Fun and Faith

Before tossing the catalog into the circular file I skimmed over the outside cover and noticed the words “fun and faith” joined together in an alliterative effort to illustrate what their catalog was all about.  Well, guess what?  It was all about fun and faith and how they go together.  Cutesy puppets, bunnies, crosses, prayer boxes, angels, etc. – all for sale and all designed to make faith fun for the youngsters!

I thought back to my own childhood.  I guess there was some of that in Sunday school when I was a boy, though that was a very long time ago!  It’s called crafts.  We did that back in the fifties and sixties.  I know we did.  When I search my memory I do recall cutting, gluing, pasting, and hoping that whatever resulted from my uncoordinated efforts would remain in one piece at least until I got it home.  Then it would sit somewhere for a while.  It would sooner or later disappear.  Being the fourth of ten children, I was not coddled.  Perhaps I treasured my Sunday school crafts (after all, I did put a bit of work into them and that ought to count for something).  And it’s not that my mother wasn’t sentimental.  She was just practical.  She matter-of-factly threw away all of the crafts I took home – not right away, mind you – but in time she had no choice.  What are you going to do with all that junk?

I can’t remember it being that much fun.  Maybe the teachers enjoyed it.  Or maybe it gave them a sense of accomplishment.  I did what was expected of me, Mom endured the invasion of useless fun stuff that would have to be tossed, and we all grew up.  Until, that is, we had children of our own and the faith is fun exercises resumed.  How many hours?  How many children?  How many VBS gatherings?  How many crafts?  Can anyone count them?  And where does all the fun faith stuff go?  In the trash – unless, of course, you are hopelessly sentimental, or a fanatical pack rat, or you have a huge house with extra rooms.  I suspect that it is sentimentality at work for most of us until we screw up the inner strength to toss it out.

I have a better idea.  Let’s stop wasting time with fun faith foolishness and replace it with serious faith: faith grounded in the wisdom of God.  Instead of working hard for what perishes, let us apply ourselves to teaching the children what cannot perish.  I’m not talking about memorizing the Catechism or Bible passages.  We should do that, too!  I’m talking about doing what belongs to the teaching of little children in Sunday school, Vacation Bible School, Christian Day School, or any other school where Christian children are gathered.  What belongs to teaching is singing.  I am talking specifically about singing the hymns they will sing in church with the grownups.  The very best of these are the Lutheran chorales.  They have beauty and substance.  They are filled with the gospel by which we are saved.  Children will learn them and love them when they are taught them at a very young age.  The reason many children want only shallow little sentimental ditties is because this is what has been foisted on them by adults.  Singing is not to give vent to our religious feelings.  Singing hymns teaches the faith by which we are saved.  This is why the liturgy has been sung.  This is why hymns are sung.  This is how the faith has been taught since the faith has been taught.  Words wedded to music penetrate the soul.  Children should be taught to sing the hymns that will sustain their faith when they are old.

A former parishioner from another town came to visit the other day.  Her husband is buried in our town.  She was visiting the cemetery.  Engraved on the tombstone are the words: “This the superscription be: Jesus crucified for me is my life, my hope’s foundation, and my glory and salvation.”  Her husband learned this hymn as a little boy.  He sang it throughout his life.  He confessed it in death.  Now it comforts his wife who mourns his death.  It lasts.  That’s what our children need to receive: what lasts.  Faith isn’t fun.  It’s serious business.  Those who assume the task of teaching it to the children should take it seriously.

 

Image previously used on this page is copyright DaniellesPlace.com.

