Many of my pastor friends have a love/hate relationship with the children’s sermon. It is a great way to include children in the life of your worshipping community. Plus, parents and most congregants say it is one of their favorite parts of worship. At the same time, the children’s sermon is sometimes seen as competition for the sermon. If the heart of the scripture is explained in the three minute children’s sermon, then the sermon itself risks becoming a paraphrase of the children’s message.
I believe that the children’s sermon, with a little preparation and forethought, can actually enhance the sermon rather than compete with it or spoil the heart of the sermon’s message. Rather than making it a mini-sermon about the same text as the sermon, or making sure that what is offered during the children’s sermon is completely unrelated to the sermon text, the function of the children’s sermon can be changed each week to lay the foundation for the text being used. Below are six ways I believe this can happen:
1) The children’s sermon can be used to highlight the other scripture readings of the morning and tie the scripture passages together.
Whether you use the lectionary, or select your own scriptures, the Old Testament readings and the New Testament passages are meant to compliment one another. However, the sermon often focuses on one of them as the central passage. The children’s sermon can be used to explore the passages that you do not have time to go into in depth during the sermon. You can teach the children how the passages fit together and, at the same time, present some of the background work about the text for the adults.
2) The children’s sermon can be a time to do some archeological or map teaching that will help place the text in context for the adults and help the children understand that the events of the Bible can be traced back to historical times and places.
Our children are growing up in a scientific world. They use maps, study history, and are trying to understand how the Bible fits with their modern world. The children’s sermon can be used to show them slides of world maps showing exactly where the stories took place and slides of archaeological discoveries. These will make the stories come to life. For example, a real manger is a powerful thing to see. It helps children see how rugged the birth of Jesus was and just how human and tiny he was. Showing children a place on a map where the story happened, teaches them that each story has a location and begins to tie the stories in the Bible with modern world events.
3) The children’s sermon can be a time for the children (and adults) to memorize an important scripture verse.
When teaching scripture to children, add simple motions and they will learn it very quickly. The verse you choose might be one you plan to highlight in the sermon. After the sermon, the verse will stay in the minds of the children and adults and they will find themselves thinking back to it all week long.
4) The children’s sermon can be used as the scripture reading time.
Simple responsive readings and choral readings can be created where the children help you to read the scripture that will be used for the text of your sermon. This is a great way to have the children really engage with the scripture and, because the children are part of the reading, the adults will listen closely.
5) The children’s sermon can be a time to demonstrate something from the text that is hard to explain with words.
For example, if you are using the story of Jesus washing the disciples feet, you washing the feet of the children, will demonstrate the humility and love Jesus had for his disciples. Or if the story is about a wine press, you can demonstrate the process of making wine to the children and refer back to it during the sermon.
6) The children’s sermon can be a time where you teach some basic Greek, Hebrew and Biblical exegesis around important words and phrases, occupations, and customs included and assumed in the scripture.
For example, when teaching about a shepherd, you can teach the children about the role of a shepherd as background for the sermon. Or, if there is a word with many meanings, you can look it up using a lexicon and explore its meaning. By doing this you will be helping the children and adults understand how to explore their own Bibles and, at the same time, get some of the fundamental teaching done before the sermon actually begins.
We tend to think of the children’s sermon as a time set apart from the rest of worship to speak to the children. I am encouraging you to think of it as an addition to your sermon. What is it that you need to include in your sermon but don’t have time? Put that in the children’s sermon. What teaching needs to be demonstrated or shown in great detail? Show it to the children. What words need to be studied closely to better understand the text? Study that word with the children. By thinking “outside of the box,” your children’s time can be transformed from a superficial time into a time of deep learning and a time where children and adults together are engaging scripture, learning the historical roots of it, doing Biblical exegesis, and beginning to engage with the scripture of the day. With the background work done, they will be prepared and ready to listen more deeply to what you have to say in your sermon.
Good luck and we would love to hear what you discover as you begin to change the way you use the children’s sermon. Please feel free to share your stories with us at firstname.lastname@example.org!
Leanne Hadley is dedicated to helping the Church better the ministries we offer to children and families. More about Leanne’s ministry can be found on her website: leanne-hadley.com or on Facebook at: Leanne cares about kids.
Image attribution: Monkey Business Images / Thinkstock