This time of the year congregations are planning and preparing for another Vacation Bible School. When and why was this summer tradition started? It seems that even those who aren’t “church goers” still share childhood memories with those of us in the religious world. Across America kids will soon be drinking kool-aid and making Noah’s ark out of Popsicle sticks. They’ll also make memories that will stick with them for their whole lives.
The Hazy History
As much as this week means to many of us, one might assume the history to be well documented. However, who started the first VBS and when— is still debated. Some claim it all began in 1870, while others place the date closer to the 1920s. So the “when”’proves to be a little fuzzy, but the “why” seems constant. A thread that can be traced through many a VBS origin story is the reason it’s done. It was always designed with our children’s spiritual growth in mind. The goal was always to provide them wholesome entertainment while at the same time, introducing them to God and the Bible.
So with that in mind…
Here are 3 reasons why VBS is a worth the effort:
Youthful brains need this week. Studies done by Psych INFO, ERIC, MEDLINE, and Google Scholar as well as the University of Virginia library, all seem to agree that kids from 12-18 years old are the most impressionable. Meaning, the things they are taught and their experiences in these years will often impact their worldview for the rest of their lives. Any program within the church that’s geared towards teaching young people about Jesus can only have a positive influence on them. That window is relatively short so it’s crucial that parents do all they can to set them up for spiritual success.
Church families need this week. VBS takes a lot of work and it’s the kind of work that brings the church together. It’s mainly about the kids, but it’s not all about the kids. This is a time where members have an opportunity to bond and grow closer through the planning and preparation. Work days, crafts, skits, staff/teacher curriculum, decorating, T-shirt’s, and advertising all take teamwork. Team work is good work for good teams.
Adults need this week. The happiest among us are typically the children. With all of that work, the sweat, tears, and time that’s shoveled into this event— the payoff is the sound of an auditorium filled with energy and excitement. It’s good for adults to spend a week listening to the sound of voices singing loudly and unashamed. It’s good for the teachers and the chaperones to act and look a little ridiculous. There’s value in letting kids see us trade the khakis and neckties for face paint and costumes because it will send a message. To be a christian doesn’t mean to be serious, stoic, or stern— all the time. Those of us who have been members of the church for sometime know this to be true, but children who’s parents don’t think or speak highly of Christianity now have a chance to experience something to the contrary.
While there might be mixed feelings about VBS within the church, there’s no denying it’s potential to effectively introduce Jesus to the young and young at heart.
A child was sent to school one day,
By parents walking the narrow way,
The child learned many a concrete rule,
On Math and English in that school.
The history class did pretty well,
Spelling and language arts were swell,
But right before lunch, to science class,
Biology lessons one needed to pass.
Talk was made of ironclad “fact,”
“Evolution!” Of course. The talk was packed
With tales of geology billions of years old,
And transformations a wonder to behold.
Every smart person, any rational mind
Accepts this “fact,” oh who’d be so blind,
So Neanderthalish to speak of design—
Intelligent purpose, such talk unbenign!
‘Tis a danger, the courts should never allow
A nod up to heaven or a teacher to bow
To the concept of design purposefully forged
Such poisonous food for a young mind to be gorged.
What’s next? Talk of accountability?
A Creator in heaven? Judgment? Eternity?
Outrageous that Bible thumpers insist
To include in school teaching such mythical mist.
Let’s stick to the concrete, from our father of faith
Brother Darwin’s didactics, so sacred and safe.
“Amen!” to Precambrian. Naturalism? “Preach on!”
Such humanistic glory, let God talk be gone!
We got here by purposeless, meaningless oops,
Universal precision via primordial soups.
So close up your Bible, turn off your mind,
Away with your dangerous, intelligent design.
Content yourself wholly with invertebrate grandmothers,
And bask in the beauty of babboonish brothers.
Any questions, young minds? No? Class is dismissed!
Go out into a world of designless abyss.
Ignore clues from systems both solar and lunar,
Or circular or vascular, far better the sooner,
The opposite of intelligent? Slow-minded and shallow
Of design? Confusion, a mess, a fog, or fallow.
How many a little mind, trusting and bright?
Are being led blindly minus logical light?
By teaching unintelligent, but doubtless by design,
To eternal unreadiness via moral decline?
One of the last great periods of spiritual revival in Judah’s history before Babylonian Captivity occurred during the reign of Jehoshaphat. This king is praised for seeking God, following His commandments, and not acting like Israel (2 Ch. 17:3-4). Jehoshaphat was greatly blessed by these decisions, he took pride in the Lord’s ways and sought to eradicate idolatry (5-6). In the third year of his reign, Jehoshaphat sent his officials, the priests, and the Levites throughout Judah. What we read in 2 Chronicles 17:9 is exemplary for us today.
They “taught.” Men of varying backgrounds, abilities, personalities, and occupations united in the valuable enterprise of teaching. In all, 16 men are named as those who were tasked with this important job. Whatever we don’t know about them, we do know they were teachers. Their work was so important that God saw fit to include them by name in His Book! Certainly He still holds knowledgeable, diligent teachers in high regard today. What a thrill it must be for Him to see His children willing and able to teach (cf. 1 Pe. 3:14-15).
They taught “in Judah…among the people.” What was Judah? It was the place where God’s people resided. Strong churches have good teachers teaching them. There is a resounding benefit when people get together and are subjected to healthy, beneficial teaching. As it was then, so it is now.
They taught in Judah “having the book of the law of the Lord with them.” Jehoshaphat wanted to ensure the spiritual literacy of his subjects, knowing God wanted that, too. God still longs for His people to know, show, and grow (2 Pe. 3:18). Too often, our teaching can lack a biblical focus. We do not need more “what I thinks” and “what happened to me’s.” We need more rich teaching from “the book of the law of the Lord.”
Despite some later foolish and even sinful choices, Jehoshaphat was on target to send teachers for Judah’s benefit. In the end, he instituted needed, helpful reforms, and relied on God in prayer. He fell short, but perhaps it was his anchor in the law of God that kept him from drifting away from Him. Our hope and future is tied to how faithfully we follow God, but we must know what God wants to do that. And we can only know what God wants by knowing His Word. God bless the teachers that help us to do just that!