One of my favorite times of the year is Vacation Bible School. For one full week of the year, the church is bustling with activity. Moreover, it is a time when we tend to set aside everything that might get in the way and truly celebrate God. This year, with Chris’ leadership, we were able to see the joy and fun that goes with learning about God.
Learning about God and sharing faith is one of the most important parts about church. It is, in fact, one of the main reasons the church was established. Think back to the days of the early church. Worship, as we know, was mainly around a meal. The recognition that eating brought strength was not lost, especially in the struggles of that early church. The early Christians recognized that they could not be faithful if left to their own devices. Even if they could “get it right,” they needed the community for strength, since to believe was to literally put your life on the line, as we know from the stories of the martyrs.
The problem we often see in the modern church is that there is less openness to learning and a diminished sense of the need to learn. While I do not necessarily see this in any particular congregation I have served, over my 17 years of ordained ministry (my ordination date was July 15, 2001), there seems to be less and less of a desire to learn and be challenged, and more and more of a desire to hear things that support a specific point of view. When I say this, I am not just calling out one side of the church. Actually, it has been my experience, especially in light of our current political climate, that there is a need for openness to multiple points of view. Moreover, there is a need to get back to the place where we can openly share our struggles and witness to the power and strength of God.
This is why I love Vacation Bible School so much. For the kids, it is a great experience. The joy and smiles when they leave warm even the toughest parts of one’s soul. But for most of the adults, it is difficult. From maintaining the high energy to keep up with the kids to always being alert, it takes a lot! Whenever I struggle with anything to do with children’s ministry, the image that first comes to my mind is Matthew 19:14 (NRSV): but Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of heaven belongs.”
This is an important image for a lot of reasons, not the least of which is that the passage recognizes a special grounding that children have. In their ignorance of the world, they can more clearly see and witness to who Christ really is, more so than even the disciples, who try to shoo them away. It also reflects a need that the children sense to be close to Christ. In a way, it is a subtle fight that goes back and forth between Jesus and the disciples: Jesus desires people to come closer, while the disciples are trying to protect Him from harm, especially from the children, who might be seen to taint Christ (this is another letter, but trust me on that).
What children do, in their excitement and sometimes even insights, is help us to see a better picture of who Christ is. They also help us to grow into an openness for what God is calling us to today. Through their gifts, they remind us of the importance of this calling to be Christian. Most significantly, we are all energized by the faith they show. Even if some of our leaders are physically tired after VBS, spiritually most of us are left at a high above all others.
I am really thankful for everyone who helped—those who were up front, those who were not, even those who only did one or two things. It was you who made this example a true blessing and witness of Jesus Christ.
Rev. Dr. Bryan James Franzen