Last week I was honored to participate in an inter-church vacation Bible school. What fun!! 65 4 to 12-year-old children, divided into four different groups, singing, laughing, playing, learning and sharing. We even connected with Dr. John Millikin, who had been the associate at St. Peter’s and now is teaching in Lithuania. What a wonderful international connection!
What was also wonderful with our local VBS was that five different churches: Methodist, Lutheran, Episcopal, Christian, and Presbyterian worked side by side to bring all the pieces together. Of course, with this type of multi-faceted effort, there had to be a coordinator and Claudia at First Methodist Church did an admirable job.
The years VBS theme was the Cokesbury curriculum, “Rolling River Rampage.” The key verse which we memorized was Isaiah 43:2, “When you pass through the waters, I will be with you.” A great verse to remember for we adults…not just the kids.
I was the music leader and as a result was able to share some of my music from days gone by. The kids very graciously sang along as I played my guitar. The rest of the music was the hip stuff that came from pre-recorded videos. It was upbeat, fun, had the kids singing, clapping and doing the aerobic actions that matched the melody and the lyrics. Gotta tell you, I’m not as young as I used to be. Trying to get the kids engaged, learn new songs, learn the motions to the new songs, was tiring. Afternoon naps were a daily occurrence.
Being involved this year brought back good memories of VBS from my days growing up. Although much of the methodology has changed, the goal has remained the same: Help kids come to know Jesus Christ as their Savior and Lord and to do that through a variety of methods including, music, Bible stories, recreation, and other discoveries. The hope is that the seed planted early in life will bear the fruit of faith in later years.
So, what did I learn at my week of Vacation Bible School? Here are three takeaways for me.
First, kids are wonderful. They are inquisitive and insightful, aware of their surroundings, and willing to discover new things. They are also alert, creative, and often full of ‘spit and vinegar,’ as the saying going. In this regard things haven’t changed very much. So too was I (full of spit…).
Second, kids and families are very busy. This morning I was reading the story of Mary and Martha (Luke 10:38-42). As I read those familiar words I realized that our families have become “Martha Families,” busy, busy, busy, busy. Often that busy-ness is driven by the fear of what might happen with the children if they are left with too much free time. It is interesting to note that in this story Jesus did not criticize Martha’s busy-ness of preparation for the coming meal. He criticized her being “worried and upset about many things.” Busy-ness can be OK if it is prayerfully focused on building toward a godly good and not running from potential threats. If not, busy-ness can become a means by which fear and worry become the underlying current in a home and are therein transmitted to the next generation.
Third, I had a moment of self-discovery. During my college years I spent six-months traveling with a music group sponsored by the Free Methodist Church. Our goal was to help this denomination enter the 20th century in relation to music ministry and ministry to a younger generation. (Please note: this was 1971. A bit slow you might say, but, aren’t most churches?) We may have been one of the first karaoke groups as we sang to pre-recorded music. But, when you are singing in churches that have only allowed piano playing at best, it was a major and shocking change.
I realized last week that my experience with this group, The Free Spirit, had launched me into one of the religious revolutions of our generation. Church sociologists such as Schaller, Bandy, and Easum have written about this season of change and the worship wars that have become one of its major battlefields. Dr. Phyllis Trible has speculated that such seasons have occurred every 500 years within the life of the Christian Church (The Great Emergence). I have been involved in the transition for nearly 50 years.
In the 60’s Bob Dylan wrote those now familiar words, “The Times they are a changin’.” I experienced some of those changes this past week. Initially I had entered my week of Vacation Bible School hoping it would be as I had remembered it. As the week progressed I realized how the times had changed. Same message but a different method of communicating that message. I am grateful that Cokesbury publications maintained their clear goal but realized it had to use a modern method to reach that goal.
How many churches will follow suit?