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.

VBS in a Small Church, part 1


Some of my warmest VBS memories are based in a 6,200 square foot church facility with a body of about 100 in most worship services and 50 in Sunday School.

It’s where I learned an important lesson: a large building, budget, and body aren’t necessary for VBS. What’s needed is a committed church family and God’s blessing.

It’s also the church where my dad is the pastor and one of my best friends is the VBS director. I was a member before moving to Nashville. There. Biases disclaimed.

I’ve long been amazed at how Witt Baptist Church nails VBS. It is a small, traditional church with a rural background. Last summer, their average VBS attendance was 139, with a total of 189. Witt borrowed a second bus for transportation.

VBS was a huge success, as usual.

So I asked my dad, Dr. Doug Brown and director Tiffany Taylor how they and their volunteers make VBS work in a small church.

A key ingredient is that Witt is a close-knit family and values VBS.

“The general church feeling regarding VBS is one of excitement and anticipation. VBS is near the top of our priority in ministry and is the most effective thing that we do in reaching children,” my dad said.

Reasons for this include the ability to share the gospel with more children and parents, the chance to bring the church together as a team, and the chance to get visitors involved.

“My favorite thing about VBS is the way that everyone comes together to carry out this ministry,” he said.

Everyone gets involved in Witt Baptist Church's VBS.

Everyone gets involved in Witt Baptist Church’s VBS.

One of the ways the church stretches a thin budget is by borrowing decorations from a larger church each year, then passing them on.

The church’s teamwork is also vital.

“VBS workers often use some of their personal funds/items as they carry out their ministry,” he said.

The generosity during this time is a beautiful thing to see.

“I think Witt is extremely blessed in that we have members who see the impact that Vacation Bible School has on children,” said Tiffany, “and … in that our workers and volunteers and teachers …see it as … an opportunity of worship.”

There are challenges to VBS in a small church.

Tiffany said they overcome recruitment challenges with the family atmosphere.

“It does require personal interaction … you have to ask people face to face.”

They begin recruiting early, pray, ask God to bring individuals to mind, build excitement about VBS, and thank volunteers with words and small gifts.

“Space is our biggest problem,” Tiffany said describing the sometimes-overwhelming noise level in the small building.

The main solution is to encourage respect for other classes, while keeping perspective.

“They’re kids having fun learning about Jesus,” she said. “They’re excited; you should be too. It’s about letting go of the reins a little bit and knowing when to pull back as well.”

“When it comes down to game time and it’s the week of and everything’s got to go just according to plan … even if it’s not, when you see a hundred kids running around just excited to be there it puts everything in perspective,” she said.

I asked for advice and encouragement for a small church doubting if trying VBS would be successful and worthwhile.

It’s definitely worth it… to get that week of sharing the gospel with kids … that may be the only time they hear it until next year when you do it again,” Tiffany said. “So this may be the only time that your church, no matter how small, can plant major seeds.”

My dad agreed that “VBS is worth all the time, effort, and resources that we muster. It is an opportunity to reach out to families that do not normally attend church. Furthermore, VBS is an opportunity to build a sense of unity and purpose in your church. Also VBS is an opportunity to include worship attenders as volunteers and help them feel a sense of belonged-ness. I would also commend a prayerful dependence on God and his ability to help VBS to be a success… God always helps us know that the effort has been worthwhile when a child responds in faith, a family has been encouraged or a church member finds their niche in ministry.”

Do you attend a small church? Do you have any tips for how to make VBS a success? Maybe you’re in a larger church. How can you encourage some of the smaller churches in your area? Let us know in the comments! And stay tuned next week for part two- tips for using LifeWay curriculum to make VBS a success in a small church.

Five Things Easter and VBS have in Common

bethany I love Easter! I’m like a little kid about it. It’s not eggs and candy and dresses. It’s the way Christ’s resurrection becomes real as dark winter fades to wonderful lively spring and we hear the old story one more time. It never gets old.

Come to think of it, neither does VBS. Which brings to mind what Easter and VBS have in common (in my quirky brain at least).

1. They’re fun! Easter comes with fun kids’ activities that, if we’re intentional, point the way to Christ’s death and resurrection.  There’s always a danger of letting activities gloss over the story and meaning of Easter, but if we work at it there are tons of ways we can celebrate the resurrection in fun ways with our kids. Check out our Easter Pinterest board for some ideas. There’s also the joy of waking up on Easter morning, knowing that Christ is risen! It’s always true but more real in the sunrise and pollen producing blooms beating out the death of winter. As mentioned, it makes me a bit giddy. VBS . . . well, I KNOW I don’t have to tell you why it’s fun!

2. Community connections. Both Easter and VBS give you a chance to meet kids (and families) who aren’t in church regularly and love on them. In fact, Easter Sunday is a good way to let a larger audience know about VBS. Consider preparing Save the Date cards to hand out to your Easter Sunday crowd so they can know about VBS ahead of time and hopefully plan to come. But don’t wait for VBS! Start building relationships with visitors at your Easter service, even if it’s talking just one person. You never know how God might use that relationship.

3. Volunteers! Easter and VBS often call for extra volunteers to be on hand in your church’s kids ministry since there are lots of extra kids to care for and extra activities to be accomplished. Think about volunteering if you haven’t already. If you’re in charge of recruiting helpers and teachers for Easter, VBS, or both, make sure you thank them for their hard work and sacrifice, and see this post for ideas about handling the extra traffic Easter brings. Try here and here for VBS recruitment.

