The Sound of VBS Preview

The VBS Team hanging out  in the Creative Zone at the Nashville Preview events.

The VBS Team hanging out in the Creative Zone at the Nashville Preview events.

bethanyIt’s a quiet day in the VBS offices today. Probably it feels even quieter than usual because of the noise that’s missing that was in the building last week.

There was the noise of worship coming from Van Ness Auditorium as VBS leaders from all over the country learned new VBS songs and motions.

I got to hear the noise of teachers explaining various aspects of VBS curriculum to eager directors, teachers, craft directors missions leaders and more.

Scissors cut through paper and duct tape made that zipping noise it makes in the Creative Zone.

People like you asked questions about curriculum, about decorations and crafts, about how to teach kids to Discover, Decide and Defend their faith.

In short, it was the sound of the VBS Preview events in Nashville, TN right here at LifeWay, and it was a joyful noise!

In the quiet of this Wednesday morning, I’m kind of missing the buzz from last week. But in a way, I’m glad it’s gone. Because it means that the incredible leaders I had the privilege to meet last week have taken that excited buzz home with them. And soon they’ll be using it to touch lives for God’s kingdom. I can’t wait to see what God does with their passion this year.

And with yours.

Your VBS will be filled with similar sounds as kids get excited about being able to know and defend what they believe. Spend some time thanking God for that joyful noise today and asking Him to give you to passion you need to work through the exhausting hours of planning and putting together your VBS for His glory.

I know I’ve been inspired by the passion some of you brought to Nashville this year. If you were here, share some stories about your favorite things about the conference in the comments! We’d love to hear your stories!

Teaching Kids to Give an Answer


bethanyIt’s one of those times when long-awaited movies have been coming out right and left and as I  scrape my budget for ticket money and my schedule for matinee times and friends who are able to go at the same time as I am, I find myself thinking about worldview a lot.

Worldview is one of those things like the price of milk or gas. We don’t seem to notice a problem with it unless there’s a really drastic change all of a sudden.

If things change just a few cents, or a few degrees in ideology, no one realizes the difference until a long way down the road. And that’s why I think alertness during movie watching is so important. Because one movie makes thousands of truth claims about the world, rapid-fire, in alluring visual images and smoothly delivered lines that somehow creep into our hearts, and those of our children. And they’re often pretty close to what we believe. But not quite on target.

For example, the fairy-tales I had access to as a kid and their “follow your heart” claims are a big part of why I and others in my generation struggle with handing control to God and letting Him steer, especially during tough times. Modern media are also a part of an identity crisis for young women in regards to their body image. I’m sure you can think of more examples.

So am I saying to keep yourself and your kids out of theaters and away from your TV?

Actually, no. Just the opposite.

I think it can be really important to watch age-appropriate media with our kids, even when they don’t match up with the truth from the Bible.

There are just a couple of things we cannot forget to do.

The first thing is to learn ourselves, and to teach our kids, what Peter tells us we need in the second part of our 2014 theme verse.

“Always be ready to give a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you.” 1 Peter 3:15b

How can we know something is a lie unless we know the truth about what we believe?

That’s why I’m so excited about this year’s VBS theme! It’s so important because it will help us equip kids to know the truth about God and the world and to identify lies.

Secondly, we need to take the time to talk to kids about what they’re seeing. Rather than avoiding lies, which is virtually impossible in today’s culture, what if we sat down after each movie and TV show and talked about what is and isn’t true and good in that particular story?

Imagine a generation of kids taught at home to be experts in distinguishing between the truth about the world and lies. Imagine what they can do!

So take the time to engage culture with your kids. But don’t forget to help them be ready to give an answer first! Happy movie-going in 2014!

On the First Day of Christmas

bethanyWe’ve been humming this silly little song with 12 numbers in our heads here on the LifeWay Kids floor, so the VBS team thought we’d get the song out of our heads and onto paper (at least electronically). So for the next 12 days, we’ll be telling your about some happy, funny, calamitous, and heartwarming memories, quirky traditions, favorite (and least favorite) gifts, and more, from our Christmas to yours! We hope you’re having a Merry Christmas season and pausing in the midst of the rush of church and school and family events to remember the hush of a stable long ago and kneel for worship at the throne of the Giver of the very best, and first, Christmas Gift ever.

