We all know about the Peanut Butter Gross-Out games at Youth Group (my church's Youth Group actually does a Bible study, but there's no denying Youth Ministry at large is largely...foolishness). Likewise, it's no secret VBS and children's ministry, with the possible exception of AWANA programs, is watered down and overly-entertainment driven. These facts notwithstanding, my husband and I do not fully embrace a mandatory FIC model - we prefer to use basic biblical wisdom and common sense (which tells us that we, as the parents, have the primary responsibility to teach our children about God and the Gospel).
Pilgrim at Defending Contending has a convincing and well-researched post about VBS and the marketing-tactics that go into them. Now, my four children have grown up on VBS. My youngest two, 8 and 5, still go and love VBS. My oldest (14) is a music assistant. Since my 8-year-old son was walking through the office while I happened to be reading Pilgrim's article, I decided to do a little un-scientific survey and get my son's feedback on what he gets out of it.
Now, two caveats: Stefan is a bright kid. Not rocket-scientist, homeschooled-and-going-to-college-at-12, find-a-cure-for-cancer-at-15 smart, but a pretty sharp monkey all-around. He's grown up in a Christian home; been in Sunday school since he had teeth and knows all the stories. He's gifted at Scripture memorization and enjoys practicing it. He also genuinely loves God and feels a deep sorrow when he sins. Without getting into much detail, I do have reason to believe he's a child of God. I asked:
Me: "Hey Stefan, let me ask you some questions. Do you love God? I mean, really?"Him: "Yes."Me: "Do you enjoy learning about Him, and getting to know Him better?"Him: (nods enthusiastically...he's been asking us for a "real" Bible since he could read).Me: "Ok. Now, would you say you learn a lot of new things about God at VBS? What do you learn?"Him: "Well....the only time we really learn anything is in the songs."Me: "The songs? You mean like "In Christ the Cross"?Him: "Yeah. The songs are about God. So you learn things about God from the songs. And the stories.....well, they tell us stories, but actually we already knew the stories from before; so I guess we didn't really learn anything new. But I liked the jumpy thing."Me: "Okay, so you didn't really learn anything at VBS, but it was fun. What about Junior Church - do you learn a lot about God there?"Him: "Oh, yes. We learn stories and good lessons from the stories!"Me: "But didn't you already know the stories from before?"Him: "Some of them, yeah; but not all of them. Like the one about Elijah and Elisha. I'd forgotten about that one."Me: "Okay, so in what order would you say you learn the most about God: from Junior Church, VBS, from me and Daddy at home - like when Daddy teaches you guys on Sunday afternoon from the Bible - or Pastor Eric when he preaches?"Him: "I would say from you and Daddy at home, the most. After that...maybe Junior Church; then Pastor Eric - but I don't understand everything he's talking about - and then last, VBS."
No big surprises there....but given that an 8-year-old himself admits he learns more in the modest time we spend on spiritual matters at home than in the weekly, structured "children's church" etc, I think the FICers may have a point, after all. Which doesn't mean I'll be switching churches any time soon. It just means I feel convicted to spend more time and effort, under my husband's leadership, teaching the kids doctrinal truths and how to live these truths out in their lives (orthodoxy and orthopraxy). I had been toying with the idea of finding a Bible study to go through together, each morning before school next year, or maybe we'll just read from the Bible together and discuss it (as my husband does with us after church on Sunday). If anyone has any resources for family devotionals they'd like to share, I'd appreciate that!