$4,000 in material costs, 1500+ man-hours of labor, and 6 weeks of construction duration. These are the typical resources we pour in to Vacation Bible School (VBS) decorations each year at Ashland Avenue Baptist Church. For our 2019 VBS, which we’ve themed Camp Wild Adventure, these resources allowed us to transform our building into an indoor version of Yellowstone National Park that includes 15’ tall waterfalls; a real black bear; giant mountain-scape murals; a life-size, hand-made forest with animals; a log cabin; a couple of caves; a side by side utility vehicle; and, yes, a giant talking tree! You can watch this video to get a visual sampling of some of the décor.
Why? Why so much time? Why so much money? Why are so many resources poured in to decorations of all things? Wouldn’t we be better stewards if we put these resources to work in important gospel ministry, like evangelism or missions?
The reality is that VBS is mission. We get to share the gospel of King Jesus with over 600 children and their families each year in our community through VBS, and decorations play a vital gospel role in our efforts to see children and families come to faith in Christ. Or as Andrew Fuller, the great Baptist pastor-theologian from the late 1700s, would put it, well-done VBS decorations have a “gospel errand” to accomplish.
When kids and parents alike walk into our building and see the “all out” decorations, there is non-stop oohing and aahing, pointing by the parent for the children to look at one decoration, and shouting by the kids to draw the parent’s attention to another. You can see the children’s excitement as they run throughout the building with parents trying to keep up as they explore all that is before them with smiles of delight on their faces. And these types of responses are exactly what we want these decorations to produce!
You see, well-done decorations work at the level of the affections. When children experience them, wonder, awe, delight, excitement, beauty, creativity, and joy are aroused. You see it on their faces and you hear it in their visceral, gut-level responses. And when these affections are drawn up in a VBS-like setting where the gospel of Jesus Christ is proclaimed, the decorations help cultivate affections toward God that are in line with the gospel.
According to the Great Commandment, the LORD calls his people to love him with all of our heart, soul, mind, and strength (Mark 12:30). In other words, every single aspect of our being is to love and treasure the LORD, including our affections and our heart. Affections matter! So with VBS, and really all that we do, we want to cultivate affections in our children that will help them to delight in God and to love him supremely.
We don’t want to communicate the Satanic lie that God is some cosmic kill-joy focused on rules and regulations meant to banish us from any sense of delight. Jesus says in John 15:11 that he came so that his joy may be in us and that our joy may be full! We do not want to communicate that God or the gospel is boring because they’re not! The gospel is good news of great joy about the Kingdom of Christ in which sin is defeated, salvation for repentant sinners is purchased, and righteousness reigns for all eternity through King Jesus. And beyond this, the very God of the cosmos who devised and executes this good news perfectly is an awe-inspiring God who creates things out of nothing (Gen. 1), a mysterious God who is the three-in-one (Matt. 28:18-20), an awesome and big God who made the stars above our heads and who crushes Satan beneath our feet (Gen. 1:16, Rom. 16:20), and a good God who offers forgiveness and the hope of eternal life in his kingdom to all who repent of their sin and trust in Jesus (Mark 1:15). Hardly boring!
We want to communicate with our decorations that God is awesome, big, wonderful, creative, delightful, good, and more so that the affections of the children are inclined to move toward the Lord as they hear the gospel of Jesus Christ proclaimed at VBS. We want these decorations to help cultivate truthful gospel categories in our children at the level of the affections even as we aim at their hearts and minds through verbal gospel proclamation. We want children to know that the LORD is not only to be loved with all their minds and strength, he is also to be rightly loved with every bit of their heart, soul, and affections. Simply put, we want our decorations to help us communicate that it is good to delight in God (Ps. 16:11, 37:4)!
As you consider your VBS decorations, a seemingly mundane thing, consider them in light of this “gospel errand” they run. Consider how they can be used for the glory of God to help raise the affections of children Godward so that the gospel they hear proclaimed and the glorious God they hear about can better be internalized as sweet, good, delightful, and more. Go “all out” so far as possible, and decorate well for the glory of God (1 Cor. 10:31). Don’t waste the gospel tool that is your VBS decorations.