"VBS is where the church really shines, showing values of community, education, Scripture, and nurturing children."
Clergy and Vacation Bible School
Jerusalem Marketplace, Fun Fair, Surf Shack, the list goes on! Throughout my career as a minister I have participated in many Vacation Bible School weeks, and regardless of the church or the theme, VBS always puts a spring in my step.
This past month I joined children, teens, and adults at St. Paul’s in Alexandria, Virginia for Surf Shack VBS. St. Paul's loves having clergy at Vacation Bible School, and the church leadership supports the program at every level. For me, the week was an absolute blast – a blessed blast. And it got me thinking: why is VBS so powerful as a clergy person? Clergy will have their own answers to that question, but for me I've boiled it down to four reasons below:
1. Cheering for Formation Staff and Volunteers
Many clergy know that magic moment of walking into the church or parish hall and seeing how VBS has transformed the space. Decorations, materials, Bible verses, games… all seemingly out of thin air! Of course... not from thin air; VBS appears through countless hours by formation staff and volunteers. Thanking these VBS troopers is critical, and the thanks feels good for both parties.
Clergy have a joyful opportunity to commend, congratulate, and bless VBS efforts, especially the efforts of the Christian Eduction director, if he or she has coordinated VBS. As we all know, words of affirmation go a long way in ministry. In my case, I end up using the same VBS catch phrase all week as I thank staff and volunteers: “Wow, you really knocked it out of the park!”
Clergy tip: Find your affirming catch phrase and use it often: before, during, and after VBS.
2. Working Side by Side with Formation Staff
Nothing builds a working relationship like rolling up sleeves and taking on a project together. When clergy help at VBS – beyond just observing or checking in – we end up forming bonds, especially with formation staff.
At my recent VBS experience, the Christian Formation director Mandy Hodges invited me to do the opening sessions each morning. Mandy and I pre-planned, going over the themes and Scripture for each day. Then at the sessions themselves, we tag-teamed, she introducing me, and me 'passing the mic' back to her for prayer and announcements. This sort of clergy/staff work is valuable because 1) it’s fun, and 2) it enhances collaborative ministry down the line.
Clergy tip: Enjoy the freedom of not being in charge at VBS. Take cues from your director. A great clergy line at VBS is, "Where do you want me?”
3. Honing Preaching and Teaching Skills
Teachers, parents, and ministers know that if you can explain a concept to a 4 year old, you can explain it to anyone. VBS provides an exciting – and challenging – opportunity for clergy to share the good news of Jesus Christ with little ones. (And by the way, those older kids and teen volunteers are also listening very carefully, even if they don’t appear to be.) By helping with VBS, clergy often develop sharp, succinct, and clear explanations for theological concepts. This is such a blessing for future preaching and teaching.
At some VBS weeks, I have focused on prayer – guiding the kids in giving thanks and asking for God’s blessing. At my most recent VBS, Mandy did the prayer time, so I focused on several key Christian messages: God created you and loves you… Jesus has power… God watches over you. In addition, I try to share a line that is near and dear to my heart: “If you had been the only person to ever live, Jesus still would have come, died and rose again, just for you.”
Clergy tip: What are the two or three truths you want children to hold in their hearts? Think about how you can express those truths in as few words as possible.
4. Meeting and Greeting Adults
I put this one last, because... c'mon VBS is for the kids and the teens. But that being said, VBS is also a chance for clergy to meet and greet parents, grandparents, caregivers, nannies, and all the other wonderful folks who walk through the doors. At this past VBS, my schedule unfortunately did not allow me to greet adults, but in previous years this practice has been a real highlight.
Clergy can think of greeting adults as side-door advertising for the church, but even more simply: VBS is the perfect setting for friendly clergy interaction. Remember that by its very nature, VBS is a welcoming and joyful place to be – VBS is where the church really shines, showing values of community, education, Scripture, and nurturing children. People are happy to see this! Clergy at VBS can take advantage of this positive atmosphere, engaging parishioners and guests alike.
Clergy tip: put on your best extrovert hat at VBS and chat up anyone and everyone. Remind yourself, “This is our church being the best we can be: loving children, loving Jesus, building Christian community.”
The Rev. Matthew Kozlowski manages, edits, and writes for Building Faith. He is also a parish associate at St. Paul's in Alexandria, where he lives with his wife Danielle and two young daughters.Throughout his career Matthew has been a teacher, camp counselor, school chaplain, camp chaplain, Sunday school teacher, parish priest, and Alpha Course coordinator... and VBS helper.