Good old VBS. Vacation Bible School. I attended it as a kid, at both my Methodist church and with friends at their Baptist churches. I worked at VBS as an older child/teen and then I taught VBS in Texas, in Missouri, and in Louisiana when my husband was a youth minister at those churches. Then I hung up my lanyard, put away the finger paints, and resigned. During our second year in Louisiana I quit.
Yes, I know that many people believe that it is one of the 10 commandments that a pastor's wife must be an active VBS worker. Not just a cookie baker or kid shuffler, but a teacher, or music leader, or recreation director--some big and obvious role in VBS. For years I taught preschool VBS and then I started being the missions teacher for older elementary kids. I went all out. One year was some ocean theme and I spent hours drawing, coloring, and cutting out fish for my room, creating an ocean scene on one wall, etc. I dressed up, I knew all of the hand motions to the songs, I developed fun and creative active learning experiences like actually re-enacting the Battle of Jericho and making the walls crash down. I didn't do VBS half heartedly. I went all out, loaded for bear. But I didn't like it.
I doubt that anyone could tell that I didn't like VBS. I was very upbeat and enthusiastic. Actually, I think that for years I did like VBS. But then it started becoming exhausting and the rose lost its bloom. When my kids were old enough to attend, they would be tired and grumpy and so would I. Our house was a mess because of all of the supplies and craftiness. I love children, but one on one or in small groups...not in herds.
I was just always assumed that I would be a VBS worker because (1) I was married to a pastor, (2) I am good with kids, (3) I wasn't working outside of the home for most of those years. I think I believed some of that too, or at the very least, I never questioned it. So each year during the worker round-up I signed up for the task. Our first year in Texas I even got recruited to be the music director. (Those who know me may go ahead and burst out into loud guffaws now). I should mention that I was also working a full-time job with a 45 mile commute each way and was in the first trimester of my first pregnancy. Exhausted doesn't even begin to describe it. I would lie down and nap on church pews in between groups of kids and we had to put on a full-fledged musical, with acting and solos, in 5 days. We did it.
Over the years of VBS, the difficulty finding enough workers, seeing the same church kids come through every year, and teaching the same stories over and over, I got burned out. So our second (or maybe third) year in Baton Rouge, I just didn't sign up when the time came. We were at a mega-church, so no one really noticed, until the last push for workers because they were still short a few. Then I was asked by a few people if I was working to which I replied simply, "No." That was actually a huge, pivotal moment in my life as a minister's wife for two reasons. For one thing, I was learning to say NO. The other thing was that I didn't feel compelled to provide a justification or an excuse. A simple "no" would suffice.
I realized that for me, VBS was a joy-stealer. I was irritable and contentious--not during the actual VBS time, but before and after each day. I just simply didn't like participating in VBS. I did bake cookies for VBS for another couple of years and then I gave it up entirely and with no regret. Some people LOVE VBS and that's great. It takes all kinds. I am thankful for those with a passion for it and I will pray for them. I'm just not putting on the VBS T-shrt and singing "Father Abraham" anymore...at least for now.
I also want to stress that I believe that all church members, staff family or not, should be involved in some type of service in church. I also believe that you have to get out of your comfort zone on occasion and do some types of ministry that may not be your gifting or affinity. However, I don't think you should be compelled to repeatedly take on a ministry that you really don't like or don't believe in just because of expectations (your own or other's) or because "there is no one else to do it." Sometimes we step in to save the day when actually that particular place of service may need some new blood or may even need to wither on the vine.
Ministry jobs I have done out of my comfort zone? Youth ministry! Teenagers scared me (and still do to some extent) and middle schoolers annoyed me. This chick can take only so much fart humor, adolescent girl drama/hysterics, and Oreos tossed into ceiling fans (true story). However, I taught 10th grade Sunday school for years and years...and learned to love it and grow more comfortable. I chaperoned lock-ins and led girls' accountability groups. I also really actively learned that God's grace is sufficient. However, there were times I needed to take a break from teaching Sunday school and just be a member in a class. Thankfully I had a husband who was supportive of my need for respite. Other times, I taught adult Sunday school, led women's Bible studies, taught children's choir, played handbells, worked in the nursery, and sang in choir. Most recently, my act of service in our church plant has been more behind-the-scenes. I pick up college students from campus and bring them to church, bake treats for the hospitality table, and help with set-up and take down. I totally and wholeheartedly believe that we are all part of the bride of Christ and therefore, we each have an important role to play. I am eager and willing to do my part. It just isn't in Vacation Bible School anymore...and that makes me happy.
(Part II-Why I believe we need to rethink VBS)