I’m glad to hear you got through your first “children’s sermon” all right. Whew!
(The fact that this topic is so fraught for you might be something to think about when you are looking for a field education placement. We can chat about that later if you want to.)
I am glad you took the bait and asked about my comment about laughter in children’s sermons. What I said was “Try very hard not to be funny. If the grown-ups laugh during your children’s sermon, you have very probably failed.”
So what’s wrong with laughter? In general, in much of life, nothing. Laughter seems to be a very good thing for building social relationships and for health. I’m all for it.
Humor in a Children’s Sermon?
When it comes to children’s sermons, though, I think different rules apply.
Why is that?
Well, I might come up with other, better thoughts on another day, but at a first go I’d say look at where the kids are and look at who does the laughing.
Where Are the Kids?
The kids have been called up to the front of the church. That can be frightening. It takes some kids weeks or months to be comfortable enough to go up there.
We shouldn’t be surprised. Lots of grown-ups are hesitant to do anything in front of a crowd. What happens in that space feels a lot like public performance. Public speaking? Sing a solo? Many people are frankly terrified of the idea.
Kids live their whole lives under adult scrutiny, whether from parents or teachers. Then come Sunday morning they find themselves called to the front, standing right in the middle between the pastor (adult with church authority) and their parents back in the pew (adults with family authority). It is an awkward spot.
Of course there is the potential for it to be a fantastic experience — that is if you make it a Mr. Rogers Moment. If you are gentle and welcoming, if you make them feel like they are special and they really belong in God’s house, then it is all fine.
But… what about laughter?
Who does the laughing?
So many children’s sermons prompt lots of laughter. But notice: The kids are not the ones laughing.
Where does the laughter come from? I think of three typical sources:
- The pastor asks a question, and a kid makes a goofy kid-like reply — and the grown-ups laugh.
- The kids get lively, talking at length or on the wrong topic, so that the pastor is out of control — and the grown-ups laugh.
- The pastor says things that are actually directed at the grown-ups, not the kids — and the grown-ups laugh.
What About the Kids?
Imagine you are a kid.
Especially imagine being a sensitive kid, a shy kid, or a kid who feels inadequate.
Maybe imagine being a kid who gets bullied at school, or who gets teased — because it happens to every kid who is a bit different.
Or imagine being a kid who can barely cope because the family hides a deep dark secret of abuse.
You get called to the front and the pastor talks to you. Maybe you answer.
And then all the grown-ups burst into laughter.
I think you feel pretty rotten. You know you don’t get the joke. But you are pretty sure that the joke is about you.
So here’s the unintended takeaway of too many children’s sermons:
Church is where they laugh at me.
Not a Laughing Matter
If you have a time in the service where your job is to help kids grow in faith, then focus on that. Focus on communicating the truth about Jesus in thought, word, and deed.
That is very serious business. It means a children’s sermon is not a laughing matter. But it is deeply joyful.
If you can do it in a way that gets the kids laughing happily on the topic of faith in Jesus, then fine.
But if you bring kids up to the front of the church and prompt their parents and all the other grown-ups to laugh at them then what, really, are you teaching them about Christ, and faith, and the church?
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