Why My Kid Doesn’t Attend Vacation Bible School
The first law of VBS: don’t run out of red drink. Most church kids remember well the summertime tradition of VBS week. Mom’s exhausting themselves. Games. Activities. Crafts. Snacks. Bible stories. My favorite memory is waiting for most of the kids to leave so that me and my buddies could play hide and seek throughout the entire church building.
Yet now that I am a father, my kid doesn’t go to VBS. And she never will. The fondness of my own memories threaten to self-condemn me as a mean tyrant withholding such memories from my own child. You likely have your own thoughts of condemnation toward me. One, as a hypocrite who denies my child the experiences I was allowed to create. Two, as an unreasonable father who has taken scrupulous thinking to an absurd degree. Three, as a judge who looks down my nose at all the rest of the parents who send their children to VBS.
While counts one and two of your criticism may well be accurate, count three is not. My desire is not to denounce you, but to merely challenge the enduring assumption that children must have VBS as part of their summer calendar.
The majority (not all!) of Vacation Bible Schools practice conversionism, which pressures children to make a decision for Christ. Such methods do harm to the ordinary way God’s grace saves children.
My fatherly instincts are that VBS isn’t worth the potential damage and confusion sown in my child’s heart. There are two competing views of salvation. One says it is God’s work alone and the other says it is something within our control. Children raised in the covenant community need nurturing through God’s ordinary means of grace: prayer, the Word, close proximity to the sacraments, participation in the family of God.
A child can “make a decision for Christ” without being born again. Tell a child if they pray this prayer they can avoid hell, the result is predictable. They will pray it every time. They have made a “decision!” They decided on heaven over hell. They are now ensured salvation. They are then told no one can take salvation away from them. All the while their heart remains unchanged, convinced they are a Christian. The spiritual damage done by this process is often irrevocable. Conversionism doesn’t create a faith that lasts, but a decision that wanes.
I’m sure there is more than one VBS that has broken from conversionism, but they are the exception. I don’t want my kid to participate in something where an exception is needed to make it right. Some will object and point that they (or their kids) were “saved” at a conversionism-VBS, proof it can’t be all bad. But this confuses the point. Just because God’s glorious power overcomes a flawed method running on the fumes of Americanized theology doesn’t mean the method needs repeating. Such a testimony reveals God is good, not VBS. Instead of asking, “Has VBS worked for some in the past?” We need to ask, “What is God’s ordinary manner for spiritually nurturing children?”
Most will feel this is an essay of judgment. Rest assured, I will stand judged far more for withholding VBS fun from my child than you will be for sending yours. All I ask is that you pause for a moment and ask, “Should I send my kids just because everyone else sends their kids?” The church is inundated with statistics documenting that children raised within the culture of conversionism fall away from the church at about an 80 percent clip. VBS is the gateway to that culture. If you wish to learn more about the culture of conversionism, then I invite you to read my book The Culture of Conversionism and the History of the Altar Call, now available on Amazon.
So while the rest of the kids are making memories at VBS, my kid and I might be found playing with the neighbors, eating dinner together with the TV off, reviewing catechisms, or reading a book. And within those everyday moments, I’ll be sowing the seed of the gospel in her heart, praying God’s Word finds good growing soil. And we might even find time to pause and raise our glasses high in honor of the red drink mustache.
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