I hear your objection to preaching a children’s sermon that is rooted in the main text you are preaching to the grown-ups. But I don’t think it is really a problem.
Yes, some parts of Scripture are kind of “R-rated” or at least “PG-13.” But how often (really, let’s be honest here) do you hear the racy bits or the violent bits preached in the grown-up sermons?
The lectionaries leave them out (sometimes without indicating the editorial trimming) and very few “lectio continua” preachers ever choose to preach through the books those passages are found in.
When the Text is PG-13?
It can sneak up on you though. When I was preaching a series on the Ten Commandments I used my children’s sermon to explain each one to the kids.
Then we got to “Thou shalt not commit adultery.”
How did I miss that when I was thinking the project through?
I didn’t really want to explain sex to the kids in worship. These were little kids. They were years away from the biological facts involved, and years further away from thinking about marriage. But how else to draw the one salient point from the text for them?
But then I realized the point they absolutely could understand: promises.
- Kids totally get promises. They are convinced that if their parents say “maybe” there will be ice cream, the promise is now sworn and established.
- And kids can understand that moms and dads make promises to each other — especially if they have ever been to a wedding.
So in the children’s sermon that day I talked about the command in terms of married people. God says they need to keep their promises to each other.
No need to expound on the particular promises that Moses had in mind, and which still put many marriages to the test.
What I said was one key age-appropriate element of the text.
I felt like I’d dodged a bullet on that one. The looks on the grown-ups’ faces told me the parents thought so too.
A Boundary for Creativity to Grow With
Committing to preaching the message of the text, both to the kids and to the grown-ups, can give you tremors at times, but it provides a healthy boundary to grow within.
On the one hand, it can keep you from your own unhealthy extremes. We all have our pet issues, and left to our own devices our sermons would gravitate back to them time and again.
Having to dig into a particular text that is pitched to you either by the lectionary or by the book you are preaching through, means you have to wrestle with other, not-so-favorite ideas. The good news: the text is forcing you to wrestle with what God has been saying to humanity.
On the other hand, it can be a sort of trellis for the arbor of your creativity. I don’t know if you have done much gardening, but there are some plants that will thrive by climbing up and around a structure like a trellis.
Without the frame, I suppose the climbing vine would just slither on the ground and get mowed with the grass.
Human creativity often works this way too. Think about the poetry that has lasted centuries. Take Shakespeare’s sonnets. He didn’t just pour his feelings onto the page. He chose to fit them into a known pattern.
- This many lines, no more.
- Every line to this meter.
- Rhyme it here, not there.
The result of all that constraint? Creativity. People still read those sonnets — they study them, and love them.
So my point: Setting out to write a children’s sermon that will focus on a passage of Scripture is a constraint that will improve your result.
Your Goal: One Salient Point
And my method: Find one salient point in that text, and communicate it in kid-friendly ways.
You can’t make all the points you’ll make to the grown-ups.
- For one thing the kids won’t listen to you for fifteen or twenty minutes.
- For another, the grown ups will probably need to hear a different point.
Don’t be surprised, please, that I say the text might have different points for different hearers.
We Protestants have been a bit foolish over the years thinking every text has precisely one meaning. The medievals were much wiser on this: they assumed every text had four different meanings.
God has something to say to each of us, and it will vary by
- who we are,
- where we are in life, and
- the questions life is forcing us to ask.
Kids are in a different place than grown-ups. Their lives are hard — just differently hard than ours. You need to love them enough to try to figure out what they face in life, and then listen to the text for them.
The challenge of preaching to children is the challenge of cross-cultural ministry. Jesus came all the way from heaven to speak to us in our own flesh. It isn’t asking too much to say we need to try speak the Bible’s message in ways children hear as helpful.
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