You Lost Me at “Totally True”: Some VBS Hand Wringing

My job at VBS this week is to tell kids some of the “amazing, incredible, and totally true adventures” found in the Bible.

Actually, I’m leaving off the “totally true” part. What better way to ruin an adventure than to insist on its veracity? I don’t believe all of the Bible to be “totally true,” at least not in the sense that this curriculum wants kids to understand that term. Besides, what does “totally true” mean to children who are being treated to dramatized gimmicks like trying to create an iPad out of thin air (you know, the same way God created the world)?

My little editorial decision points up a quandry: progressive churches that run this summer programming staple must either invest scads of time and energy writing their own curriculum or else purchase one from an evangelical publisher like Group or Lifeway or Standard that almost certainly will need to be edited for both theological and pedagogical reasons (see iPad example above).

Don’t even ask about the denominational curriculum.

My church has chosen the latter. There is real value in a themed package with a narrative arc that incorporates music, crafts, games, and Bible stories, even if we never buy any of the little trinkets that go with it. And we don’t take the thing so seriously as to lose sleep over things kids will hardly notice, especially if we take the little time required to adapt it.

But we do wonder about alternatives. There’s a church nearby that runs a Peace Camp for kids in the summer, which they state clearly is not VBS. I’m intrigued.

Does your church do VBS? How are you negotiating the theology of most VBS curricula with your church’s posture?

18 thoughts on “You Lost Me at “Totally True”: Some VBS Hand Wringing

  1. A number of years ago, we gave up on ‘canned’ VBS materials. And when the curriculum using Esther suggested having a beauty pageant, we recognized how good of a decision it really was.
    We have a team who comes up with a theme each year, and they pick scripture stories and verses to go with each day. Occasionally they will seek my input for that, but usually they come up with them on their own and do a great job. They pick songs to sing, usually a mix of Christian and secular music. This year’s theme was Road Trip and one of the songs was “Holiday Road”, for example.
    They come up with craft activities and snacks.
    The first year we tried it, we were about to give up altogether on VBS. It has given us a new love of VBS, and the kids recognize the adults who put it together are having fun with it too. This was the biggest VBS we’ve had in years.

      1. I’m not actually sure it is more work to do it ourselves. We were spending so much time trying to “fix” those other curriculum so they would work in our context, that I think it is easier to just start with what you want.
        (And I’m sure my CE elder would be happy to share what we’ve done in the past if you want it for next year).

  2. We gave up canned VBS at my church probably 8 years ago. When we had a DCE type on staff she wrote/pieced together a 9-3 day camp a couple of times. Then the PC(USA) camp in our area started doing “camp in a van” where they bring several of their staff down to us for a week and run pretty much the whole thing 9-3. This is the winner for us. Quality curriculum, great tie to Presbyterian camping ministries, enthusiastic young adults, easy places for older adults to volunteer.

  3. Just finished with ours. Each day rotated around a central truth. The kids learned a Bible story but more importantly the central truth like”God forgives us” is emphasized. We dropped the crafts. They had class time, Learned a short Bible verse, played games outside, had a store bought snack (not the elaborate ones the package emphasized, went in the sanctuary and went home. We dropped the crafts. We did whatever possible to make it easier on the workers. See my site for video on what some of the Pastor time looked like. The Biblical truth was emphasized rather than the story. They did hear the story literally in class but for the most part the truth that goes with it was the thing. VBS programs can be wicked on the volunteers so they did whatever possible to ease that.

      1. I’ll ask specifically. I came in seventh hour but it worked well. Decorations were outer space. They papered the hall with black paper and hung planets, stars etc. then they replaced the lights with black lights. One man donned the astronaut suit and helmet every night (on my Facebook page). We have VBS at night rather than day and it’s only between 2 and 3 hours. We have a lot of trailer park kids who we pick up in the church van so this format works best. Their parents don’t go to church and take the kids to daycare during the day. I’ll get the program info for you tomorrow.

      2. It was To the Edge: Encounter the God of the Universe. It was Regular Baptist Press Material though. Probably not something you’d use but not something Doug and Marilyn would have used either. Much more liberal or Dennis and Sheryl made it more liberal, don’t know which. The ideas in it were fabulous though.

  4. Haven’t gotten back to VBS, def. changed about the canned ones and went for a cheaper option of the same craft idea ususally…..In my current context my kids would love a mission/service project a day VBS that is for all ages (we have a preponderance of preschoolers), anyone want to write one with me?

  5. Sara talks a lot about teaching in a manner that will not lead children to “unteach” themselves later. So I totally get your “editing” concerns. She replaced VBS this year with something called Community Crossings where there are workshops for people of all ages with a focus around the theme of how to be peacemakers, which under the circumstances of current events is more prescient than is comfortable.

  6. Oh my God so much this and I’m so glad I read the comments. I don’t think I could convince my people that it would be easier to write your own, like Marci. I’m also not sure whether the folks we do VBS with would think the theology was different than what they hear on Sunday, even though IT OBVIOUSLY IS!!!!!!

    We also do VBS with three other churches in our town. I keep trying to consolidate us into one community experience.

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