This is week is the week of weeks in church world. No, it is isn’t the week leading up to the incarnation. You’d be wrong again if you guessed Holy Week. While good and important weeks, this is the week in which an army of volunteers descends upon church sanctuaries, hallways, classrooms, parking lots, and any other area surrounding the church that can be utilized for said week. This is the week demanding months of planning and organization and donations and coordination and more hand motions than you can shake a…er…hand at.
It’s Vacation Bible School week.
VBS is a big deal at our church. It’s our biggest outreach event. More people volunteer to help out with VBS than any other program/activity our church does. Planning for the next year literally begins weeks after the week ends.
My guess is that our vacation Bible school is similar to most churches. There are crafts for kids to make and take home. They use popsicle sticks. And paper plates. Hot glue will make an appearance. We got snacks. Don’t think ants on a log. Snacks. Like Fish in the Sea. You know. A marshmallow-dipped-in-blue-chocolate sauce-dipped-in-graham crackers-with-a-gold-fish goodness. Songs glorious songs made more spectacular with hand motions.
Yeah, we do VBS right.
There was a time when I found vacation Bible school to be ridiculous. Everything about it was too cheesy for me. I thought the messages were too simplistic failing to teach the kids the deeper truths about following Jesus. In my mind, it was a huge waste of resources – both money and human – with little return on investment. At the same time, it added to the moralistic emphasis Evangelical churches are known for.
My thoughts are changing. Slightly, but they are changing. Maybe it is because my wife co-leads our program and spends hundreds of hours thinking of themes, writing curriculum, coordinating volunteers, making up the motions, and managing chaos. What can I say. I’m proud of her. Maybe my thoughts are changing because I have a child in VBS. Watching him engage and laugh and play and get excited about going makes me rethink my position on VBS. Tonight, between songs, he shouted, “I’m so excited I’m shivering!!” There is something good about getting a child excited for church.
And then tonight it got even more real.
I was in the back running sound for the VBS program, and I looked out and saw all the kids and all the volunteers singing and doing the motions and I couldn’t help but see, not the people, but the family of God bringing children to Jesus. I remembered the weeks I spent in VBS as a child. The teachers who showed up and taught us, glued crap to a paper plate, and sang like they were at a karaoke bar just so we might learn about Jesus. My faith is rooted in that. Who I am in Christ begins there. That doesn’t mean I haven’t had to unlearn some things. It doesn’t mean I think all the songs we sing at VBS are theologically correct (not to mention at times maddening). Some of the lessons are still too moralistic for me. As a 33 year-old who bristles at much of Evangelical culture, it is easy for me to bristle at things like VBS. It’s too easy to point at it as another example of the cheesy Christian subculture. I’m so quick to think these kids, after being exposed to VBS, are just going to grow up and wear Breadcrumb & Fish shirts.
Maybe my generation is too quick to label the things church did as we were growing up as dumb. Might we just be rebelling to rebel? Some of us are bemoaning Christian church culture and criticizing it as we leave. That’s an option. An attractive one. But I would encourage us to not leave the bride of Christ. For all the subverting awesomeness we put on Jesus, do you know where he often went? To synagogue. For all his conflict with Pharisees, do you know where he engaged them? At synagogue. Please don’t leave the church. Stick around. Join in VBS. Make it a little bit more culturally relevant, or embrace it with it’s cliche, low budget, and horrible skits just like you do Sharknado.
If you can love Sharknado you can love VBS. C’mon, its for the kids.
Tonight, while hovering over the sound board during VBS, I became present to what is really happening. People desiring for children to know Jesus. Not standing in the way of the children, but inviting the children to step outside of themselves and come to Jesus. Some of the children are coming from difficult home situations, and for this week, they are invited to leave all that behind and play. Full out. And to meet adults who love Jesus so much they are compelled to sing cheesy songs, dress up, and do hand motions. So maybe the methods change. Maybe vacation Bible school becomes a thing of the past. But I hope the spirit behind it never does. Adults who love kids in the moment because they believe Jesus loves the children deeply.
Because, in the midst of all the other stuff, that’s beautiful.