VBS Noise Reduction – A Good Thing? by Pr. Rossow

July 11th, 2011 Post by

I know many of you think of me and other Confessionals as kill-joys but that is just not the case. We here at Bethany Lutheran are committed to the liturgy but that does not mean we are fuddy-duddies. We are very creative and are not averse to having fun. My guess is that we have far more variety in worship than the average LCMS church growth church. For example, we use far more different instruments than the average church growth parish (congas, claves, brass, winds, organ, piano, tambourine, strings, harp, zimbelstern, squeeze box, recorders, timpani, and on and on) it’s just that we shy away from the standard garage band instrumentation inherently associated with the sounds and the infinite, impatient vicissitudes of our narcissistic pop culture, although our liturgical youth ensemble does include a bass guitar on occasion for helping with the rhythm. In addition, our members, including the children, have learned a dozen different liturgies (10 from the LSB, a Marty Haugen liturgy and one our own Cantor composed) all of them using the same basic structure with a variety of music for the ordinaries. That leads me to my point about noise reduction in VBS.

Last year we went to a full liturgical opening for our Vacation Bible School (VBS). It has quieted the children down, which is a real blessing. I am not opposed to loud music, jumping around and having fun but one has to wonder what sort of message that sends to the children when you do that in a room where you also give out the body and blood of the Lord Jesus for the forgiveness of sins. It just does not fit unless you are one of the new-fangled evangelicals (Rob Bell, et. al.) who are peddling the new, softer liberalism via their praise bands and contextually sensitive worship and preaching. (I guess both Jesus and St. Paul missed out on the class at seminary about contextualizing the Gospel.) The opening liturgy has quieted the kids down. All through the morning, I walked the halls and noticed a very calm group of kids. I checked with some of the teachers and the director on this and they agreed it set the stage for a more serious group. We have also cut out some classes for the youngest children and that has helped bring a spirit of calm as well. Using the liturgy helps put the “Bible” and “School” back into “Vacation Bible School.” Remember, “vacation” is simply a designation for the time of the program and not a call to do the “Surfer Jesus” program and to throw out the normal way we worship.

We started out the liturgy with a Caribbean folk Alleluia (GIA Publishing) that even included, God forbid, a clap on the off beat. We then did a hybrid liturgy including portions of Morning Prayer (LSB, p. 235) and The Service of Prayer and Preaching (LSB, p. 260) and sang ”Go to Dark Gethsemane” – today’s theme was about the young prince’s temptation to not accept the calling to set out on the dangerous odyssey intended to save his father the King – and wrapped it up with a stanza from “Wake, Awake for Night is Flying.” This is heady stuff but because our day school children sing the liturgy for chapel each week it works.

I walked into the sanctuary later in the morning and saw our Associate Cantor, Susan Keller, (who is leading the music for VBS) holding up the Lutheran Service Book and walking a group of children through it so they can learn how to better use it. That was one of the greatest thrills I have ever had. I know, some of you are thinking if that’s a great thrill for him then he must be a stuck-in-the-mud, old fuddy-duddy. You couldn’t be farther from the truth. I have jumped out of an airplane, driven 130 miles an hour on the autobahn, and even led lock-ins (now that’s foolish). Seeing the Associate Cantor teach children how to use the hymnal, without me even asking for it to be done, is a great thrill and it also helps to quiet the kids down so they can read, mark, learn and inwardly digest more of the Word of God during their school vacation.

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  1. July 11th, 2011 at 14:04 | #1

    Pastor, I would like to add that one of the things that is helping is that the children are in mixed age rather than same age groupings, so we are encouraging the older ones to take a leadership role in helping the younger ones, not only in chapel but throughout the entire program. It really brings out the best in all the children by raising expectations of the older ones to model good behavior and providing the younger ones with positive models to follow and look up to.

  2. mames
    July 11th, 2011 at 15:01 | #2

    @Cheryl #1 Our son was exposed to this approach at his LCMS day school. It was wonderful to see the big guys help the little ones and how much those little guys looked up to him. Now 21 and a 6’3″ strapping athlete he is used to helping those younger than him and loves children as do his life long adult friends who went through the “system” with him all the way through high school. they are a great bunch of guys who naturally model authentic Christianity, far from perfect but looking to Him for everything. BTW since they were 14 or so they have called contemporary “worship” “old people trying to be cool, which just aint!:)”

  3. Old Time St. John’s
    July 11th, 2011 at 15:29 | #3

    When I attended a Lutheran school, we had chapel every week. We marched around the corner to the church and did a full Matins service. The pastor chanted the liturgy, we had an organist who played our parts, and there was a full sermon with a text. I can’t remember for sure whether we also sang hymns in those services, but I believe that we did.

