Vol.XIII No.III Pg.6
May 1976

Vacation Bible Schools

Robert F. Turner

I remember Vacation Bible Schools among churches of Christ in the late 1930s, early 40s. Apparently they were prompted by a desire for better Bible teaching programs, and perhaps by the then popular denominational youth campaigns. Through the years we have seen them vary from earlier Bible Readings to little more than youth social events, but their effect upon todays church is worth studying.

The Bible Readings of E.M. Zerr and others were survey courses lasting weeks, and covering the whole Bible, or special studies in certain books. Some considered them Sommers answer to the Bible College. They were, however, useful concentrated studies that could well be repeated today, with competent teachers.

Jessie Sewell and other educators led the way in teacher training sessions, and began to promote use of visual aids, object lessons, etc., in Bible teaching. The good of this was somewhat dimmed by whole man secular educational principles; and VBS offered a less-restricted stage for a social atmosphere. Object lessons are Biblical (Ezek. 4:1-f.), but their abuse led to Arts and Crafts classes, and in many cases Bible teaching purposes were overshadowed by homemaking social gospel goals.

The numbers game entered the picture — and churches competed for records rather than souls. Refreshments, recreation, and a general party atmosphere became common in VB Schools. I believe VBS, misguided and abused, hastened the development of baby sitting nurseries for working mothers, and contributed greatly to social gospel developments in churches today.

But the picture is, not all bad. A spin-off of better trained teachers and improved teaching methods is evident. Much has been learned about grading material in keeping with the capacities of students. We began to make a more total use of building facilities. Too, a reaction or backlash to the far-out social developments — while leading some churches into a shell — has focused attention upon more serious aspects of Bible teaching, and a conscientious avoidance of abuses. It is the hard way, but we learn by our mistakes.

Todays VBS (or Summer School) could be carefully planned training courses in O.T. and N.T. surveys, doctrinal studies (Calvinism, etc.), first-principle classes for new converts or personal workers, Training for Public Service (song-leading, teaching, etc.), with Bible history, geography, character studies, and the like, for the younger set. There is a grave need for classes in How to Study and the use of study tools.

Serious, scriptural goals for VBS will not be reached simply by buying expensive kits from publishers. The best material in the world — written by the Holy Spirit — needs teaching, and that requires studious conscientious teachers who know the material, know the students, and have given prayerful thought to means of imparting information and affecting the lives of those students. VBS is what we make it — a service for the Lord, or a sinful waste of time and money.