedule their VBS right after school ends so their curriculum doesn’t seem stale.
  • VBS, how we parents love Thee. From the years of Psalty, to the Olympic themes every four years, from Flannelgraph to PowerPoint, you have embraced our children in your sticky-sweet, glittery bosom without fail.  The only flaw is when our turn is up to ‘volunteer’, then your vengeance is great to behold!
  • I’ll admit that we fall into the lame category of dropping off our kids at another church’s VBS. I might should mention that we’re the “pastor’s family” of the church who doesn’t do VBS – gasp, shock and could even be accused of going to hell for that considering there are approximately 218 “SKY” banners outside every church in our area. So we have two things against us: we are “the church who doesn’t do VBS” and we are “the drop off parents”. We totally drop the kids off and run in hopes that nobody will be able to identify us. And then we go have a date night. But please don’t tell.
  • It’s very common around here, and I think the mega-churches stagger their VBS weeks intentionally so that hoppers can be at their church. NO ONE wants to be the church that schedules the same week as MegaBaptist.Com-they not only have a bounce house, but a water slide, a ferris wheel, and probably a circus on the back lawn.
  • Free VBS? Our church charges $40 PER CHILD! With a $100 cap per family. VBS ain’t what it used to be…
  • I love the fact that people who never attend church use our VBS as free babysitting. May be the only interaction we have with them all year. Maybe in the Bible Belt everyone is associated with a church, but that’s not the case here. And yes, when my kids were little, I used another church’s VBS for babysitting while we moved into a new home.
  • When we moved to a new town, my mom put us in every VBS she could find so that we’d meet new people and she could get settled in the house without us underfoot.  I think I got saved 3 times that summer…
  • My church runs adult VBS congruently with the kids. At first I thought I would just sneak out, but after being caught I actually ENJOYED the adult VBS. Plus there is excellent food involved for the adults. So we learn while the kids learn. Who would have thought it?

Since I went the distance and stole borrowed comments as well as the story theme today, it seemed only fair to CLOSE comments here and encourage you to add yours to the discussion at Stuff Christians Like.

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