    During the other days of the week in our classrooms we started with opening devotions and closed with prayer every single school day. I don’t recall the opening devotions clearly for 1st and 2nd grades, but I do know that we learned some hymns from the old green Children’s Hymnal even that early when we were pre-literate. By 3rd grade (and up) we sang two full hymns (all the verses) accompanied by piano each morning as part of the morning devotions, and also read a complete psalm, all out of the hymnal (TLH). This was in addition to religion class.

    There is no reason at all not to teach hymns to young children.

  4. Our God Reigns
    July 11th, 2011 at 16:52 | #4

    So well said by all. We need to give our children our best and what is in their best interest instead of thinking they cannot handle the “big” stuff. Our job it to raise good, caring, responsible adults not just get them through life somehow.

  5. Jesse
    July 11th, 2011 at 20:56 | #5

    My LCMS parish’s “VBS” classes offered this year include mission & culture (teaching the kids the Bible is taboo, but let’s talk about mission!), fishing, art, experiential music, science and scrapbook making to name a few.

    With our senior pastor constantly drilling mission and saving the 80% who are unchurched/under-churched in almost all his sermons, I’m convinced that VBS is a tool to draw those families in to hopefully convert them.

  6. July 11th, 2011 at 21:27 | #6

    It is good to teach the children the liturgy. When they learn and understand it, church becomes more than being bored (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bh__g-ZZ6WA), but becomes Heaven on Earth.

    Fuddy duddys tend to be the CG crowd. :)

  7. A Beggar
    July 11th, 2011 at 22:53 | #7

    Pr. Rossow,
    You say “We have also cut out some classes for the youngest children and that has helped bring a spirit of calm as well.”
    Do you mean you do not have classes for some “youngest” children or they do not have as many classes to attend?
    What age are these “youngest” children? I’ve often wondered about classes for 2 1/2 and 3 year olds every day for five days.
    Thanks for your response.

  8. July 12th, 2011 at 14:05 | #8

    Has anyone ever tried giving parents the lessons / Bible readings early so they can work with the children prior to VBS? My oldest is almost 3 years old and I’m trying to work with him on the readings and songs before we go to VBS next week – so he can hopefully focus more on learning and less on the new experience. Just curious if anyone else had success with that approach?

  9. July 12th, 2011 at 15:44 | #9

    @A Beggar #7 Yes, we no longer have classes for the 3-year-olds. We found it counter-productive to the idea of Vacation Bible SCHOOL to have children coming in who hadn’t even been to preschool yet. Also, there is a group of folks in our area who like to use the churches’ VBS programs for summer day care – particularly for their littles. So hosting that age group heavily tilted our numbers toward that age group, which requires more help, making it harder to have enough volunteers to run a school. Certainly a “Summer Servants’ Child Care Week” could be something a congregation might decide to do as a work of mercy, along the lines of “Mothers’ Day Out”, but we are focused on having a Bible School and so our students this week range from entering Kindergarten through 10th grade.

  10. Old Time St. John’s
    July 12th, 2011 at 16:49 | #10

    At our church we do accept 3 year old VBS students. They do hear and learn the Bible stories, and we think that that is great. Often their families start bringing them for daycare, more or less, but bring them back year after year and they learn more and more about the faith that way.

    We limit the enrollment in each age category, so we can adjust to the age range that we need to cover. We are always sorry if we have to turn families away, but it does happen sometimes. We accept member families and their guests for enrollment about a month before we open up enrollment to the community. That way our own church members always get in, and they can bring their friends as well.

    Certainly there is no rule that says that churches must start VBS at a certain age, but there is no question in my mind that preschoolers can learn and benefit from learning Bible stories and church music if they are offered in an age-appropriate way. I have seen this in my own family as well as at our church.

  11. A Beggar
    July 12th, 2011 at 21:18 | #11

    @Phillip #9
    Thanks for the reply. I like your reference to “SCHOOL”. I also like Pr. Rossow’s statement that the Pastor is vested. I’m trying to think of an acceptable way to get that at our VBS – and also the Sunday School opening devotions!