As for my family, I struggled to think of steady Christmas traditions beyond food, because it seems like traditions I remember from childhood have died out and been replaced. That worried me until I realized that part of the reason for this is that in moving a lot for my parents’ work in the ministry, both with my dad as a pastor and my parents as missionaries in East Africa, we seem to adapt to our locations.

For instance, something I’ve grown to love now that my dad pastor’s in East Tennessee is the annual Rouse Road Christmas Parade, named for the road it traverses. This country road is home to a number of families who gather together every year to put together a parade for a growing number of community members who come out to watch. Our church always has a float, as do many individual families. Because showing horses is important to many of the residents, lots of people ride horses in the parade. The whole community then contributes to a huge potluck inside a nearby barn, horses looking on as we eat barbecue and sweet Christmas treats. Here are a few pictures from recent years:

Even the tractors feel a little Christmas spirit!

Even the tractors feel a little Christmas spirit!


Rudolph the red nosed…horse?


Some little cuties in a Christmas living room float


My parents hanging out in the barn at lunch time!

The Rouse Road Parade usually freezes fingers and toes, but my family hasn’t always needed such warm coats at Christmas. In fact one of my favorite Christmas memories was our first Christmas as career missionaries in Tanzania, which is located in East Africa. Tanzania sits near the equator, and we were in the south, close to the coast, which meant for abundant fruit trees, no need for central heating and HOT weather. In fact December is at the peak of the hottest part of the year, the reverse of this side of the Equator.


That year we made Christmas t-shirts, learned that you can eat termites (I didn’t, but I’ve heard they taste like burnt popcorn) and I spent a lot of time trying to keep my new kitten out of the tiny Christmas tree my mom had managed to fit into our luggage. My parents worked really hard to make things feel special, even though they were far from normal or traditional, which was hard on my 13-year-old perspective. I’m thankful for parents who taught me that where Christ and family are, there is home, regardless of the drought circumstances outside and the lack of snow on Christmas day.

Making my Christmas t-shirt

Me, using lots of focus as I make my Christmas t-shirt.

photo 2 (2)

Wearing my Christmas t-shirt while cuddling my kitten on Christmas morning.

My parents and me one Christmas morning in Tanzania.

My parents and me celebrating Christmas morning in Tanzania.

Five Tips for Taking Backyard Kids Club on Mission

bethanyYou’ve done your VBS and you’ve packed it away until you can reuse items fromAgency D3. But what if you could still serve kids by grabbing some of those leftovers and a Backyard Kids Club Kit and taking them on mission?

We’ve heard lots of stories about people using VBS and Backyard Kids Club for mission trips and we love hearing them! I’m especially excited about the simplified version of VBS that Backyard Kids Club provides, since it means a much easier time organizing kids’ programming with limited space, time, or supplies.

I grew up as a missionary kid and I’ve seen many people bring VBS overseas with them. I’ve even been on short term VBS mission trips myself. Because of that, I’ve had the chance to learn what works and doesn’t work in an international setting.

After you start by praying hard for every step of your trip, here are a few tips as you prepare:

1. Pack light. Check with the airline you’re flying with about weight restrictions and baggage fees and then determine what you have to have for your Backyard Kids Club, within that restriction. Remember to check security guidelines when you’re packing your carry-on baggage as well.

2. Be sustainable. What this looks like depends on where you’re going, but don’t focus on taking a lot of extra stuff for your Backyard Kids Club. While extras can be fun, if it’s something a local church in another country won’t be able to replicate without you, either because of money or availability, it could do more harm than good. Instead, focus on the eternal message you’ll be sharing. Talk with local missionaries and church leaders in the area where you’ll be going for more advice on this subject.

3. Be culturally sensitive. Talk with missionaries, read books, and learn about the culture where you’ll be conducting Backyard Kids Club. Things that are innocent in the U.S. could mean something totally different in another country. Being prepared for things to get lost in translation shows you care about people and their culture, and helps show them what Christ means to them in their culture.

