The Pastor and VBS Commitment Services
I love Vacation Bible School. For 28 years I served as pastor of a local church. In all those years I do not remember ever letting VBS occur without me. VBS is a tremendous opportunity to relate to children and their families. VBS is one if not the most important evangelistic events in the church, which has been proven again and again. While it is probably too late for this year, I would like to make some suggestions from years of experience that may help you as a pastor make the most of this opportunity while protecting the integrity of evangelism with children.
I think it is of utmost importance to train teachers of children how to be spiritually sensitive to the children in their classes, especially those second grade and older. The Gospel should be presented throughout the week from many different perspectives and methods. Incorporating the seeds of the Gospel in lessons throughout the week helps clarify the Gospel and lay a foundation on which the Holy Spirit can apply truth to children’s hearts. Teachers should also be taught how to respond to questions about the Gospel and be prepared to engage children on an individual basis in a salvation conversation.
Whether a pastor or teacher is making the presentation, I think it is important to make the Gospel plain and not compromise on the great truths and demands. There is not one Gospel for a 9-year-old and another for a 90-year-old. Each must embrace the basics of the Gospel. A person cannot be saved without understanding the concept of sin and its awful consequences. I do not think the cross and resurrection apart from an understanding of sin can be understood. Jesus did not die to be a hero or martyr—He died because of the awful sinfulness of man and our utter lostness because of sin. Every person needs to understand the deep, deep love of Jesus for them as an individual. Salvation requires repentance from sins and belief in Jesus as the one and only way of salvation.
One of the traditional events in VBS is the Commitment Service. For years I would speak to the whole group on Thursday of VBS, present the Gospel, and give a public invitation. I often found myself concerned that children may have responded just because a friend came forward. At the very least, children who respond to an invitation should be counseled in depth by trained workers. I also believe that the pastor or children’s minister should follow up with each child and meet with them and their parents to discuss this important decision. I found this often opened the door for me to share the Gospel with the parents.
While I am not saying a Commitment Service is bad, I do want to propose what I think is a better approach that places more integrity and safeguards in evangelism with children. I would spend the last couple of days going from class to class, second grade and older, presenting the Gospel. After I spoke to the children (usually seated in a chair at the front of the room), I would ask them to bow their heads and close their eyes. I would prepare the workers in advance to keep their eyes open. I would ask children who were ready to repent of sin and trust Christ as their Savior to raise their hands and the workers would make note of the children who responded. After a prayer of commitment, I would conclude by telling the children their teachers were ready to talk with them about the decisions they had made. An adaptation of this approach would be to ask the children who prayed with me to please stand and go to a teacher.
I really like this approach because it individualizes the invitation and protects against the herd mentality. This approach gives the pastor opportunity to present the Gospel clearly and allow the children to respond without pressure.
VBS can be a wonderful time to present the Gospel to children. We just want to do so in a way that helps them make a genuine decision. I thank God for you and the faithful workers who give their time and effort to make the glorious Gospel plain and demonstrate the love of Christ to children and parents.