  12. A Beggar
    July 12th, 2011 at 21:22 | #12

    Oops! I should have said that Pr. Rossow indicated that he was vested. Or am I reading too much between the lines? Maybe I am just hoping that he is when leading these opening services for the children. I can’t imagine him in a polo shirt doing that!!!

  13. Larry
    July 13th, 2011 at 11:41 | #13

    Perhaps you should read again and reflect on Luke 18:9-14 before you comment any further on the superiority of your practice.

  14. helen
    July 13th, 2011 at 12:17 | #14

    Pr. Rossow, and Phillip have been describing the VBS as it works for them.
    (I didn’t think some of the comments about pandas, etc. were necessary, but then I wouldn’t go shopping among the reformed publications for a Lutheran VBS anyway… or expect my children to have such in their classes.)


    Old Time St John’s VBS evidently can make it work with 3 year olds. Maybe they have more help, because as I remember, it does take more help in the youngest classes.

    Bethany emphasizes “School” & got tired of babysitting! Some parents do act as if VBS was just a free/cheap place to stash the kids! Some communities, OTOH, deliberately schedule their VBS classes in sequence so that children can be enrolled in one after another.

    No use getting your boxers in a wad over who is “superior”!

  15. July 13th, 2011 at 13:18 | #15

    For those who may be wondering, “YMMV” means (I think) “Your mileage may vary.”

    Helen, thank you for your comment. I don’t see that a congregation’s sharing what is working for them equates to claiming superiority. As we continue through our VBS week at Bethany I can assure you that we are seeing things that are working well and things that are not and we are filing the second away for future reference. We are all learning as we go, doing the best we can with the resources available to us. No one is claiming superiority. e all have things to learn. What is so wrong with sharing a bit of the journey with one another?

  16. Larry
    July 13th, 2011 at 13:19 | #16

    I don’t wear boxers, and if I did they wouldn’t be in a wad.

    It just seems to me that pastors who want to trumpet the purity and the righteousness of their liturgical practice would do well to make sure they haven’t stumbled into the ditch of phariseeism. A little confession of sins instead of a litany of good works would seem to be in order. Or maybe these pastors haven’t fallen short of God’s glory in their ministry to their children.

  17. helen
    July 13th, 2011 at 13:39 | #17

    @Larry #16
    I don’t wear boxers, and if I did they wouldn’t be in a wad.

    That comment of mine was unnecessary. Sorry!

    No doubt there are some shortcomings, and Cheryl says they are keeping track to improve next time. Confession is good, but has anyone here been personally injured by this discussion of VBS? If they have perhaps they should contact Pr. Rossow off line… Matt 18, you know.

    (Don’t you think accusing someone of “phariseeism” is just a wee bit “pharisaical”?)

  18. Pastor Joshua Scheer
    July 13th, 2011 at 23:53 | #18

    @Larry #16
    I would encourage you to read a lot of Pr. Rossow’s articles and comments. He is very often “confessing” himself as a sinner.

    Was Paul breaking the passage you mention when he boasted and asked others to imitate him? See 1 Cor. 4:16 or 1 Cor. 11:1 or Phil 3:17

    Then there is the word from Hebrews 13:7

    If what Pr. Rossow has written has given you a guilty conscience or convicted you of something, seek out the Gospel rather than launching attacks upon the source of your conviction.

    the Lord bless you

  19. July 14th, 2011 at 21:53 | #19

    My wife Marie commented earlier regarding how to engage youngins (or not to?). Over at The Parental Office website (http://parentaloffice.com) we posted a related article to this topic, I thought some of you might be interested. We gave props back to this thread! I know we are curious what some other Lutherans think of such issues and how much we as parents can/should affect this, or if we should sit back in faith?

    “Vacation Bible School too much for youngins?”

    We actually had been discussing when/what to introduce kids to regarding the Gospel, and this post/comments had some discussion of that.

    “Episode #2: Christian Parenting at Different Ages and Mishaps Many”

    In Christ…

  20. EmilyC
    August 30th, 2012 at 17:06 | #20

    I love this! I wish we had a greater respect for the traditional liturgy at our church.

    I think one reason for the different approaches to VBS is that some churches see it as a way to reach out to unchurched families. So, even if the parents view it as free day care, we pray the Holy Spirit will use the Word to plant a seed in these children. Unfortunately, this leads to the idea that you do whatever it takes to get people in the door (loud music, extravagant decorations, general wildness). How disorienting when those unchurched families venture to church on a Sunday that is not VBS-led and the kids are expected to sit in the pew and listen quietly!

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