We're celebrating 90 - that's 90 years of providing the very best VBS curriculum, resources, and training - by going to the archives for ideas and advice that is just as relevant today as the day it was first printed. The following article was originally published in 1998 in The Sunday School Leader.
What is the most important week of the year in your church? A week of a revival? A stewardship emphasis? A Sunday School enrollment campaign?
One of the most important weeks of the year, VBS, offers an opportunity for pastors to exercise visionary leadership. What other week of the year presents the opportunity to baptize as many people as in a revival, to discover as many prospects as in a survey, to teach as much Bible as in weeks of Sunday School, and to reach with credibility into the homes of as many unchurched families as in a whole year of outreach - all in one week?
VBS may be the most important week of the year. Pastors can make a huge difference in maximizing the evangelistic potential of VBS. When the pastor really gets behind the spirit and vision of VBS, he can stretch the limits of what a church can accomplish.
One pastor led his church, which runs about 150 in Sunday School, to start planning in January to provide a VBS that could handle five hundred. The planning worked, and their VBS had an enrollment of more than 450. You can imagine the impact their school had on a rural community.
A key to maximizing the potential of VBS is to train workers in evangelism. Every year we ask all of our workers to go through a witness training program. Workers need confidence to lead a child to faith in Jesus without having to "find the preacher." You can ease the concerns of conscientious workers by helping them to recognize the signs a child is ready to believe.
Many children grow up with a basic desire to please adults, especially their parents and the preacher. This affection should be affirmed and encouraged but not confused with a genuine experience of salvation. One of the most basic signs that a child is ready to believe is evidence that he or she is under conviction of sin.
I ask children to tell me what they know about sin. Can they give any examples? Then I ask them if they themselves have ever sinned.
I asked a seven-year-old girl for some illustrations of sin. Her parents were listening as she said: "When I lie, or do something bad, or don't mind my parents. And then they get mad, and they sin."
I've had many children older than seven tell me they basically don't have a problem with sin. In those cases I encourage the parents to continue to allow the Lord to work in their lives. Basic senses of helplessness, concern, and lostness serve as signs of readiness to believe.
Another sign the Lord is working in a child's heart is that concern continues over time and doesn't go away. When fruit is ready to be picked, it will just about fall off in your hand without having to be yanked.
What is the age of accountability? It can be different for each person. The theology of salvation is abstract, but the experience of doing something bad and receiving divine forgiveness is more concrete. Somewhere between the ages of six and nine years old children begin to grasp abstract thoughts.
Does that mean that no one can be saved before then? Not necessarily; but good practice dictates teaching for the rule, not the exceptions.
Watch for signs that a child is ready to believe. Encourage parents and workers to lay a foundation for belief with younger children and to extend a patient and tender invitation to older children to receive the Lord. Then let God deal with the exceptions. Don't bruise the fruit.
Written by Chet Haney, pastor of Highland Terrace Baptist Church, Greenville, Texas. At the time this article was originally published Chet was pastor of Parkside Baptist Church, Denison, Texas.