VBS Music

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For the past several years I have been very pleased with the music that was included in the Vacation Bible School programs produced by Concordia Publishing House. Starting with the 2006 Treasure Cove and then 2007’s Quest for Truth, I was quite pleasantly surprised to find that they included music that, while fun and up-beat, was actually Lutheran. That is, the music actually taught scriptural truths beyond an occasional reference to God’s love or Jesus’ forgiveness. It helped that they included several hymns on the CDs. I was so happy with the music that I made sure to have plenty of extra copies of the CDs on hand for families to take home. I was happy to have kids (including my own) learning these songs by having them play over and over in their family minivans.

It appears that those days are over. I started noticing it last year. I noticed that the music was a little less singable for the kids, and contained less content. I also noticed that more of the songs had a lead singer rather than a chorus of kids. The songs were okay, but not great.

Just this week I reviewed the music CD for this year’s Planet Zoom. It seems that they have decided to take a completely different direction with the music this year. I listened to the entire CD and there wasn’t a song in it that I would really want to teach anyone, because they don’t actually teach anything. The predominant message of the songs is a generic reference to God’s love, followed by lengthy calls to get busy telling people about Jesus. “Buzzin’ in the Hive” talks about getting busy in God’s kingdom and doing what God gives you to do. “What Can I Do for Jesus” speaks for itself. It says that God’s done so much for us but doesn’t mention what he has done. That gets to the heart of the difference here. What I noticed before was that the music was specifically focused on Christ-for-us as opposed to merely Christ-in-us.

I can’t tell you how disappointed I am. I had made it a point to send feedback to Concordia letting them know how much I appreciated Christ-centered, distinctively Lutheran VBS materials, especially in the music. I will be sending them feedback this year, but it will not be positive. And even though I haven’t evaluated the rest of the materials, I won’t be ordering or using this VBS program.

I understand that they’re trying to sell VBS programs. I also understand that you can sell a VBS program to more churches (including non-Lutheran churches) if you make the content, music included, more generic. I remember thinking with some of the previous programs that I wonder what non-Lutherans would think of this music because it was clearly Lutheran language that taught beautiful scriptural truths.

If you are concerned about using music that teaches the faith in your Vacation Bible School, I can’t recommend Planet Zoom. If you are still deciding, I would encourage you to carefully evaluate the music BEFORE ordering or deciding. And if you find the same things I have, I encourage you to let them know what you think.

Most of the stuff of VBS doesn’t last long. The crafts will get thrown away, along with their leaflets. They might keep a souvenir or two, but might not remember what it was trying to teach. But music is something that sticks; it is supposed to plant truths deep within us. I have hoped that if anything goes home with the kids and sticks, it should be the music. But it’s got to be good.

7 thoughts on “VBS Music

  1. Thanks for the head-up. We, too, have used the CPH VBS programs the past couple years. We will be more discerning when choosing a VBS curriculum this year.

    By the way, your picture and your comments remind me of a certain professor of ours who would go “Bzzz…Bzzz…Bzzz…” when we would come across certain statements in our German translations. Connection?

    God’s continued blessings, Brother!

  2. Unbelievable! I was thinking the same thing, but couldn’t come up with a reasonable spelling for Schwarmerei! Funny what things I remember from hanging out with you language gurus in college.

  3. btw, it might sound strange, but it’s also appropriate to keep a discerning eye on our own publishing house when it comes to VBS stuff. A couple of years ago there was a VBS from Northwestern that was much the same as what you describe here, with very little law and gospel. It speaks to its doctrinal blandness that there were methodist churches in our area who used the VBS because they could doctrinally agree with everything the VBS. They’ve been a whole lot better in recent years. But, keep your eyes open.

    Thanks for your posting.

  4. Rev. Caauwe,

    This is Andrew Swenson, the relatively new marketing manager for VBS at CPH.

    I want to thank you for your commitment to CPH VBS programs in the past and for taking time to take such a careful look at the music for Planet Zoom.

    I hear your concerns about the theological content of the music, but I do want to assure you that all music goes through the same Doctrinal Review process as all of our other materials (not that this is a concession by any means).

    I want to also assure you that our editors were very careful to ensure a proper distinction between Law and Gospel in all of our lessons and leader materials. In addition, we’ve maintained our distinctly Lutheran Christocentric focus that many other publishers have abandoned (by way of a quick example, all our take home points this year focus specifically on Christ by beginning “Jesus, our Savior”).

    I say this not to convince you to buy Planet Zoom—you have to make the ministry decision that best fits your conscience and the needs of your congregation—but to let you know that we by no means making curriculum decisions based solely on the issue of sales potential.

    If you want to talk about this directly with me, I’d welcome that. You can email me at andrew.swenson[at]cph[dot]org or you can call me at 314-268-1136. I value the time I get to talk with to customers and get feedback. In my opinion it’s the best way to shape some of the difficult decisions we have to make when developing our VBS.

    Thanks again for sharing your thoughts, and please, drop me a line.

    • I have made these points in a personal email, but for the sake of readers here:

      I suspect that it’s much easier for a doctrinal reviewer to catch something false than it would be for them to say, “Rewrite it because it doesn’t say much and it focuses too much on what we do for Jesus than what Jesus does for us.” There’s always bound to be some songs that aren’t as content-rich as others. Even our hymnals are that way. But if all of our songs are fluff, we have a problem.

      I would grant that the rest of the VBS materials in Planet Zoom are probably pretty good, just as you say (distinctly Lutheran, Christocentric). I have come to expect that as I have used CPH VBS as well as the Growing in Christ Sunday School. My point is simply that the music should be held to the same standards.

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