About Pastor Rolf Preus

Pastor Rolf David Preus grew up on the campus of Concordia Seminary, St. Louis, the fourth of ten children, where his father, Dr. Robert David Preus, taught for many years. Pastor Preus graduated from high school in 1971, from Concordia College, St. Paul, Minnesota in 1975 and from Concordia Theological Seminary in Ft. Wayne, Indiana in 1979. He was ordained on July 1, 1979, at Trinity Lutheran Church, in Clear Lake, Minnesota. He served Trinity Lutheran Church in Clear Lake (1979-1982), First Lutheran Church in East Grand Forks, Minnesota (1982-1989), St. John's Lutheran Church in Racine, Wisconsin (1989-1997), River Heights Lutheran Church in East Grand Forks, Minnesota (1997-2006), and First American Lutheran Church in Mayville, North Dakota and Grace Lutheran Church in Crookston, Minnesota from (2006-2015). On February 15, 2015 he was installed as Pastor of Trinity Lutheran Church, Sidney, Montana and St. John Lutheran Church, Fairview, Montana. Pastor Preus received his Master of Sacred Theology degree from Concordia Theological Seminary in 1987. His thesis topic was, “An Evaluation of Lutheran/Roman Catholic Conversations on Justification." Pastor Preus has taught courses in theology for Concordia Theological Seminary in Ft. Wayne, Concordia University Wisconsin, and St. Sophia Lutheran Theological Seminary in Ternopil, Ukraine. Pastor Preus married Dorothy Jean Felts on May 27, 1975, in Coldwater, Michigan. God has blessed Pastor and Dort with twelve children: Daniel, David, Paul, John, Mark, Stephen, Christian, Andrew, James, Mary, Samuel, and Peter. David, Paul, John, Mark, Stephen, Christian, Andrew, and James are pastors in the LCMS. God has blessed Pastor and Mrs. Preus with forty-three grandchildren so far. Pastor Preus' mother is living in Minneapolis. Three of his brothers and two of his brothers-in-law have served as pastors in the LCMS.

Comments

Fun and Faith — 76 Comments

  1. “Let’s stop wasting time with fun faith foolishness and replace it with serious faith: faith grounded in the wisdom of God. Instead of working hard for what perishes, let us apply ourselves to teaching the children what cannot perish.”

    I find it relevant that many are sharing anecdotal stories about what they and others find useful. I think that points to one thing that has been left out of this discussion thus far, which is the reality that God has given each of us unique talents, gifts, and learning styles for use in His kingdom. I was the child that hated crafts, couldn’t understand their purpose, etc. The written and spoken word had much more meaning for me. In my classrooms, however, it is clear that not everyone learns best from that method. There are many who learn best by doing — connecting God’s Word to hand-on activities in tangible ways. For them it does not often matter whether the craft itself is saved or valued. There is learning in the DOING — in the activity. That connects them to God’s Word. That is just the way some of our children are wired, and this is a good thing, because this is God’s work in building His Kingdom for the benefit of the church.

    To say that some children would learn more from other activities is something with which I completely agree. The key is understanding that this is true for SOME children, not all. If I were to teach in my classroom with only my own preferred style of learning I would lose a significant portion of the students during a lesson. Therefore, I seek to integrate a variety of different styles and activities to best meet the needs of as many students as possible. VBS really should be no different.

  2. @R.D. #42
    I am not nearly a baby boomer. Perhaps my parents were and that’s the problem though. 😉 I’m quite sure you don’t know where my nose or my children’s nose is on any given night so you might refrain from such a suggestion. The problem is you and some other confessionals see enthusiasm behind every bush. It’s like a giant game of “whack-a-mole”. Out with the VBS crafts, they are too fun! Out with the silly songs! Out with the children’s message! I am sensing that the next article on here will be on the need to dismantle Lutheran summer camps. An honest question, have you considered joining up with the Amish? No fun, no crafts, just everyone’s nose buried in a hymnal singing a-capella (in German! double bonus!) for hours on end. 🙂

    @Rolf Preus #50
    Good art transmits the faith as well. Luther’s, seal, Lucas Cranach, woodcuts, stained glass, beautiful church architecture, and so on. Cultivating a love for art in VBS and grade school with age appropriate arts and crafts gives them something to grow into as well. Perhaps a future as a painter or sculptor. Or perhaps just an appreciation for art in general.
    So really it seems you’re only objection is that crafts are “fun”. Well heaven forbid little kids have fun. What happens if they start having fun singing hymns? What happens if they end up like David in 2 Samuel 6:5? Good Lord I need to find me an Amish community ASAP. 🙂

  3. @John Rixe #4
    I was commenting a bit in jest. I suppose I should have put one of those winkey face things.

    Osiander taught that the righteousness of Jesus that is counted to us by faith is only the righteousness of his divine nature, and not the obedience, which he rendered to God on our behalf. So he compared justification to our sin being a drop in the ocean of God’s righteousness. He error was addressed and rejected in the Formula of Concord, article 3, on “The Righteousness of Faith.”

