This week is our Vacation Bible School. It is a week filled with Bible stories, crafts, music, recreation and yummy snacks. Most kids love Vacation Bible School and are sad when it is over. Some kids attend multiple VBS’s around town because they enjoy it so much (and their parents enjoy the quiet hours while they are gone). I also love VBS.
A couple years ago, I read an article that critiqued VBS. The author claimed that VBS is deceptive for people who are unchurched or formerly-churched and who brought their children to VBS. The author of the article said that VBS presents the idea that church is fun and kid-friendly, when in reality most churches are rather serious and not always welcoming to children. (By “church” I think he meant worship.) He claimed that when and if these unchurched or formerly-churched folks came to regular weekend worship, they have a very different and rather disappointing experience, especially if they were expecting a VBS-type atmosphere.
I have a few responses to this.
First, I don’t think unchurched or formerly-churched people expect Sunday worship to be like VBS. I think people are smart enough to know that, like camp, VBS is a special event that does not necessarily mirror what happens at church the rest of the time. So I think the author of the article was being deliberately disingenuous and greatly underestimating the intelligence of the unchurched public.
Second, there are other VBS-like moments in church, especially for children. Most Sunday school programs try to make classes fun and experiential, as well as educational. At St. Peter there is also Rally Day, J-Walkers, the Fall Fun Fest, and other year-round, family-friendly, kid-friendly events and activities. Youth Groups for teens fulfill much the same function: combining fun and recreation with Christian education and service work.
Third, there are many ways to learn and grow and experience the presence of God. VBS and Sunday school are opportunities for this to happen. So is regular weekend worship. Sometimes worship is especially joyful (like at Christmas or Easter), and sometimes it is less exciting. Sometimes you love the hymns and/or the sermon and other times you hate the new song and the sermon puts you to sleep. These different ways to experience the presence of God, from VBS to Good Friday, are all valid and important, and reflect the depth and breadth of the human experience.
If church life was always like Vacation Bible School, what would we do with grief and sorrow and disappointments and anger and hopelessness and despair and fear? A VBS-like worship experience every week essentially denies the complexity of life and turns a blind eye to suffering. Since suffering is a part of every life, it is absolutely critical for the people of God and our churches to make a space for suffering to be addressed. Too often I have heard of churches who devote themselves almost entirely to praise, so that people who are in pain feel shut out and isolated by the inability of worship to address adversity or suffering. We need VBS to experience joy and we need Good Friday to acknowledge our suffering In this way, we are reminded that we have a God who “gets” us: who rejoices when we rejoice, who laughs when we laugh, and who grieves and suffers when we grieve and suffer.
Having said all that, I do think that we rather staid and serious Lutherans could do with a bit more Vacation Bible School in our lives.