By Shannon Baker, BCM/D National Correspondent
SEVERN, Md.—Dressed in a cowboy shirt and his characteristic high energy, Vacation Bible School (VBS) songwriter Jeff Slaughter jumped on the stage at The Church at Severn Run and began singing the songs from LifeWay’s Saddle Ridge Ranch.
Beginning with a vibrant “Yes to VBS” song, complete with hand motions, sounds of joy resounded through the packed auditorium on Feb. 27 as VBS directors, pastors and church volunteers all gathered to learn about the latest VBS offerings.
With the motto, “Need Answers? Ask God!” this year’s western-themed VBS was based out of a Coloradan dude ranch where kids will be “ridin’ the range and roundin’ up questions” like, “What is God’s plan for me?” and “How can I be like Jesus?”
The key verse is James 1:5, “Now if any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives to all generously and without criticizing, and it will be given to him.” (HCSB)
Throughout the day, VBS directors and others participated in breakout sessions that familiarized everyone with the Bible study, music, missions, crafts, and recreation for this year’s VBS.
The Severn, Md., church also presented the Saddle Ridge Ranch musical, complete with The Church at Severn Run’s 40-member children’s choir and Children’s Pastor Donnie Hatcher leading the drama.
It had been a great day of teaching and inspiration for over 300 volunteers and leaders from 63 churches who would soon be leading their own VBS events.
But for Jeff Slaughter, who has written the music for VBS the past 14 years and has performed in each of the music videos, it was also a day marked with sweet significance.
Because, in January, Slaughter felt he wasn’t in the place to dance and sing at the scheduled VBS rallies, like the one held at The Church at Severn Run.
Just a few weeks before, on Christmas Day, his mother passed away after a very difficult bout with pancreatic cancer. But as he pressed on, he heard God tell him, “Take off the garments of sadness and put on the garments of praise. Let Me be your strength today.”
In God’s strength, Slaughter soon figured out that the songs he was leading others to learn were songs that were actually leading him. Looking back, he now understands why this year’s songs are so meaningful to him.
Like the song, “God Cares.”
A few months earlier, providentially on the day Slaughter’s mom was having exploratory surgery, Tim Cox was editing the VBS music videos. The video editor felt moved to send Slaughter a text message with the words to the song’s chorus, which say, “I will cast my care upon the Lord, because He cares for me. I will trust in God no matter what because I know He will never stop caring for me.”
Cox shared, “You’ve got to know that the Lord gave you the words to this song. You gotta do what it says!”
Even before, Slaughter kept crying through the production of the video for “God Cares,” a ballad that reinforces that God sees, knows and cares about each person.
“I didn’t know why I was so weepy,” he related, noting that the music videos were filmed on C Lazy U Guest Ranch, a dude ranch where the Colorado River runs off the Continental Divide. The videos featured snowcapped mountains, lakes, and wide-open fields.
It was about this ethereal place that Slaughter’s mother made an unusual comment.
Two weeks before her death, in “one of the last sweet moments” that he shared with her, Slaughter and his mom watched the final Saddle Ridge Ranch music videos together.
“Who are all those beautiful girls around you worshipping and singing?” she asked, intensely watching the “God Cares” video. Slaughter was baffled, because he was alone—on a mountaintop—in the film.
And in another music video, “Like Jesus,” his mom asked where the producers got such a beautiful table of food. Again, Slaughter was alone—in an open field—with no food.
It wasn’t until later that the Lord revealed to Slaughter that the beautiful girls that his mother saw were angels. And the beautiful table that she saw in the “Like Jesus” video?
“She was seeing My table,” the Lord told him. “The table of the Lamb. That is the place that you will finally, completely be like me.”
And then it dawned on him.
“That’s why you were crying…” Slaughter felt the Lord explain. “Your spirit was witness to what your mind didn’t yet understand.”
The song “Like Jesus” had even more significance for Slaughter. As he prayed for God to direct his writing, he felt God urging him to help children learn to be more like Him.
“For generations, My sons and daughters have offered to lay down their lives for me. Though many have to do so in other parts of this world, we’ve never had to give everything,” Slaughter related God’s words to him. “But I’ve felt the Lord say that this generation will.”
He added, “We don’t know what is coming. I’m not speaking gloom and doom, because nothing happens outside of God’s control. But I feel an urgency to impart these things to these kids—to teach them to be passionate followers of Christ.”
Early in his music career, Slaughter had followed God’s call “to train up [His] end-time warriors.” He didn’t want to write “babyish” songs for today’s kids. He wanted to write songs that would have deep meaning for them when they grew up—songs that would remind them to be “Like Jesus.”
Slaughter, who said that he writes music for a typical fifth or sixth grade boy (so that all the kids will get it), shared that “he was a different drummer growing up.”
Originally from Greenwood, Miss., Slaughter said his dad wanted him to be a “huntin’, fishin’, tobacco-spittin’ football player.” But Slaughter kept finding himself drawn to music.
His dad would have to yell at him to go outside and play.
“I would hit the piano – ‘bing’ – and then run out the door,” he laughed, sharing that as a teenager, he was overweight. He spoke with a lisp. He played the tuba in the band.
In fact, he hated going to VBS and church camps, because he got picked on all the time.
But one day, he read the words of Habakkuk 2:2-3, which encouraged him that the vision for his life was for “an appointed time,” and it would “surely come.”
He remembered thinking, “Oh Lord! That’s my life! That’s my testimony.”
And the vision indeed surely came, just like the song, “Who He Says” promises: “I am who the Great I Am says I am. I am one of His greatest creations. He says I am remarkably, wonderfully made.”
“I grew up and the Lord brought me back to VBS and camp and made it the sweetest blessing in my life,” he cheered.
For additional information about other VBS clinics being offered this spring, contact June Holland at (443) 463-3495, email firstname.lastname@example.org or Donna Shiflett at (410) 290-5290 ext. 226, email email@example.com, or visit online at www.bcmd.org.