I love Vacation Bible Schools (VBS). I have worked at it for years, alongside an incredible group of people who love God and want to serve as conduits for children to come to know the Lord in a deep way. I have seen so many seeds planted through this wonderful ministry, it is impossible for me to look at it in a less than positive light.
Yet, having sensed God’s leading, I find myself compelled to caution parents on their expectations of these ministries.
Only very few children of the hundreds I have seen come and go through the program are following God in a meaningful way today. Most children are singing and dancing to the tune of VBS songs straight into the abyss. The sad reality we must face as parents is that their lives today are in danger of eternal punishment, even while they learn to memorize all those beautiful Bible verses.
Bottom line: VBS is not enough.
For the kids I have seen succeed, the difference in all but one case I can think of is the intentionality of the parents. When the parents are committed disciples of Christ, utilizing VBS and other children’s ministries to underscore the realities that they are living and proclaiming every day, the results are powerful.
One kid we worked with is now a missionary in South America (not that being a missionary is the standard); another goes to Bible College (again not that that is the indication). Both of them are committed Christians bearing good fruit. In both cases, they had parents who were committed Christians themselves and did much more than sending them to VBS and AWANA to learn of God.
I recognize I am speaking in generalities. God moves in mysterious ways and we cannot fully know His ways. Everyone can probably think of many exceptions.
And yet, I want to caution parents and invite us to reflect on our efforts. Has VBS turned into just another summer camp for you? Is it just something to keep the kids busy during their summer break and the fact that it is a Christian program is kind of an added bonus?
We will reap what we sow. And in spiritual matters, the consequences are a matter of life and death.
Some of us lean on passages like Proverbs 22:6, “Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it,” to compensate for our lack of personal commitment to the Word of God in our own lives. We say things like the Word of God, “shall not return to me empty,” (Isaiah 55:11) to justify the sort of shallow Biblical education we are giving our children. But we know better. If you are a serious disciple of Christ, you know “the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God,” (Romans 11:33) and the indisposition of the flesh that makes the road hard.
We must equip our children every single day with the tools necessary to confront themselves when the time comes. We must teach them to “live Christ.” Perhaps the hardest lesson of all is to teach them the sort of seriousness needed to fight the flesh and the eternal consequences of our spiritual struggles.
Some of those lessons can actually be hindered by the atmosphere we create in children’s ministries. I say that not as a knock on those programs, but as a way of reminding us of their limitations. Some of the most important lessons our children need to learn to become full followers of Christ must be learned outside of these programs.
If we recognize these limitations as parents, we will have that sense of urgency about our children’s spirituality that will drive us to the Master’s feet each and every day to cry out for help.
Though I feel the message I want to convey is mainly to parents, I take the opportunity to caution and invite children workers to reflect too. What is the purpose of what we are doing? What is the focus?
If it is to create fully devoted followers of Christ, then let us labor towards that goal with utmost urgency. Let us recognize that to work with children, we must work with parents. If we continue to ignore the parents, our limited efforts will be dwarfed by the overwhelming reality of their everyday lives. This can certainly be overcome (with God all things are possible) but the casualties speak for themselves.
My heart breaks for the many parents in churches I have attended praying for their grown children’s ministry graduates living in complete rebellion towards God.
Results are not guaranteed, don’t get me wrong. There are plenty of examples of faithful Christians whose kids have chosen to walk away from the faith of their youth. The Bible is full of those examples. The point for us struggling as parents today though is to act with a sense of urgency and intentionality in teaching our children how to be disciples in word and deed. A good healthy dose of fear is most appropriate here.
We must renew our strengths and give it all we’ve got while they are with us, for in the blink of an eye they’ll be off to collage to face some new challenges where their current training will be invaluable.