For a short time during my 11 years as LifeWay's VBS Ministry Specialist I had a wonderful boss who continually reminded us that we should be learners and not critics. It was his way of challenging the team to learn from every person and situation - whether we thought it would benefit us or not. Of course it was also his way of telling us to stop complaining and being critical when something did not go as we expected or wanted.
I'll admit his admonition was not always welcomed or appreciated, but in time I realized he was right. Even my biggest critic had something to teach me. And, every situation - good or bad - was a learning experience if I approached it with an open mind.
VBS is a ministry with a message that must never change, but delivered by a method that must be constantly evolving.
If you are as old as I am you might remember VBS being conducted in the early 1990s in the same way as it was in 1957 - and probably long before that. I have VBS curriculum from the 1950s, 1970s, and early 1990s, and there was very little change during those five decades. I'm not criticizing. Far from it. The leaders during those years did an amazing job with what they had, and millions upon millions of boys and girls made decisions to follow Jesus as a result of those Bible schools.
By the mid 1990s VBS was suffering from decades of sameness. Kids expected and demanded more than kids from previous decades had expected. The 1990s saw an explosion of kid-friendly summer options that appeared more engaging than the neighborhood VBS. Vacation Bible School was in trouble in a big way - you might say the initials VBS were beginning to stand for "very bad situation."
Thankfully we had ministry leaders who decided to be learners instead of critics. The easy road would have been to sit back in despair and let VBS continue to die, to play the blame game, and to deny any responsibility for the condition and dismal future of the ministry. The harder road was to ask questions, learn from parents, and learn from churches that were turning VBS into the "very best situation."
I have conversations with VBS leaders on a weekly bases who are right back where they were in 1996. They are satisfied with the way they have been doing VBS for the last 20 years and refuse to even think about tweaking - much less changing - anything about the ministry.
If VBS is going to survive the next five decades, we who are leaders today must continue learning and allowing the ministry to evolve. By the way, there is medical evidence that indicates people who never stop learning live a much healthier and happy life.
VBS leaders must continue learning.