For it is by grace you have been saved...

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Reflections on Vacation Bible School

It seemed somewhat ironic (perhaps Providential) that my brothers of the Tyndale League posted this satirical VBS poster on the Sacred Sandwich site at about the same time we were getting ready to start our own VBS.

For the last several years we’ve made the conscious effort to move away from the theme/entertainment oriented VBS material to something that is more Biblically centered. We’ve been using material from John Piper’s Desiring God Ministries, and have liked the content very much.

However, because we don’t have all the flashy theme decorations, games, snacks, etc. it seems that interest has waned. Not only among potential students, but even among some of our workers.

This year the downward trend has been especially glaring since we had the misfortune of having our VBS the same week as at least three other churches, including two of the largest in town. Of course, they have all the fun and games, and we just have some Bible teaching (there are still crafts, music, recreation time, etc. Just much more low key, with the emphasis on the Bible teaching).

Here’s my problem. I’m still convinced that we are doing the right thing. I’m still sold on the idea of placing the “Bible” part of Bible School above the entertainment. But what good is it if no one comes?

My brother-in-law recently pointed out some good articles from Focus on the Family about how entertainment has shaped our culture, including our church culture. (click here and here to read some of those) We’ve known for years that today’s culture is more media/entertainment oriented than ever before. And yet, our response so often has been to give in and try and compete on the world’s level. People are fixated on entertainment, then let’s make church entertaining. In the end, we have done nothing but “dumb down” the church, the gospel message, etc.

Yet, the people say, look at the crowds we draw. Show movie clips on Sunday morning and folks love it. Do rated R movie nights and they come by the droves. Hey, let’s even do Bible Study down at the local pub, folks will love that. Where does it end?

Maybe this is just one guy whining because we have smaller crowds, smaller VBS than the “other guys.” I don’t know. I don’t think so. I think I’m just thinking along the lines of C H Spurgeon when he addressed the First Conference of the Pastor’s College Evangelical Association in April of 1888. (Yes, the problem is that old). He said this:

Within suitable bounds, recreation is necessary and profitable; but it never was the business of the Christian church to supply the world with amusements. Did Christ found his church that it might offer to the public tableaux vivants, and living wax-works? … There is a bill extant which states that next week there is to be a “Punch and Judy” show in the same place of worship (so-called)! This is to go on side by side with the preaching of thy bleeding sacrifice, O Christ of God! No, brethren, let me correct myself: the preaching of Christ usually ceases when these frivolities come in. These things are so opposed in spirit, that one or the other will have to be dropped; and we know which it will be. What is to be next done in our chapels? To what length of tomfoolery will ministers of the gospel yet go? … Brethren, we are not here to play away our time, but to win souls for Jesus and eternal bliss. By the solemnities of death, and judgment, and eternity, I beseech you, keep yourselves clear of the follies, the inanities of the day.

I pray we would listen to that Prince of Preachers word of warning, whether we’re talking about VBS, worship services, or whatever. There is a time and place for fun. I would even suggest we can have some fun in church (shock of shocks). But our primary focus should always be on Christ and Him crucified and on the proclamation of His Word for His Glory in all things.


Frances Clements said...

Jesus drew thousands (especially when he fed people), but I think that most of his time and effort were on those he was training as disciples. How much time do we spend discipling our children? How do we encourage parents to be about this? Our church looks at VBS as a way to get people in the door as a starting point to get the whole family interested. How well does it work? I have no idea what percentage of people come back that are visitors. I guess it comes down to this: If you bring in thousands, do you have the capacity to disciple thousands? If not, are you better off attracting fewer? If you offer a solid round of Bible, will the visitors that do come be more likely interested in discipleship? I don't really know.

Anonymous said...

Great article. I don't think the New Testament tells us to spend time trying to reach children. The emphasis is more on reaching the father, husband, and then the rest of the family will come to Christ.
Am I wrong?
Great quote from Spurgeon.

Scott said...

Mr. Tim,
I think you're right. I've always struggled with the fine line between focusing on that father, and still wanting to be there for those kids who don't have that father, etc. Not sure we've always struck a good balance, but we're trying.
My problem remains this issue of trying to do the right thing, and often not seeing the "results" that others have. I know the goal is faithfulness, not worldly success. But it does do a heart good to see the seats full, doesn't it?

Andrew said...

hello, I found your blog from a link at I just want to say thank you for holding firm to the truth of scripture and not selling out for numbers like many do these days. The church of Jesus Christ needs more local congregations such as your own. I will be in prayer for you and your church, but I hope you know you are doing the right thing! God bless.

Scott said...

Thanks for stopping by, and thanks for the encouragement. I appreciate it more than you know. Keep seeking to "lose your life" for His sake.

Anonymous said...

Scott, It does look good to see a full building, and I know what you're saying about kids with no dad. They do still need someone to tell them.
I don't know that we should focus on so much we neglect the rest of the family, but it does seem that those fathers who were saved in the New Testament had the results of seeing all the family saved too.
We don't however need to do the worldly things to win the world. It seems to me that turns them off of Christ, rather than drawing them to Him.