You make a good observation: my letters to you on the topic of children’s sermons have not said much about what to actually say to the kids.
Yes, what you actually DO say matters as much as avoiding the pitfalls. Yes, I will indeed send you some input on how to pick a topic, how to prepare, and how to make sure you are on target for kids.
But really, the fails in this department are so frequent and so epic that somehow I hope that getting a sense of the potential problems can be helpful. Think of it as warning signs for detours, accidents, and delays popping up on your GPS. You really do need to know which roads NOT to go down.
I still sense your hesitation about the whole enterprise, though. In your heart of hearts it just might be possible that you don’t think children’s sermons are a useful or appropriate idea at all.
If that is how you feel, you have a lot of good company out there. But I’m going to do my best to convince you to at least be open. And my argument will underscore the point that figuring out what to actually say in a children’s sermon is not the most important place to start.
Let’s start instead with God’s own approach to ministry.
Step One: Incarnation. Step Two: Presentation.
When God wanted to reach out and help humanity, he didn’t start with a set of talking points. God came in person.
The incarnation itself is the beginning of the gospel ministry. God showed up, and that was the message.
In our ministry we would do well to do as Jesus did. We show up. If Christ is truly in us, then being truly present is the beginning – and it embodies the message.
Then, when God was personally present in Christ, loving people actively, serving people practically, he taught them. They listened because, as the founder of Young Life used to put it, he had “earned the right to be heard.”
Jesus’ Policy: Let the Children Come to Me
Now if you want a biblical text to ponder as a justification for the children’s sermon, try Mark 10:13-15.
And they were bringing children to him that he might touch them, and the disciples rebuked them. But when Jesus saw it, he was indignant and said to them, “Let the children come to me; do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God. Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it.” (ESV)
You’ll find parallel passages in Matthew 19:13-15 and Luke 18:15-17.
Note carefully what all three Gospel texts have in common:
First, Jesus insists that his disciples allow him to spend ministry time with little kids. Note how the first instinct of many adult disciples then and now is to shuffle the children off, out of the action.
- Sometimes we think worship, or the sermon, or whatever, is going to be over their heads so we keep them away — but Jesus made sure some of his ministry was age-appropriate for them.
- Sometimes we think they will be disruptive, believing worship is supposed to be peaceful and reverent — but Jesus was okay with having them near.
Second, though, Jesus showed a very Mr. Rogers sensibility. Jesus did not insist that the kids come. Jesus allowed them to come. If you let them choose the distance, you are being more like Jesus — and avoiding rarer, but more serious pitfalls.
I once saw a visiting pastor doing a children’s sermon, and he wanted to do much as Jesus had done. He wanted to put his hand on each kid’s head and give a blessing.
Here’s the deal: instead of allowing the children to come if they wanted a blessing, he tried to go to them and touch them.
Some of the kids were fine with that.
But some of the kids didn’t want to be touched. They ducked. They backed away. One backed away, and then cut behind other kids to be out of reach.
The visiting pastor grabbed him, saying
You can run but you can’t hide. It’s a God thing.
The takeaway from that children’s sermon? In church, somehow because of God, grown-ups can touch kids whenever they want to.
Do you really know what is going on in kids’ lives? Do you know who has already been a victim of abuse? Do you know who has challenges with touch because of anxiety or autism? Even if you do know these things, follow Jesus’ advice. Give children the choice about whether they come to you or not.
As a pastor you are one of the grown-ups. And grown-ups need to protect kids from unwanted touch.
Seems simple: In ministry whether with kids or with grown ups, don’t touch anybody that doesn’t want to be touched.
Here’s your rule of thumb: Make the aim of your children’s sermon to communicate about Jesus in word and in action. Start by letting the kids decide how close to come.
Themes, contents, and planning soon!
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