    So that thing with the water sort of reminded me of it. If you want to be really particular, then you can point out the flaw of the metaphor as it relates to justification. I guess what makes this metaphor difficult is that it portrays sin as a substance itself, and sin is rather a corruption that is only manifest in actual sins.

    Then again, this is ultimately what the death of Christ does for us. In the end, our sins, which were taken away on the cross, will be finally put to death in our own mortal bodies.

    Well, anyway, it was a cool video. Thanks for sharing! Did they use bleach for that?

  4. I believe many on here are really out to bash the author without thinking through what it is he is saying. If we do not take seriously our responsibility of passing on the faith to the next generation, we will have failed.Teaching is serious business. The Lord will not be mocked. Even as we work putting together VBS crafts, programs, lessons, etc. if we are not taking our job seriously as to what we are teaching and to Whom we answer for right or wrong teaching, we need to stop. To accuse someone who is doing this of pietism is sinful. To assume the job of teacher, we had better think that we are taking on one of the most serious roles of our lives. I am deeply disturbed by the sarcasm and ridicule being tossed around.

  5. @Andrew #5

    Cleanse me with hyssop, and I will be clean; wash me, and I will be whiter than snow. (Psalm 51:7) Ingredients: You = water Sin = water+iodine (could also use food coloring) Christ = water+bleach…

  6. @LadyM #6

    Indeed! It’s amazing (disappointing) how quick we are to consume those we don’t agree with. Especially on something as unobjectionable as taking serious our calling to preach, teach, and baptize.

    Though, as you point out, take seriously our responsibility of passing on the faith to the next generation…. — the author is encouraging US ALL to take seriously the duties of teaching the faith.

    + soli Deo gloria +

  7. Thank you for this refreshing article Pastor Preus. I am alarmed that some would chastise you for being faithful to God’s Word. You have hungry children coming to your table. They need to eat. What will you do with this time? Would you give them a tiny bite and then spend the rest of the time on an elaborate disposable craft or a song that is ladened with nonsense? This is exactly what is happening in so many congregations! I was asked to sub for Sunday School. While teaching the children, I began with the catechism in our lesson. The children said they never get to do this because they run out of time. Children are coming to be instructed in the faith, they must be taught the actual faith. God holds those entrusted with this vocation responsible. (parents, pastors, and teachers). We have a lovely heritage that has worked for generations to teach the faith. It is simple. Bible, Hymnal, and catechism. Bible stories can be taught without entertaining non-Biblical characters and plots. The real Bible stories are interesting by themselves.

    We know children love singing hymns when they are taught hymns. Try teaching them hymns for a week. Then the next week ask them to choose their favorite. They love this. I have never heard anyone singing ” I Just Wanna Be a Sheep” while on a shut-in visit. When life takes a difficult turn, I have never found solace in, “It Only Takes a Spark.” So many processed vbs programs are full of entertaining songs and characters that are disposable and distract from teaching the Bible. (even CPH) Music is important! Sacred words need sacred tunes. When children come to church, we must give them Jesus. That is the Church’s job!
    This teaching takes time. It is not being done in most of our members’ homes. Many activities, sports, etc. take children and families away from church. It is all the more crucial that they receive the food that will stay with them forever. We tell our own children that we want them to know the Bible, hymns, and catechism by heart so that no one can ever take it away from them.
    Those planning VBS programs could return to the days when churches prepared their own VBS program at little cost. The theme each year? Jesus. Choose 5 Bible Stories, some hymns, a section of the catechism and liturgy. There would be time for recreation, snacks, and crafts at VBS. Crafts should not be silly, but should remind them about baptism, the Bible, the cross and Jesus. For some, this may be the only time they get to go to a church. Give them Jesus.

