Returning to In-Depth Bible Teaching: A Lesson from the Past

VBS Reachout Adventures - A Lesson from the Past

Raising the Bar – Part 2

In my last post, Raise the Bar at Your VBS and Get Ready to be Amazed!, I proposed that we should do all we can to stem the tide of the current trend to “dumb down” VBS and instead make the most of the opportunity we have to teach kids the riches of God’s Word. Listen to this story of what one pastor years ago felt God was calling him to do, and the incredible way God worked through his obedience.

Can you visualize thousands of kids happily spending 5 weeks of their summer vacation studying the Bible, memorizing Scripture, and taking tests? Hard to imagine? Sound like a fairy tale? It was unheard of until a Pennsylvania pastor, concerned with lethargy, Biblical illiteracy, and a revolving door in his congregation and many others (sounds familiar?), committed the matter to prayer. Dr. Abraham Lance Lathem felt God leading him to start a Summer Bible School back in 1912 that would get children engaged in studying the Word.

Although his Session approved the plan, their consensus nevertheless was that the idea of children studying the Bible after school let out in June seemed “the height of fantasy.” “Plus,” they said, “parents would not permit their vacations to be so interrupted.”*

Undaunted, Dr. Lathem launched his full-blown Bible curriculum. The first summer 193 students, aged 3 to 16, attended, along with various adults. Soon a night class was added for adults who couldn’t come during the day. Attendance grew rapidly, as did his church. By 1935, there were 228 Summer Bible Schools scattered over the US in 30 different denominations, with 19,113 attending! By 1936, these 5-week schools had spread to Canada, Mexico, West and East Indies, Korea, India, Brazil, and Ethiopia!*

Zoom ahead to 2014, where most churches hold a 5-day VBS, and, in increasing numbers, many run a 3-day VBS or none at all. Sadly, most of today’s programs are big on games and crafts, light on Bible teaching, and even lighter on Scripture memory. What have we come to?

The May 23, 2014 Hal Lindsay Report states “Young people are leaving the church in record numbers. In the past, we’ve assumed that our youth abandoned their faith under the tutelage of university professors. However, recent studies show that they’re ‘leaving’ much earlier. The book Already Gone details research commissioned by Answers in Genesis and conducted by America’s Research Group. The authors make this shocking observation:  ‘Almost 90 percent of them were lost in the middle school and high school. By the time they got to college they were already gone! About 40 percent are leaving the Church during elementary and middle school years.’” (emphases added)

 If we believe what the Word says about itself, perhaps we’re missing the mark in major ways when it comes to teaching our church children. The Word of God is:

  • living and active (Heb. 4:12)
  • what makes us wise for salvation through faith in Jesus (II Tim. 3:15)
  • breathed out by God and profitable for teaching and training in righteousness (II Tim. 3:16)
  • what makes us complete and equipped for every good work (II Tim. 3:16)
  • a guard against sin when it’s hidden in the heart (Psalm 119: 11)
  • a lamp to our feet and a light to our path (Psalm 119: 105)
  • not idle words, but our life (Deut 32:47)

Dr. Lathem knew back in 1912 what we desperately need to remember and act on today: grounding children the Word of God is essential to keep them in the faith and in the Church. Solid Scriptural teaching in VBS, coupled with fun that engages, is one great way to do that.

Given our current culture, it’s not likely that we’ll return to the days of 5-week intensive Summer Bible Schools. So when we do hold VBS, let’s make those few days count! Let’s get our children eagerly into the Word! In my next post, I’ll talk about how Reachout’s VBS programs do just that.

*Clayton, Jon M., “World’s First Summer Bible School”