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 5, 2014

Wednesday Link List

Things I Hate

They left the worship band’s spotlights on during the sermon this week, and my pastor saw his shadow, which meant six more points before the benediction. Here are some links as I try to forget… 

Clicking anything below will take you to PARSE, which has exclusive rights to the mid-week link.

…if you’re new to this whole link list thing, I did a rare Weekend Link List about ten days ago with some reruns from 2011.

January 15, 2014

Wednesday Link List

When is a bargain not a bargain

I spent a lot of the week listening to Christian radio stations from around the world on DeliCast.com; so the temptation was to make the entire list this week simply links to all the wonderful stations I found. However, reason prevailed…  Each of the following will lead you back to Out of Ur, a division of Christianity Today, where you may then click through to the stories.

Paul Wilkinson writes from Canada (Motto: Home of the Polar Vortex) and blogs at Thinking Out Loud and edits Christianity 201, a daily devotional.

 

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.

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.

June 29, 2013

Christian Camps Without Counselors

Filed under: children, ministry — Tags: , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 6:57 am

Christian Camp

My wife and I met at a Christian camp where she was serving on full time staff and I was invited as a guest speaker for staff training week. Ironically, my assigned topic that week was “Relationships.”

Previously, I had worked at another large Christian camp which, in the years after I left, chose to drop the “camp” moniker in favor of “sports resort.” The “campers” were thereafter referred to as “guests.” In some respects, I was quite happy to have missed that transition. More recently, the camp’s name has become the brand and “sports resort” has been dropped, at least in the official nomenclature.

But in any ministry endeavor — as in the wider spectrum of life — terminology is constantly in flux.

Here’s an interesting change that’s taken place in the last decade: Can you think of a word in which the singular form is always male, but the plural form can be male, female or mixed? Answer in the comments.

In many churches that were around in the mid-20th-century, the person who directed the music portion of the church service was the “song leader,” not the “worship leader.” Actually, many churches don’t use the word “services” anymore, they create “environments.” And if you do call them services, you don’t say “Sunday services,” because that doesn’t take in the ever-growing popularity of Saturday options, hence “weekend services.”

Meanwhile, back at camp, I was surprised this week when my youngest son corrected me as to his job description when I called him a counselor: “It’s ‘cabin leader,’ not counselor.” 

When I pressed him on this, he explained that with so many kids coming as campers who are caught up in the net of social services, the word ‘counselor’ is loaded with baggage. While I’m sure that some of these kids look forward to the weekly gabfest with the counselor in question, apparently the term is pejorative for enough of them that a new vocabulary is needed.

And that’s just sad.

I guess it’s unfortunate that many of them need a counselor, disturbing that probably many of them are shunted around to different counselors, and sad that the whole scenario brings with it negative connotations.

Hopefully in the change of words the essence remains intact: Kids get away from family, friends, computer and life in the city and get to refocus in an entirely fresh setting. Between that, and the focus on Jesus in the songs, skits and ministry time, great things can happen in a kid’s life.

With all that taking place, it’s great for a kid to have someone to talk with, no matter what you call him or her.


Photo: Heartland Christian Camp in the mountains of California. Take a deep breath… you can smell the forest.  Click the image for more about the camp, or this link for more photos.

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.

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