4. Strive for good teamwork. Pray that God will help your team work well together and be patient with one another. Also do your best to work well with local missionaries, churches, and other Christian organizations in the area where you’re serving. When you leave, those people will remain to continue serving God and showing His love to people, so it’s important to listen to them and take their advice in order to avoid breaking relationships they’ve worked hard to build, even if it’s done accidentally.

5. Love well. A smile here and a hug there (when it’s culturally appropriate!) go a long way toward telling any child you love them, no matter the language. Give your time and caring freely, knowing God will be honored if you love well, and that more people will hopefully come to love and follow Him.

Have you taken VBS or Backyard Kids Club on mission before? We’d love to hear your stories in the comments! To see more information about our Backyard Kids Club resources, click here.

5 Things I Learned from Mom


Happy Monday! Hope you had a marvelous weekend! I spent it traveling for my mom’s birthday, and it was a special time of celebrating her.

Which gets me thinking. My mom was more excited than anyone else when she found out I was moving to Nashville to work on VBS. That’s because for as long as I can remember, my mom has been a teacher, but her secret identity is VBS Super Woman.

Not many days go by that I don’t remember and use her advice. In honor of my mom’s excellence as a VBS mentor, here are some lessons I’ve learned from her.


1. Get excited! My mom has childlike excitement down to a science, which taught me not to grow up too fast. She proved the point on her last visit. It was just after the Giant Inflatable Game Cube (005630803) released and I left it in my living room floor. As I expected, it was the first thing she went to after hugging me. Her excitement was second only to…well, mine!

2. Plan too many activities; know you won’t use them all. As a new teacher, I was terrified of running out of activities. My mom told me to go ahead and prepare a lot of activities, but not to be upset if we didn’t finish everything. It’s more important to get Biblical truth across to kids than to finish a to-do list.

3. Make decorations interactive and reusable. My mom’s a simple decorator for VBS. But what she does is memorable. Her yellow wagon shows up every year as a train car, taxi, roller coaster, and more. Kids love to be pulled in it, not to mention that it’s handy for packing supplies.

4. Don’t focus on decorations. My first year teaching, I obsessed over making my decorations impressive, complex, and unique. I’m sure my 3- and 4-year-olds appreciated it. My mom urged me not to stress but to spend more time learning Bible content and loving my kids. She was right of course. My kids will never remember what their room looked like that year. They will remember that I loved them like my mom taught me. Like Jesus taught us.

5. Love is the same in every language. It’s not easy to ruffle my mom. Was she phased when half her kindergarteners spoke only Spanish, a language she’s barely heard? Nope. She called me that year, excited over new friends and new words she was learning. Only God knows how instrumental her willingness to be flexible has been in the spiritual lives of so many kids.

I love and respect my mom a lot. Whoever it may be, I’m guessing you also had someone who mentored you as you learned to minister to children. Share their name in the comments and then share this post! Let them know how thankful you are for what they’ve taught you. Speaking of which, I think I’ll go call my mom. Some things can’t be said too often.

Day 1: Is Jesus Really God's Son?

bethanyAs a VBS team, we wanted to share with you what the Biblical content in Agency D3 means to each of us. I’m honored to get to go first in this series.

And there came a voice from heaven: “This is My beloved Son. I take delight in Him!” (Matthew 3:17)

Not long ago I found out from my mom that when I finished high school, some adults I knew well were worried about what college might do to my faith. They told my mom they were afraid college might make me cynical about the things of God. They weren’t totally wrong.

My freshman year made me question much of what I knew about the reliability of Scripture, the truth of a Biblical worldview, and the traditional Christian view of sin.

Thankfully God put people in my life who helped me see the truth and not grow hard or cynical on these subjects. In fact I think it helped me be more firmly grounded in the truth because I had a chance to question these things for myself.

But the one thing I never struggled with, never questioned or feared is the fact that Jesus is God’s Son.

During high school, which I completed at a school in East Africa since my parents were missionaries, I attended boarding school. Learning to be on my own from my parents was very difficult, but at those moments when I thought the rug had been pulled from my feet and I was falling toward a deeper rock bottom, God was there. Always there.

The truth of who He is and what Jesus did for me so that I could have that relationship became very real during that time of my life. A favorite college professor who really helped ground me in my faith and Biblical worldview liked to ask, “Do you really believe what you really believe is really real?”

