There are plenty of things I love about serving in ministry in a small church: despite my introverted nature I love preaching and teaching people from various walks of life; even though only a handful of people read these posts I love relating the truths of God to everyday realities; and, maybe above all, although it will only reach a couple dozen kids during one week in July I love directing Vacation Bible School. Vacation Bible School is both exhilarating and exhausting. While it brings out the best (it gives an outlet for my creative silliness) and worst (I am woefully inadequate in encouraging our volunteers), I am blessed every year by God’s presence, experienced by and through all those who participate.
My first experience with VBS was at First Church of the Nazarene in Brockton when I was invited to participate by Patty Stanley, a third grade classmate. While I don’t remember much more than going, the experience planted deep seeds within my soul. These seeds would take about a dozen years to bear fruit, and now, after 25 summers of leading children through VBS, I am beginning to realize why I love this week so much. VBS reminds me that:
- Church should be fun: Sometimes I feel that a typical Sunday morning is not what most participants would categorize as fun – majestic, illuminating, encouraging and equipping, yes, but ‘a blast”, sadly not. VBS is lively music, energetic games, sweet food, sometimes messy crafts and silly surprises. It is fifteen hours of exuberance and laughter. That is what I picture heaven to be like and those lucky enough to participate get a little glimpse of it in church basements across the country every summer;
- Church should involve everyone: I wish every program in the church involved as diverse a collection of people as VBS. Not only can kids from every aspect of our society participate (regardless of age, education, religion, race, ethnicity or economic status), VBS also attracts volunteers that reflect the same diversity. It is not uncommon for a 70 year-old to interact with a 7 year-old or a teen to laugh alongside a toddler. Again, this is what I picture heaven to be like, and those who participate in VBS get to experience that joy here and now;
- Church should share the love of Jesus: VBS does this in word and in deed. Certainly, the Bible lessons are intended to share the great truth that God loves us so much that He sent His son to pay the penalty for our sin on the cross and restore our relationship with Him. But the willingness of volunteers to give of their time, talents and resources, sacrificially spending hours of retirement or vacation time simply to share the Savior with our smallest family members expresses the great love of God. Perhaps VBS is the best example of evangelism most churches portray.
That is why I love VBS. I have fun, interact with others and share God’s love. This year, as in years past, I was blessed by all that occurred in a little church in the big city as we went on a “Deep Sea Discovery”. It has been a good reminder that God is with me wherever I go!
“I am with you and will watch over you wherever you go….” Genesis 28:15 (NIV)
The other day I received an e-mail wondering what the round object at the top of our new sign represented. The object in the circle is a mosaic, the graphic mark in our new logo. It represents the bringing together of the diverse, maintaining this diversity while also producing a unifying beauty by coming together. It is a picture of what we would like to champion as a community church. There is a rich diversity in our neighborhood whose beauty is magnified, and not diminished, as we appreciate these differences while also committing to unite around our shared vision and mission.
“Just as a body, though one, has many parts, but all its many parts form one body, so it is with Christ.” 1 Corinthians 12:12
The Bible is full of metaphors when it comes to describing the church – the bride of Christ, the fellowship of believers, the family of God and the flock of the Lord – including the word-picture Paul used in the passage above: the body of Christ. There is such diversity in the human body: sometimes there are subtle by valuable differences as we see in looking at our hands and our feet; sometimes there are profound and amazing differences as we see in comparing our eyes and our spleens. The description of the church as the body is one of immense diversity expressed in perfect unity.
As a human race, we are the epitome of diversity and unity. We all have different gifts, talents, passions, experiences, abilities and temperaments. We all have different upbringings, ethnicities and traditions. We all have different occupations, hobbies and schedules. Our external appearances come in innumerable shades and shapes and our internal dialogues are as unique as snowflakes. Surrounding all this diversity, however, is a core of commonality. We all love our children, feel pain when we are hurt and cry at funerals. We all wonder about what is beyond tomorrow and when it will get better. We all have questions, often the same question, about significance, safety and strength. We are all so different and all so alike.
The question, therefore, becomes where to place our focus. Do we accentuate the things that unite us or the things that divide us? Let us take our lead from the scriptures:
“Here there is no Gentile or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free, but Christ is all, and is in all.” Colossians 3:11
This is not saying that there is no distinction among people, but rather that the church is called to make no distinction among people. Every community of Christian faith is meant to be a place where the factors that describe us are not what define us. Our identity is found exclusively in our relationship to the one who perfectly designed us. Whoever you are, wherever you are, you can find unity with others in Christ. That is the meaning behind the mosaic.
In the days and months ahead we, as a church, will be exploring avenues to make what our sign portrays a reality. If you have ideas or suggestions that might help in our pursuit of unity amidst diversity, please let us know.