The Time With Children
The Children's Sermon
Time with Young Disciples
It goes by many different names. But basically it is a time of less than five minutes when the children of the congregation are invited forward for a presentation especially for them. Many of you who read this blog, use it to prepare such messages. I want you to know that...
In a perfect world, I am against Children’s Times in worship for lots of reasons.
L They say to the children this is for you. What is unsaid is, now please sit down and be quiet or leave for other activities so that we adults can do real worship which you will find boring. That does not invite children to participate more and more fully in the congregation's worship.
L The age span of the children who appear make it very hard to say something that will be meaningful to all of them.
L The object lessons often used require that listeners be able to transfer characteristics of a concrete object to an abstract spiritual truth. People who study how we think have proved that this ability does not develop in the human brain until adolescence. To prove this to yourself, ask a child, "what did Pastor say on the steps today?" The child will tell you all about the object presented. Then ask, "Why do you think Pastor told you about that?" The child will hem and haw and say "I suppose it has something to do with God." The children don't get object lessons. The adults on the other hand do and use them to recall the more complex abstractions of the sermon.
L Children are often exploited for the pleasure and laughter of the adults. When children offer or hear another child offer something that seemed perfectly reasonable to them only to hear the congregation laugh, they are embarrassed. That is one reason most children refuse to go forward far earlier than their parents expect.
But they do have positive value
J They do say that the congregation values children.
J They also give the children a chance to get close to the congregation's leader. When the main worship leader takes time to speak with the children, they feel that they count. Conversely, when this is the only part of worship delegated to someone else, they assume that the real leader is not interested in them.
To my thinking the negatives far outweigh the positives. The real goal is not to provide five minutes for the children, but to invite children to grow into the entire worship experience. We do this better when we plan worship mindful of the presence and needs of worshipers of all ages. We don't have to dumb down worship for children, but we do have to toss them lifelines that help them join in the singing, praying and listening. You'll find this blog filled with ideas about how to do that on each Sunday of the lectionary cycle.
So, if in this less than perfect world you must offer a Children's Sermon....
F Avoid object lessons that children do not understand.
F Use the time for worship education. Explain and explore the meaning of prayers and responses that are regularly used. Highlight one aspect of a sacrament as it is celebrated. Tell the story behind or walk through the verses of a hymn just before you sing it. Bring the pulpit Bible to the children and read one of the day's texts from there, stopping along the way to talk about some aspect of it with the children. Or, talk about that reading with the children and then send them back to their seats inviting them to listen to it from there. You will find lots of worship education suggestions in this blog!
F If possible move the time around in the order of worship in order to explore with the children what is about to happen. Talking about a part of worship just before doing it has a big impact.
F Pick one part of the main scripture story for the day that may be speak to or interest children, but will not necessarily be of concern to the adults. Explore that facet of the text with the children. It will meet their need and enrich the worship experience of the adults as well.
Or, omit the Children's Message and instead...
Structure worship so that it invites children as well as adults to participate.
F Don't just read the day's scriptures, present them. Ask two readers to read the texts that are conversations between two people. Have stories with complicated action pantomimed as they are read. Plan readings of the psalms that highlight their poetic format. (This is called "including the arts in worship".)
F Include the children's sermon in the real sermon to invite children to listen to as much of it as they can follow. Cite children's literature and movies as well as adult culture. Use common childhood experiences in illustrating points. When children hear something that catches their interest, their heads bob up and they still with you for a while. Make sure there is at least one thing that will catch the attention of the children in every sermon.
F Include the children's concerns in the church's prayers.
F Invite children to be worship leaders. They can serve as ushers, greeters, readers, singers, instrumentalists, acolytes…. All they need is a little help with preparation.
F Look at the worship bulletin through the eyes of a young reader. Then either get an elementary teacher in the congregation to help you reshape it so it is easier to read or create a child’s version of the bulletin. Mainly what is needed is a basic font, names for the parts of worship that use more verbs than nouns (e.g. We Listen to God’s Word instead of The Epistle Reading) and concrete vocabulary. Many congregations place such bulletins in a small canvas bag with paper and a pencil or markers to create a children’s worship kit.
So use the ideas in this blog to create the best possible children’s messages if you must. But I also encourage you to use them to explore other ways of speaking to children and including them more fully in worship.