13 August 2012

why we still need vbs

Every summer since I can remember (aside from a few years during my graduate school days), I have been involved in some way, shape or form in Vacation Bible School.  This is the product of growing up in the church, and some of the best memories that I have of such an upbringing come from the summer evenings spent at VBS.  As we have wrapped up this year's effort, I came to reflect upon how this is a good experience for our church - indeed, it is a good experience for every church.

I will concede the value of children's ministries in general to those who are more qualified to speak to their impact.  There is no questioning or overlooking to the potential of reaching young minds and hearts with the message of the gospel.  My aim here is to look at the impact that running a VBS has on a church community, especially in an age where we might begin to think that we don't have the finances, support or time to do so.

1. Vacation Bible School is positive for church community.  Whenever people can work together for a positive ministry - all in one accord - then a church community is strengthened.  A given year of VBS preparation and execution takes a team from set design and construction, snack planning, music practice (even for the nonmusical), advertising and marketing, and running a small office of paperwork, forms and outlines.  In order to pull all of this off, a church must work together and contribute to the task.

As a bonus note in our situation, we have volunteers serve a supper the hour before our VBS so that folks don't have to worry about food between work and church.  And that experience alone is worth volunteering at VBS . . . we all laugh, share, and end up spending time with people we haven't connected with in the past.

2. Vacation Bible School fosters church creativity.  Let's face it, the cost of VBS can be a challenge, especially in a not-so-great economy like our current one.  In order to pull off a good VBS - even in the healthiest of financial circumstances - churches get creative.  This year one of our folks went to his company and got a donation of a few small rolls of brown carpet so that our stage would look like sand (we had a beach theme).  Many years we have asked for donations that only come when doing church (e.g., paper towel rolls).  Churches always have to figure out how to do the best with what they have, and that is always a powerful thing.

3. Vacation Bible School brings out the kids . . . in adults!  I have seen churches argue over just about everything imaginable.  Even on some of the most positive projects there is often a detractor crying foul from the sidelines.  But we have noticed over the past few years that VBS is somehow exempt from such criticism (at least in our church - this is by no means a universal observation).  What makes this situation unique is that we have a team of adults who are committed to making this a great experience for the kids that will come, so much so that they get excited themselves and want to do more, more, more!  We don't think in terms of moderation - we are only held back by the limits of our resources and imaginations.

4. Vacation Bible School reveals our hearts.  One of the most fun parts about doing VBS is that we get to see our fellow church folks enter into roles that we did not expect.  Watching people get fun and goofy for the sake of children getting to know the gospel is quite an amazing experience.  The guy who sits in the fourth row on Sundays and never really says much?  Well, today he became a character who made children laugh and got them to understand Jesus just a little bit more.  What can cause such transformations if not a heartfelt commitment to the love of God?

5. Vacation Bible School shows us possibilities.  We learn that great things can and do happen in the kingdom of God, even if our physical eyes don't always observe it.  If you have ever seen a child hear and understand any part of the gospel, then you know the power of children's ministry.  VBS leaves us with a (tired) sense of accomplishment, in a healthy sense of the term, that gives us the Spirit's wind as we walk into the future.  The key is always how to keep such momentum within a congregation as we return to the "normal" routine of the church's work.

I am well aware of how overwhelming VBS can be, and how many people simply write it off as something that the church used to do but is no longer relevant.  I couldn't disagree more with such an assessment.  Too often the modern church throws out something simply because it has been around for a while.  Sometimes this is at a great cost to who we are as a community of faith.  VBS is the forum where we can do something powerful for the young people entrusted to our care as a community.

VBS is also a great place where transitions can be made from those who receive the VBS experience to those who help facilitate the VBS experience.  I have seen many teenagers make this move, and learn what it means to contribute and lead within the church.  This cannot be undervalued as a part of the church's mission to make disciples.

Before we move on from VBS, consider it out-of-fashion, or figure that someone else will automatically take care of it . . . dwell upon some of the many benefits that come from making it happen.  This is a powerful ministry, and is often challenged and attacked within the spiritual realm.  Thus, move forward with an understanding of the challenge that will come to you.

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