I do think you’ll be well on your way to a solid children’s sermon if you take up my challenge to make it one salient point from the text you are preaching to the grown-ups.
But that isn’t the whole journey. You still need to work hard at finding kid-friendly ways to get that biblical point across. I’ll write you more about that another time.
For today, though, I want to suggest that you start with the big picture. Think through the salient point you want to make. Once you plan out what you intend to say to the kids, take a look and ask this all-important question:
Is it true?
It is important to tell kids the truth. That’s especially so when you are telling them about God, the faith, salvation.
But there are so many ways this goes awry.
Is it True Theologically?
Let me tell you about the children’s sermon I’ve heard more often than any other. I must have heard half a dozen preachers deliver some variation of this.
The preacher sits down with the kids, Bible in hand. The pastor asks if they know what it is. They answer:
A Bible… (duh)
Then the preacher asks if they know what the Bible is for.
Then, whatever the kids say, the preacher says the Bible is our God-given user’s manual for living.
The preacher says that the Bible is very much like the user’s manual for a car — or the instruction manual for a complicated piece of electronics, or stereo equipment, or whatever.
I’ve heard it multiple ways, but it is usually the car thing.
That may well pass the Stephen Colbert test: it has “truthiness.” It feels or sounds true, whether it really is true or not.
But you need to push a little harder and see if it is actually true.
Test 1: When was the last time you prayed and meditated with your Chevy’s auto manual?
Think about what you really want people to do with their car’s manual. Do they do anything like what a Christian does with the Bible?
Do I read my auto manual? No, I put it away in the glove box so I can use it when I need it.
I don’t want Christians to hide their Bible away on a shelf just so they can look something up later.
Well, what should Christians be doing with their Bible? I want them to read it cover to cover, and know it well.
I certainly don’t do that with my car manual. With apologies to the technical writers out there, those things are a snooze.
Reading it is just a start. I want more than that. I want people to encounter God in the Word.
People need to read the Bible slowly, prayerfully, reflectively, and listen for the questions God is asking them, listen for the very personal words God is speaking to them.
No one in their right mind tries to encounter God in an auto manual.
Test 2: When was the last time you looked to the Bible for detailed factoids about your life and how to live it?
Let’s turn it around. If I don’t use my car manual the way I use my Bible, maybe I still should use my Bible the way I use my car manual.
I use my car manual to find necessary facts for the upkeep and repair of my car.
Okay, there are people who approach the Bible that way. Some people do find the theological equivalent of the proper tire pressure and oil viscosity, and what the “check engine light” might mean.
These might be the people who put together detailed lists of Bible commands, or Bible promises, or Bible prophesies.
But if you read the Bible cover to cover, then read it prayerfully and reflectively, you’ll find it is actually quite unlike those user-manual instruction books.
The Bible is God’s Word, yes indeed, but God didn’t make it simple and user-friendly as a way to find guidance.. Within its pages you have to wrestle with things.
- Like how the same God communicates in different kinds of literature (law, poetry, narrative, letter…)
- And how the same God asked Abraham to sacrifice his son and forbids child sacrifice
- And how God chose people in polygamous cultures and monogamous cultures
- And how God chose to use adulterous and murderous people while the Ten Commandments forbid both adultery and murder.
I’m thinking if you use the Bible like a user’s manual, you stand a strong chance of adding the wrong kind of oil — or that maybe your tire pressure is already set a bit too high.
You can actually tell a lot about a preacher’s REAL theology from the children’s sermon.
Someone who tells kids the Bible is a lot like a car user’s manual is not saying something true about the Bible. And that children’s sermon may not tell you much about the preacher’s official doctrine.
But the preacher is showing you something very true, and maybe something troubling, about his or her gut-level day-to-day theology.
So if your pulpit supply invitation this weekend includes a children’s sermon again, keep it true.
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