“Stellar: Shine Jesus’ Light” by Group did not rank among Building Faith’s top picks for new Vacation Bible School and summer camp curricula this year. This VBS curriculum about showing other people the light of Jesus struggles to provide theologically substantive lessons that connect meaningfully with its focus on astronomy.
- Theme: “Shin[ing] Jesus’ light”
- Website: https://www.group.com/childrens-ministry/vbs/stellar/
- Publisher: Group (Jan 2023)
- Church affiliation: independent
- Intended ages/grades: preschool, elementary students in mixed-age groups
- Format: onsite at church
- Number of sessions: 5
- Types of activities: music, Bible stories, imagination and discovery activities, recreational games, videos
- Starter kit cost: $255.99; $289.99 for kit plus digital access (starter kit contents listed at this link)
Scope and Sequence
- Day 1: When Life Feels Dark, Shine Jesus’ Light | Luke 2:1 – 20 & Matthew 1:18 — 2:12, Jesus Comes as a Baby to Be King; key verse from John 8:12
- Day 2: When People Don’t Get Along, Shine Jesus’ Light | Luke 19:1 – 9, Jesus Accepts Zacchaeus; key verse from Romans 12:16
- Day 3: When Good Things Happen, Shine Jesus’ Light | Luke 19:28 – 40, Jesus Enters Jerusalem as a King; key verse from Psalm 100:1
- Day 4: When People Are Sad, Shine Jesus’ Light | John 19 – 20, Jesus Cares for His Mother during His Crucifixion; key verse from John 14:1
- Day 5: When People Need Help, Shine Jesus’ Light | Acts 8:26 – 39, Philip Helps the Ethiopian; key verse from Matthew 5:16
Where It Shines
Groups of mixed ages for elementary participants
This curriculum promotes mixed-age small groups among elementary children. This approach can be helpful for communities with few children of the same age, and it enables children to build relationships across age differences.
Bible story images that help reflect ancient Palestinian Jewish identities
The curriculum features Bible story illustrations of human characters with brown skin tones that help reflect identities of ancient Palestinian Jewish persons.
Fairly low prep for small group leaders
The publisher describes this curriculum as its “easy” VBS, which means an expected prep time for small group leaders of about 20 minutes a day. Shorter prep time can be particularly beneficial for new-to-VBS volunteers.
Numerous resources for directors and leaders
The publisher offers a bunch of additional resources for this curriculum, including video tutorials, publicity resources, a leader training lab, and a personalized gift registry for fundraising.
What We Miss
A more theologically substantive and coherent design
The astronomy focus for the curriculum lacks meaningful theological connection to the main theme of teaching participants to shine Jesus’s light. The theological takeaways for the daily lessons need fuller explanation, and the Bible points do not work well with the scriptures chosen. Many of the activities to accompany the lessons lack meaningful connections to the messages as well.
More critical engagement with scripture
The curriculum promotes teaching participants that the Bible stories are “100% true,” which confuses meaning with factuality and hinders scripture’s communication on its own terms according to its own genres. It also pulls single verses from various passages to function as “Bible points” in support of the daily lessons. These techniques pose obstacles to helping children learn to read and interpret scripture in informed and responsible ways.
More sensitivity toward diversity, inclusivity, and representation with respect to race, gender, and disabilities
The curriculum’s association of darkness with bad, “hopeless,” “sad,” and “fearful” situations as a contrast to the light of Jesus that participants are to shine can implicitly reinforce racially offensive stereotypes in the white supremacist social context of the U.S. The curriculum uses masculine language for God, which implicitly reinforces gender inequities. It also includes a game that requires participants to close their eyes, which can stigmatize people with visual impairments or disabilities.
An empowering approach to formation
The curriculum is heavily scripted for leaders and participants, which can leave less room for children to explore faith in empowering ways. The staff devotions use object lessons and directed conversations with leaders that can create restricting, potentially pressure-infused faith formation spaces for leaders. It includes an activity station where children are instructed to get into specific poses for photos that will go into a Bible story slideshow at the end of the week. This can be restricting for some participants, and it can conflict with cultivating spaces where participants can be their authentic selves and not have to perform.
More simplified set, decoration, and supply expectations
This curriculum involves a significant amount of set design, decorations, and supplies for a program described as “easy.” It recommends creating a large intricate set plus additional sets in the spaces for different activity stations, and the Bible storytelling space requires setting up a new scene every day. The curriculum’s recommendation to play music in multiple spaces for the activity stations can be impractical for communities that do not have access to multiple sound systems or equipment. It also incorporates a series of gadgets called “sciency-fun gizmos” that require purchasing from the publisher. All of these expectations can involve time, energy, and money that may not be feasible for some communities.