  8. Pretend you are one of the 85% of synod Pres. Harrison thinks can be united. Read the first 2/3 of this article. What do you read? An attack on VBS crafts. Now read the next sentence. The one where the author says crafts need to be replaced with hymns and implies that those who use crafts don’t take the faith seriously.
    Try for just a moment to think like the 85% you are trying to convince to come over to your 15% fringe. How do they read this? Take the pietistic confessional blinders off and read how this comes across.
    I used to think I agreed with guys like Preus. Thanks to people like John Rixe, who expose this wackiness for what it is, I’ve fallen off that wagon. Unfortunately it took a while. But now, blessedly, I can handle VBS crafts and the occasional silly song. I can live with a children’s message in my service. And I can also teach hymns to my kids and encourage a devotional life as well. And you know what? They will grow up just fine. Have fun around here guys. I’ll think of you whenever that 1980’s song by “Red Ryder” comes on my radio.

  9. @Heather #10
    “I have never heard anyone singing ” I Just Wanna Be a Sheep” while on a shut-in visit.”

    The sad reality is if you’re teaching this kind of stuff to 3 year olds (like I was taught), this is what they’ll remember when they’re old and can’t remember anything else. This concept will never get through the ‘boomers’ heads save for a miracle. ‘Boomers, miracles do happen!

  10. Rev. McCall, I confess that I am somewhat out of touch, having not served in a congregation of the LCMS since 1997. I don’t really know what’s going on in the LCMS these days, except from hearing second hand and third hand reports. So I would like to share with you in all sincerity how distressing it is for me to read what you have been writing on this thread. What I wrote was intended as an encouragement to use the opportunities God gives us with the children to teach them what is precious and permanent instead of wasting our time on what doesn’t last. If you were to read what I wrote sympathetically, as from a pastor with thirty five years of experience in the parish who loves children, good theology, and knows just a little bit about Christian pedagogy, having raised twelve children of my own, six of whom are presently serving as pastors in the Missouri Synod, I don’t think you would judge me so severely. I could not possibly even imply, as you have accused me of saying, that “those who use crafts don’t take the faith seriously.” How do you get that from what I have written? It’s not possible that you could get that from what I’ve written. It appears to me that you come to this forum with a politically defined agenda that has already assigned the white hats and the black hats and I have the wrong color hat!

    Brother, I plead with you to back off from your judgment. I intended no judgment against anyone when I wrote what I posted. It never crossed my mind that I would be identifying with this or that or the other faction in the incessant LCMS wars with which I have had nothing to do for the past two decades of my life. I’m just a Lutheran pastor who loves sound Lutheran theology and loves teaching it to the young, the old, and everybody in between. Please take my comments in the spirit in which I offered them. I didn’t write in judgment of anyone. Please don’t judge me, brother.

  11. @R.D. #12

    Your generational-generalizing seems ill-informed. Are you suggesting that the generations succeeding the baby-boomers are having some sort of inspired reformation against silly songs and crafts?

    And Pastor Preus, I’m sorry, but the conclusions Rev. McCall came to about your article are the exact same impressions that I reached after a read-through. If you didn’t MEAN it to be inflammatory, that’s one thing. But it very easily could be read to imply that crafts are bad, and those who use crafts are poor instructors. Your article does not make the suggestion for BETTER crafts, but rather uses your anecdotal evidence about how unimportant and meaningless crafts were to you, along with the language of “replacement” and suggesting that “singing” is the primary activity which belongs to activities such as VBS.

    I do honestly, honestly believe if the “average” Lutheran were to read this article, they would interpret it in a similar manner to the way I did. Tone, an unstated element, is important to the interpretive process, and this definitely has a condemnatory tone.

  12. Leah, I cannot argue with you when you say that my article could easily be read to imply that those who use crafts are bad instructors. After all, you read it that way. But that’s not what it says and that’s not what it means. I know of few people who have spent as much time with crafts and VBS than my wife. She thought the article was very good. She didn’t feel in the slightest bit criticized, to say nothing of condemned.

    When someone criticizes the status quo it is easy to take it as criticism of those who follow it. For example, when pastors started pushing every Sunday Communion, some of us felt that they were criticizing us for not having it. Were they? Or were they arguing for a change for the better that was actually a reestablishment of something quite good? Were they saying that we who had Communion twice a month didn’t take the Supper seriously? We might have interpreted it that way. But is that what they said?

    Consider a man’s arguments and if you feel that they are accusatory or condemnatory, take a closer look at his words. Try to distinguish between what they say and how they make you feel. It could well be that the condemnatory tone does not inhere in the words, but comes from your interaction with them.