Do you?

Is the fact that Jesus is God’s son a vividly true fact for you that colors all the other knowledge you have about the Bible and the world? It is for me. The Bible says it, the disciples died for it, and I’ve seen it to be true in my own life. During seasons of joy and trouble both then and now.

And I’m so so excited to get to share these truths with kids in Agency D3.

Imagine kids who enter not just their colleges and their high schools, but even their elementary schools really believing that what they really believe about Jesus is really real.

They’ll be unstoppable!

I’m praying you’ll be reminded this week of the reality of who Christ is, what that means for where you stand before God, and that you’ll be encouraged to share that with your kids, not just during Agency D3, but all year round.

When was a time in your life when Christ’s identity was confirmed for you?

Tales of a Secret Agent, part 1

I am Special Agent 43.5.

I am Special Agent 43.5


My identity is a secret.

I track down the truth about questions like:
I track down the truth about deep questions like, what is our purpose on earth? How do I know that I can trust what God says? And, how DO I open this briefcase?

Today’s Mission: Pick up this package.

Today’s Mission: Pick up this package.

Memorize the address where it needs to be delivered.

Memorize the encoded address where it needs to be delivered.

And destroy it.

And destroy it.

Without choking.

Without choking.

And without being caught by the Legion of Doom (an evil subversive organization tasked with taking over the world.)

And without being caught by the Legion of Doom (an evil subversive organization tasked with taking over the world.)

According to the message delivered to my watch transmitter, under no circumstances am I to read the contents of this very dangerous package while I am trying to deliver it.

According to the message delivered to my watch transmitter, under no circumstances am I to read the contents of this very dangerous package while I am trying to deliver it.

I successfully gained entrance to the secret headquarters where the package was to be delivered

I successfully gained entrance to the secret headquarters where the package was to be delivered…

...using my authority as an Agent for Agency D3.

…using my authority as an Agent for Agency D3.

But that was where the easy times stopped.
But that was where the easy times stopped.

I was followed down the hallways by Legion of Doom Agents,

I was followed down the hallways by Legion of Doom Agents,


which I knew because of my highly specialized rearview glasses.

which I knew because of my highly specialized rearview glasses.

Ambushed by bubbles which always cause me break into violent fits of giggles.

Ambushed by bubbles…

which always cause me break into violent fits of giggles.

…which always cause me to break into violent fits of giggles.

and more giggles.

and more giggles.

and more...

and more…

And nearly hit in the face ...

And nearly hit in the face …


...with an exploding capsule...

…with an exploding capsule…

...containing a highly volatile material.

…containing a highly volatile material.
Of course all this trouble makes me wonder…

Of course all this trouble makes me wonder…

Just what is IN this secret package? And should I open it?

Just what is IN this secret package? And should I open it?

Next time in Tales of a Secret Agent: does Agent 43.5 open the secret passage? Just who are the agents behind the Legion of Doom? What do they want? And what other tricks will they use to get it from Agent 43.5?

Next time in Tales of a Secret Agent: does Agent 43.5 open the secret package? Just who are the agents behind the Legion of Doom? What do they want? And what other tricks will they use to get it from Agent 43.5?


Seven Ways to Occupy Early Arrivers

bethanyYou’re walking down the hallway before VBS carrying a couple of carefully balanced boxes of supplies and props when you’re nearly mown down by a crowd of children trying to play tag in the church hallway. You try to gently reprimand them and send them somewhere else, all the while trying not to lose your temper or send them somewhere without adult supervision.

You’ve been hit by early arriver fever.

Early arrivers come in lots of forms, from VBS teachers’ kids, to working parents’ kids who have an unwieldy schedule to keep, to, at my home church, the first group of kids who ride the bus, since the bus often needs to make two trips. And the same reasons kids arrive early may also make them need to stay late after VBS is over.

So what do you do with these kids to keep them from causing chaos or being bored at VBS before it’s even started?

Don’t get me wrong. As a teacher, I’ve had some great chances to bond with my kids who arrived early since there was more time to get to know them and let them ask me questions.

But it also pays to be prepared for those empty times. The adage is true, if you don’t have a plan, your kids will.

