MACON, GA - When Phil Sanders graduated from the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in May of 2006, he was determined to teach children about the Doctrines of Grace. However, when he was hired to be Children's Pastor at the First Baptist Church of Macon in November of 2006, things did not look positive for his Reformed ideas. In fact, Sanders was told by the First Baptist search committee that they, "did not want any of that Calvinism in their church because they care about missions."
Well, Sanders was hired and generally kept the Doctrines of Grace "in check" while he taught the kids the basics of the gospel message. When time rolled around for the 2007 Vacation Bible School, Sanders could not keep his Reformed theology bottled up any longer. That's when he held the church's first "TULIP VBS." The real shocking part of this story is not that Sanders did it, but rather what the responses of the parents were.
According to Sanders, "I knew things could get a little rough around here after the first few days of VBS. I figured that Monday would be O.K. because most of the folks at our church believe in some form of total depravity. Honestly, it was Wednesday morning that scared me. You see, the kids would go home on Tuesday night and tell their parents about unconditional election. They also would take home their TULIP T-shirts that night. I figured that would really tick off at least half the parents, and I would hear about it Wednesday morning. And I just knew that even if Wednesday went all right, Thursday morning would be a disaster. Why? Because when kids go home and talk about limited atonement, well, parents usually go haywire."
Jean Sayers, mother of TULIP VBS students Kayla and Jacob, told us that she was initially surprised by what her kids were talking about. "I expected the kids to come home the first day and talk about recreation, crafts, puppets, and loud music. That has been the norm for VBS in the past at our church. This year was so different. On Monday evening, both Kayla and Jake kept talking about man's sinfulness. We have talked about this before at home some, but they have never been so focused on it."
When Wednesday morning arrived, Rev. Sanders was ready for the onslaught. Here is where this story takes its shocking twist. As the parents dropped off the kids in the morning, they were all positive toward pastor Sanders. Most parents were generally kind, several commented on how much their kids were talking about the bible, and a few moms even hugged him because their kids were interested in the things of God for the first time in their lives.
Rev. Sanders could not have been more pleased, saying, "I really thought that I might lose my job on Wednesday morning. I even had some empty cardboard boxes in my office just in case I had to pack up quickly and 'get out of Dodge.' After the positive reactions, I decided that I could forcefully teach limited atonement on Wednesday. And you know what? I got the same reaction Thursday morning. Wow!"
Our sources at First Baptist tell TBNN that these unexpected positive reactions continued all week. Because of this, Rev. Sanders went on to teach the kids about irresistible grace and perseverance of the saints. The kids reportedly were more focused on God than ever before at a VBS.
At the Friday night VBS celebration the following scene unfolded: As the service was closing, Rev. Sanders left a microphone open at the front of the the sanctuary for kids to give testimonies from the week. Within about thirty seconds, fifteen children lined up behind the mike. One after one, they kept saying similar things, such as, "Now I really understand the gospel for the first time," "Grace has a brand new meaning for me," "I'm no longer afraid of losing my salvation," "Now I don't have to ignore Romans 8-11 and Ephesians 1-2," and "I've heard about and understand God's glory for the first time in my life."
The service closed with no dry eye in the place, and the parents and kids sang Amazing Grace. To top it off, seven children going into the sixth grade committed to give their lives to full-time missions service overseas.
Rev. Sanders told us, "I could not have imagined that this could happen here. I shouldn't be surprised when we serve such an amazing, sovereign, gracious God."
ADDENDUM: During the Sunday morning service, Rev. Sanders was congratulated by Senior Pastor Lenny Franks in front of the entire church body. On Monday night, the church deacons fired Rev. Sanders.