I remember one summer when my daughters had just returned from a day at a local Vacation Bible School. My youngest, Joy, was one of the "VBS-ers." My older daughter, Sarah, and a friend were helping with the program.
At that time, our church was a small congregation, out in our little area of Red Rocks Ranch and we knew just about everyone in the church. This made for a fun time for Joy, our extravert.
I had a cool summer lunch waiting for my hot and worn-out troops when they returned from their first morning of VBS. While they ate, the older girls chattered on with their observations of the opening events, because Sarah and her friend had been the teachers. Evidently it had started with a couple of hundred noisy kids crowding around until the person in charge yelled above the crowd, "EVERYONE LISTEN! Have your children stand in lines according to their ages!" Immediately diligent parents began dragging their children toward the right lines. One five-year-old had thrown a screaming fit because he didn't want to stand in line. Others hadn't wanted to leave their mothers and protested loudly. Finally the crowd organized, and the children were assembled in their appropriate groups. But the rest of the morning had been fraught with ups and downs and lots of energy expended through the wiggles, giggles, and antics of lively little bodies.
What was Joy's take on her VBS experience? When I asked how the day went, she immediately replied, "Oh, it was pretty good, but I got slapped in the face by the girl in front of me. I also got a neat cupcake that I ate the frosting off of and a neat little truck that runs by balloon power."
"Well, what did you learn, Joy?"
"That Jesus is real powerful and can do almost anything. We got to yell, 'That's so cool' when anyone said, 'God can do anything.' I think my group yelled the loudest! Also, Mommy, did you know that a polar bear weighs fifteen hundred pounds and will stalk a human being for two hundred miles?"
My older ones agreed that the morning had offered a fun free-for-all for most of the kids there. For me it was like a little day camp for Joy. Then Sarah said thoughtfully, "Mom, if that is the only exposure some kids got to the teachings of Christ, they would indeed have a shallow foundation. It was all pretty lightweight and almost meaningless. It's a good thing you spend time alone with Joy teaching her about the Bible."
Understand that I'm not down on Vacation Bible Schools in particular or children's activities in general. I'm sure over the years that many children have become believers through Sunday school, afternoon clubs, VBS, and youth groups. (My first memory of wanting to know Christ was in a back yard club where I saw the gospel presented on a flannel board.)
In my observation, however, many of these experiences are more like day camps than true discipleship tools. They entertain the kids, and the best of them offer some valuable biblical training as well. Yet I know that the real work of digging deep wells in my children's hearts with Scripture, a biblical world-view, issues of prayer and faith, and Christian convictions is a job for which God will hold Clay and me responsible, not the volunteers at church. And this is a task that is best accomplished day in and day out with our focused attention on each child's heart.
It is not enough to take our children to "Christian activities" or to listen to "Christian Radio" or to read little "Christian books."
Jesus didn't meet with his disciples once a week for Bible study and then say, "I'll see you next week!"
He gave his disciples his whole life. He lived with them, slept with them, traveled with them, and lived out a life of godly maturity before their eyes. Having the personality of the God who created the universe living with them every moment for three years gave them an understanding of his ways that nothing else could do. They observed him in the private times of friendship and eating and sharing and being exhausted and buying and preparing food as well as in pubic ministry—teaching, healing, worshiping, confronting, encouraging. There was perfect integrity between the words He spoke and the life He lived. Thus his disciples could learn what righteousness looked like in all situations.
In the same way, our children will learn righteousness best by seeing it lived out in every possible way in our lives, moment by moment, in the context of normal life.
As we teach our children to "do unto others as we would have them do unto us," they need to see it lived out in our lives so that they will know what it means. When a child breaks a favorite vase and we extend forgiveness and patience, then he will have heard he needs to learn patience and he will have seen it modeled in real life. The first principle of reaching our children, then, is that we have to make the time to be with them. And we need to be diligent to practice what we preach!
“Hear, O Israel! The Lord is our God, the Lord is one!You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.These words, which I am commanding you today, shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your sons and shall talk of them when you sit in your house and when you walk by the way and when you lie down and when you rise up."
Some of you have heard this scripture so many times you could recite it by heart! But when was the last time you looked at it slowly, pondering its words, and considering what it means in your own life? Is there an adjustment you might make in your schedule or calendar--or heart!-- today that would help you obey these words more completely?