    Forgive me for lecturing you, Leah (though, you must admit that you’ve been lecturing me!) 😉

  13. @Rolf Preus #16

    Lecture accepted. I read your article as I did, and others felt the same way. It’s a matter of considering your audience and attempt to perceive the angles at which your words could be taken. I teach college composition, so this is a constant consideration of ours. Your rhetorical situation is specifically the confessional community on this website, but in reality, it’s everyone who can access it via means of the internet. Which means you (and everyone else) need to prepare for the ways in which your intent could be interpreted, and make rhetorical choices based on these potential audiences. More than one person on this website took your article in a way you did not intend (and these are people aware of the aims of confessional Lutheranism!). I bet if I had other Lutherans in my life read your article, at least some of them would have the same impression I did. Your article can never objectively say exactly what you mean (indeed, no text ever can), and there is no reason to think that if I were to “try hard enough” or approached it more charitably, I would have “gotten it” according to your perception of what should have been got. HOWEVER, as I’ve said previously, if you had used some of the nuance you brought in some of your subsequent comments (and sans the provocative language of the original article), I believe the original article would not have been nearly as criticized, and perhaps you may have felt it was received more fairly and in the manner you intended.

    And I know you’re going to say “it’s just a figure of speech,” but should I not “consider a WOMAN’S arguments,” and weigh them carefully, as well? Or are men the only ones who get to be at the receiving end of that privilege?

  14. @Leah #14
    And Pastor Preus, I’m sorry, but the conclusions Rev. McCall came to about your article are the exact same impressions that I reached after a read-through.

    Read it again, please. It is possible to have a meaningful lesson (about the Bible, not some imaginary character invented to sell a VBS program), learn an associated hymn over the week if it’s new and will need repetition, and still have time for simple crafts.

    The plea was “Don’t make crafts the main thing!” Maybe I can see that because “crafts” were not my part of the program; I was usually on the lesson end when I helped with VBS (unless we did it all with one group).

    There is a lot of junk out there, passing itself off as “a VBS program”; use some discrimination if you buy a package.

  15. @Leah #14
    And Pastor Preus, I’m sorry, but the conclusions Rev. McCall came to about your article are the exact same impressions that I reached after a read-through.

    Read it again, please. It is possible to have a meaningful lesson (about the Bible, not some imaginary character invented to sell a VBS program), learn an associated hymn over the week if it’s new and will need repetition, and still have time for simple crafts.

    The plea was “Don’t make crafts the main thing!” Maybe I can see that because “crafts” were not my part of the program; I was usually on the lesson end when I helped with VBS.

    There is a lot of junk out there, passing itself off as “a VBS program”; use some discrimination if you buy a package.

    @Tim #15

    September 15th, 2014 at 01:09 | #15 Reply | Quote
    I thought the article was very good.
    The rest of you…keep it up with that best construction thing. Really.

    Really! 🙂

  16. @Leah #17
    Hi Leah,
    I understand your response to Pastor Preus quite well. You have given him some thoughtful suggestions that he might use in his next post. However, he is not in your college composition class.

    BJS states up front that it is a confessional Lutheran site. Why did you visit? What are your presuppositions coming into this conversation?

    When I first read the post I didn’t take offense at all. I’ve reread it a couple of times and I still don’t take offense to it. The fact of the matter is crafts take up far too much of the time in a Lutheran sunday school or VBS. Silly songs have their place, but all the time? I think Pastor Preus was trying to say that an occasional hymn from LSB wouldn’t be such a bad idea.

    In Christ,
    Diane

  17. Pr Preus did a good job of clarifying his comments.   Thanks, Pastor, for your faithful Christian service and remarkable family.

  18. I think Leah is just trying to explain how his article would be understood by the average reader. No need for anyone to take offense or throw out the 8th commandment. Also, apparently Pastor Preus and his children all turned out to be faithful Lutherans even though they did crafts. 🙂

  19. @Lifelong Lutheran #22
    Also, apparently Pastor Preus and his children all turned out to be faithful Lutherans even though they did crafts. 🙂

    I suspect Pr. Preus’s children got a lot more Lutheran education at home than the average VBS student, who needs all the ‘learning’ he can get.

  20. I see the church thinks it is above copyright laws and just steals other websites work. Might want to give the appropriate credit for the image you used. You are not above the law….

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