4. Pause button. We get a chance to pause and realize that our problems pale in comparison to the grand story of God becoming man and dying for our sakes. Our problems also often pale in comparison to what others are facing. Look around on Easter Sunday for someone who could use help or support, then do what you can. Do the same thing during VBS.

5. They celebrate the reality that Jesus died for our sins and conquered death. They remind us to celebrate that truth often, to see it in new ways, to thankfully accept it, and to share it with others.

What’s your favorite thing about Easter? VBS? How can you use them to reach out to your community? Tell us in the comments.

Confessions of a Craftily Challenged VBS teacher


I like to refer to myself as “craftily challenged.” Hallmarks of this disease are coloring outside the lines, cutting unevenly, gluing messily and other things you should’ve learned in kindergarten. Not because you’re personality is free and unfettered, but because that line is always a lot closer than it looks.

It’s a disability I’m learning to live with.

When I was growing up my mom was a kindergarten teacher and active in kids’ ministry at church. I’m now a member of the LifeWay VBS team. Does irony speak to you like it does to me?

You know you might be craftily challenged when:

  • You’re sitting with your teaching assistant at church decorating your VBS classroom and there are shapes to be cut out. You and he or she have the same kind of scissors and are cutting out of the same material, but where his or her lines are perfectly straight, yours are crooked and jagged.
  • You’re trying to freehand a roller coaster on paper on your wall and when you check in on your neighbor, theirs looks like a roller coaster. Yours looks like spaghetti.
  • You see this cute thing someone made from Pinterest, so you go find the pin, repin it, try to make it, and can’t even tell the finished product is the same craft.

Anyone else with me?

Yep. Join the club. You’re not alone. And fortunately, there’s help, so don’t think you can’t work with decorating or crafts at VBS just because you don’t think of yourself as skilled at it. Here are a few tips I’ve gleaned during my uncrafty sojourn in a crafty world.

Don’t put yourself down or say you’re not creative. I firmly believe that everyone has their own type of creativity. It may take some creativity just to find out what that is for you, but it’s there and you can use it for VBS, even if you won’t be using it to create a fully- functional roller coaster car from spare pieces of wood.

Don’t compare yourself- This is the hardest one for me, but it’s huge. When I’m nervous because I’m trying to be the best, the lines I cut turn out wavier as a general rule. Also, my inability to draw or cut a straight line does not make me a less worthwhile teacher. Psalm 62:7 says “My salvation and glory depend on God.” It doesn’t say anything about that glory or self-worth depending on how I measure up to my VBS classroom neighbor. I can’t tell you how many unnecessary arguments I’ve witnessed that were really the result of insecurity and comparison in a variety of situations. I’m ashamed to say I’ve been part of some of them. When we try to measure up without God’s help, we have to constantly guard our worth, which we often end up doing with anger, frustration, and without sensitivity to others’ insecurities. Remember as you decorate that what you’re doing is to impact kids and worship God, not to win you a “best decorated room” award.

Surround yourself with help- If you’re secure enough to admit you’re not great with crafts, then (hopefully) you’re secure enough to ask for help. I personally try not to let myself get roped into a role where I’m a leader over something crafty like the Worship Rally decorations or the crafts rotation, but if you find yourself there without the skill, find helpers! Assistants who are good with crafts could probably use your good leadership over them. If you’re just concerned with your Bible study room, as I usually am, there’s always someone decorating their own room who will probably gladly help you. If you’d like to borrow my mom, I believe I’ve mentioned she’s really great at this stuff. It takes pride swallowing, but asking for help is a good idea.

Find premade stuff-  There’s nothing wrong with making decorations and crafts easier on yourself if you don’t love them so that you’ll have more energy for the most important spiritual moments of VBS. Check out some options we offer here with awesome backdrops that can be customized to fit your size space, as well as table cloths, string flags and table toppers. For crafts that come with all the parts and just need assembly, click here.

Practice! Have you ever watched a child in your ministry, or your family, get discouraged because they don’t have the coordination for controlling a yo-yo or cutting out shapes? If they stayed discouraged and refused to do it, they’d never develop the coordination, would they? Be patient with yourself like you would with that kid and allow yourself space for mistakes as you practice and improve. I think a lot of my lack of skill is that I was such a perfectionist growing up (still often am) that I wouldn’t practice or try a second time something I wasn’t good at on my first try.

Give yourself some credit- If you’re a perfectionist like me, you want everything to look just perfect. I wind up obsessing over how bad little details look, when the big picture actually looks a lot better than I thought.

Find a different job- it’s ok to look for jobs that utilize your skills and strengths. After all, God gave you your strengths and weaknesses for a reason Sometimes it’s so He can shine through your weakness. Sometimes it’s so you can glorify Him with the strengths He gave you. If you can, tell your VBS Director that you’d be more comfortable doing something that doesn’t involve hand-eye coordination and offer to help with registration, making snacks, or teaching Bible study (with an assistant to help decorate.) You can’t always avoid working with your hands, but you can try to work into your strengths whenever possible.

Get some perspective- when you take a step back from VBS to look at its purpose, the purpose is not to have a fully functional theme park in action in your church (though that makes it a ton of fun!). The purpose is to share Jesus with your kids and help them know Him. One year when I was freaking out about whether my room would be cool looking or not, my mom-the-crafty (who also had the classroom next door unfortunately) interrupted my worries with the absolutely true fact that kids will not remember the decorations in the room in the same way that they will remember being loved, spending time with you, and the words and actions you give them that show them who Jesus is.

So uncrafty people unite! What tips would you add to these? What jobs can you do to help the more crafty people in your world.