VBS: Let's Teach Children about Jesus Not Entertain Them

I wrote this blog eight years. Hard to believe it was that long ago. The original title was The Happy Mealification of VBS. As I prepared to post this, I reread what I had written. I hope after deepening my relationship with Christ, I am a kinder person. This post comes across pretty snarky, but is full of something else that I am still labeled with all the time...passion. Guilty as charged. I am so grateful that Jesus chose me, as he does all of us! I am humble that he chose me to carry the message of creation care which all of my colleagues do here at EEN. I let the article stand. Recently, I read from a Barna Group report. They just finished a lengthy exploration on Gen Z. In the conclusion section, the report gave a list of recommendations. One of them was, stop entertaining children and start building a Biblical worldview in our children. It resonates with me which is why I didn't edit this peice. The passion for Jesus in our children's hearts remains firm.  

Vacation Bible School - Teaching Jesus Not Entertaining

Terry the Sea Turtle

Terry the Sea Turtle is ready to swim into your VBS this summer! Your gift will help us get Terry into the hands of children across the country.

Yes, I want to get Terry to children this summer!

I am writing this article for two reasons: to share my concerns over current thinking by VBS companies/planners on the message we are teaching our kids about the environment and it’s relationship to God and to encourage concerned Christians to look at VBS in a new way. My intent is to offer critique on how we can do things better, not to take away from all those good intentioned people who pour their hearts and minds into educating the littlest in the flock about the love and goodness of God.

I have done VBS for at least four years now. Work prohibits my ability to be there the whole week so I offer my services as the chief Martha Stewart of Vacation Bible School sets. This year, my thoughts solidified on why this had become a chore for me instead of a joy. After all if you are going to do anything for the Church, you should do it with joy, right?

My first challenge came watching the DVD I got for planning the set. I get one each year. Now think about this…I get a 20 minute DVD that I watch once or twice and then I do what with it? I will find a way to recycle it but really do we need a DVD in the age of YouTube? Can’t I watch it online? Here is where the non-thinking consequences of the saga of planning begin.

I do not hold the company who created it responsible. I just think they think, well this is how we always do it and don’t think, how can I reduce waste for essentially what is a one week project. I challenge all people creating VBS materials to think this way from here on out. Before you create another DVD, card, give away, take home piece, ect. The first question should be how can I make sure this is something of true value for the kids or is it essentially another thing to throw away after VBS is finished?

Watching the DVD I became more and more concerned. Atilla the Hun had less people and was less organized than the happy people bouncing around the DVD creating a set that was Broadway worthy.

Really, are we going to build the prow of a 1800s Schooner? You want one wall to be 16’ feet long? The back drop is 28 feet wide? And guess what? We are going to do all this on foam boards? Throwaway, one time use foam that will eventually end up floating in the plastic gyra of the Pacific or the Atlantic. (As you can see living with me is no fun if a VBS set can end up killing fish in the ocean.)

Now for the last three years all the sets have been designed by this wonderfully creative man. His reasoning for using foam is it is light and so not a strain for people to lift. From the beginning I refused to use foam. We use lumber but then you do end up with stacks of plywood to store. I am committed to reusing as much as possible but still why not have this guy think the following:

  • Let’s make sets that structurally can be used over and over each year.
  • Let’s not build a bigger, better set each year. The one this year was truly insane.
  • Let’s find as many of recyclable reusable props as possible.
  • Let’s suggest that when creating sets that we figure out how to use donations like paint ect. If they would make the simple suggestion to ask construction companies to donate old paint that would be a step in the right direction.
  • Not only is foam the absolute wrong message to send, it’s more expensive so it should be used as a last resort not as the first choice.

When did VBS become corporate?

The sets are where all this starts but the issue goes way beyond the set. The training materials are truly astounding. Everything comes in plastic bags to separate information and you get stacks of stuff that won’t be used.

I applaud the VBS companies for their organization but what VBS has evolved to is so wasteful. The VBS companies have created a one stop shopping big box atmosphere where the organizer will not have to do anything except open up a bunch of boxes and essentially fluff out the materials and voila VBS is ready. That doesn’t mean that VBS volunteers in churches don’t customize and adapt but really if you don’t want to have to think about anything, you don’t have to.

VBS has duplicated some of the things that parents seem to be concerned about themselves. There is a VBS station now where kids come in and watch a DVD. Do we really need to send our kids to another location to sit them down in front of a TV?

This is not a fast food joint or theme park. Does it all have to be so formulaic that VBS looks the same regardless of what church you go to? There is little call to action in regards to service. I would much prefer to see the DVD station replaced with a service project each day or God’s care for the world section that could reflect social and environmental teachings.

Throw away Jesus

Children attend VBS each day. They get all these pre-made crafts and plastic toys. Yes, plastic toys to take home. Just like your favorite fast food kid’s meal. The toys and crafts are meant as a way to remember the bible story of the day but even more truthfully as an incentive to come back to tomorrow so you can get another piece of CPJ (code for Cheap Plastic Junk) that parents will throw away sooner than later to alleviate clutter at home.

CPJ is a rampant, unending marketing tool/ploy used to get children and therefore parents engaged with a plethora of companies and products. Is this where we want Jesus, the Bible, faith and religion to be standing? In the middle of commercialization?

The crafts too have taken away true creativity. They come in pre-packaged kits that kids snap together, color, stay between the lines and on time as we have to meet a schedule that we do each and every day. How about having a craft that you work on all week? That would be an option to creating interest in coming back each day and it would mean they take home one thing instead of five. Hopefully that one thing of would be of greater value because they worked all week on it instead of 20 minutes. Or what if their crafts became service projects instead like home made Christmas Ornaments or cards for the elderly?

In conclusion, I hope these ideas lead to a more thoughtful approach to how we teach our littlest members of any faith about the relationship of God, Mother Earth and how we can all do better to become part of the solution and not the problem. Post ideas on how you think we can do better in the comment section below.

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