Your teachers will certainly thank you for an extra few undistracted minutes preparing rooms and getting hearts ready for VBS.

So here are some ideas you can keep in your back pocket in case you have extra time to fill:

  1. Enlist volunteers who love kids but aren’t comfortable in a formal teaching role. Make sure there are always at least two adults with kids. Provide them with details about the Bible study material so that they can be prepared to reinforce concepts in casual conversation. Consider suggesting some silly and serious ice breaker questions, from “if you could be a ice cream flavor what would you be?” To “what did you learn at VBS this week?” and everything in between that will help kids feel loved and known.
  2. Designate space- whether it’s in your church sanctuary, in an unused Sunday School room, or on your church playground, choose a spot where all your VBS workers know to send early arrivers after they’ve been registered for VBS. That way, if a straggler runs into you in the hallway, you have a safe place to send him.
  3. Music- Kids I’ve seen never seem to get enough of the VBS music. They always want a little more time with their favorite song. This could be extra time for teaching motions to a new song on any day. After the first day, let kids compete to say the memory verse to you. Those who do it correctly get to choose what song you replay for them.
  4. Games- Provide volunteers with some easy games from the Recreation Rotation Leader Cards that won’t take much setup, are adaptable, indoor/outdoor and will allow for repetition and multiple age groups. A few in Colossal Coaster World that fit this description include Quick Pass, Screaming Scrambler, Ferris Wheel Relay, Tilt-A-Whirl, Frozen Fun House Tag, and the games on the Family Connections card for families to play when they’re waiting in line somewhere.
  5. Take pictures and video of kids throughout the week and have these playing as a slideshow where kids can watch and pick themselves out.
  6. Provide an extra craft or activity that relates to the day’s Bible content.
  7. Encourage teachers to arrive as early as possible to finish their preparations for the night and then be ready to spend time with their kids. Time spent developing relationships is never wasted at VBS.


5 Helpful Tips for VBS in a Small Church (pt. 2)

bethanyLast week, I talked about the ways I’ve seen a small church that’s close to my heart do a great job with VBS, despite a small size and more limited resources.

This got me to thinking about ways LifeWay VBS curriculum helps face those limitations in a small church, or just those doing VBS in tight spaces or with a tight budget. Here are a few things to remember when attempting to conquer those limitations:

1. A little goes a long way: if you have a small space and not much money to decorate it, things like the Super Duper Sized Backdrop can pretty much fill the backdrop of a Worship Rally space or even a Bible study room. It is complete in and of itself, or can connect to another backdrop to expand it, depending on the size of your space. It’s simple, doesn’t take a lot of volunteers to get it on the wall, and sets the mood since it was designed specifically for the VBS theme.

2. Big items like stand-ups, backdrops, and inflatables are easy to share among churches, helping cut the cost for each church that shares.

3. The leader packs often have all that’s needed to make the teacher look he or she really tried hard with visuals that help kids stay connected with that day’s Bible truths.

4. Clear outlines, information on how to prepare, and facts about the age group the teacher will be teaching help even inexperienced teachers prepare to succeed. I know that helped me when I first started teaching at Witt Baptist Church (see last week’s post) when I had little idea of what I was doing, but knew my church was in great need of volunteers. This helps might help you encourage a recruit who says they don’t know enough to actually teach a class, though they really do want to help.

These are just a few things I’ve noticed that can help small churches succeed with LifeWay’s VBS. What other helpful things have you seen? What else would be helpful to you as your prepare for VBS?


Congratulations Mr. and Mrs. John Wiley


Mr. and Mrs. John Wiley walk down the aisle after their wedding on April 13, 2013.

Mr. and Mrs. John Wiley walk down the aisle after their wedding on April 13, 2013. Thanks to Alex Derry for the wonderful picture.

The VBS Team would like to shout hurray! WooHoo! Congratulations! High Five! And more to our team member who became Mrs. Mary Wiley on Saturday April 13.

It was a beautiful ceremony celebrating the story of how God brought them together and their commitment to let God keep them together for the rest of their lives.

We pray God’s greatest blessings for your union. May you know and serve Him even better together than you did separately (which was already pretty awesome!).

Join us in congratulating and praying for our newest married couple! The best is yet to come.