Many churches conduct VBS (vacation bible school, this ain’t no Jesus Camp) around the world, and my church is no exception. Kids come and get excited, teens serve and also get excited. But why? WHY?
Usually when I am critical about VBS, it tends to be in how the Gospel is presented and what exactly qualifies one to be saved. We know that the sinner’s prayer does not mean one is saved, simply calling “Lord Lord” is not enough. The situations surrounding the children when they hear the Gospel is borderline brainwashing, a scam, convincing ignorant children and asking them to sign up for something they most likely do not understand. You can ask people of any age to define ‘grace’ and ‘sin’ and they will struggle to give a biblical answer. How can we expect children to understand the Gospel, much less realize the importance and the response required of them?
But this entry is not about our attempt to bring the Gospel to kids who can regurgitate God’s attributes rather than (for the most part) understand them – this is about those who serve the kids.
So what exactly makes a VBS successful? Is it the amount of kids who ‘respond’ to the Gospel? Is it based on how good the skits were? Smooth transitions and fun prizes? We cannot evaluate this act of service to God with man’s terms. We must turn to God’s standard, and what is important is that He recieves the glory.
Here are three of many thoughts pertaining to VBS.
- Having fun does NOT mean God was necessarily glorified. If anything, having fun means that God’s glory is one of the things farthest from our minds. Sure the event is under a Christian banner, but that does not automatically put our hearts in the right place before our infinitely holy God. I’m not saying it’s bad to have fun while serving God, but it is often a distraction that pushes God out of the mind. Measuring the success of something based on how fun and happy the occasion is has never been God’s standard. I know that it also does not help that some of the kids are ridiculously cute.
- Just because you served in VBS does NOT necessarily mean you served God. If the glory of God, much less the presence of God is not the reason why you conduct yourself, most likely you serve the children and perhaps yourself. We serve children because we serve and love God. There should be no disconnect between our thinking. I know sometimes I thought that serving in VBS was proof that I served God, but I learned later that it is a heart perspective, not my works. God is not interested in my external actions nearly as much as he is concerned about my heart. God must come first in our heart, if not VBS is man serving man. We do not serve to have fun, we serve because God is glorified in our conduct. Speaking from personal experience, it is very easy to lose sight of God in the midst of VBS.
- Many Christians do NOT practice what we make the children practice during VBS.
The kids are taught Bible stories and the concepts are drilled into their heads. We tell kids to remember these things for a prize. As volunteers, we are commanded to read God’s word and to remember it for an eternal prize. Disciplined reading, much less meditation and retention, is harder than what one may expect to find in professing Christians.
The kids are also taught to memorize scripture, yet how many practicing Christians also discipline themselves to remembering God’s word? I am guilty of this and am trying to change that. We tell children how important it is to memorize scripture yet we do not hide His word in our hearts so that we many not sin against Him.
The kids play games, have fun, and eat snacks. We unfortunately, are much better at that then we are meditating on scripture and remembering verses to strengthen our relationship out of love to our God.
I have been guilty and I will always be guilty of the bold points I made. As Christians, we cannot do anything perfectly for God’s glory, yet many times at VBS, I rarely made an attempt. Facilitating games for pre-k and kindergarten was a fun happy occasion. Was this a service to God or a service to myself? I have danced many years. Why did I dance? I thought I was serving God, when I was really serving my own pleasure… and then I convinced myself I did it to get kids excited for a God they did not truly understand. How dare I use God to justify my own actions rooted in my own pleasure?
VBS cannot be evaluated a success as a whole. If God’s glory was something that shadowed an event, that would mean the non-Christians present also glorified God and we know that is not true. God’s glory comes from the individual. The success of VBS is based on whether or not God was glorified, not by trifle things like organization, atmosphere, or fun. Organization, atmosphere, and fun are important if the goal of God’s glory is clear. Yes, the seeds of the Gospel were planted. Maybe true conversion occurred, though my skepticism on that warrants its own post. God is certainly glorified, but not by everyone.
VBS can be comparative to the camp or conference experience. Spiritual highs occur for the same reasons: fun, friends, maybe some learning. Perhaps VBS is more dangerous, because camps and conference encourage spiritual growth and change while the end of VBS only leaves a sentimental feeling. People may think that the time put into VBS justifies service to God, but what does God think of religious ceremonies that are dominated by personal goals and half heartedness rather than His goal? God’s opinion is clear in the Bible and it is not pretty.
Don’t get me wrong. VBS has its good points and is certainly a learning experience. I just didn’t talk about them here.
VBS, you greatly intrigue me.