It’s Saturday night and you suddenly realize you haven’t started thinking about what to do during that moment in the service where all the children descend upon the altar area of the sanctuary – that part where you (minister, children’s director, lay person) have to engage children and give them a mini-sermon. Terror strikes because you’re not sure how to explain the Trinity to a group ranging from three to nine years old. You think, “I need props! Is the Dollar General still open at 10pm at night?” Or “I have twenty Rice Krispy Treats in my office, what Biblical message can I create with a gluten-free snack?” While some work best under pressure, the reality is that we often forget about this moment in worship, diminishing the significance it has for some of our youngest disciples.
Each congregation has a reason for the children’s moment. For some it is an unquestioned part of their tradition. For others it may be the easiest way to assemble the children before exiting to children’s church. And then there are those congregations that truly want to see the children engaged in the worship service and in the hearing of God’s Word. I think Jesus would fall into that last category.
“People were bringing little children to Jesus in order that he might touch them; and the disciples spoke sternly to them. But when Jesus saw this, he was indignant and said to them, ‘Let the little children come to me; do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs.” Mark 10:13-14 (NRSV).
We like to quote these verses in our children’s ministries and put it on the walls of our preschools. Likewise, I would make the case for this being the reason we include a children’s moment during the worship service. Children were obviously present when Jesus was present. Perhaps the children were, themselves, the object lesson for the day. But it seems to be more than that. I think Jesus was aware that children are capable of understanding the kingdom of God and they deserved a moment.
Recreating, retelling, and experiencing God’s story is the foundation of faith (for more on this, see John Westerhoff III, Will Our Children Have Faith? (2000 edition, p. 90) So why do we often undervalue the sacred moment where children come forward to participate in the retelling of our story? Children should have a place where the corporate body has come together to remember. This does not belong solely to the Sunday School hour or Children’s Church where children are assembled outside of the sanctuary away from the adults. Likely, many families won’t stay for an additional hour outside of worship, so we often have one shot here to communicate the Word for children. Sometimes all the adults remember from the narrative in worship is what happens during the Children’s Sermon. Truth. Adults need simple object lessons, too. Jesus used parables. He invented the Children’s Sermon.
Choosing your text – The important thing is to bring cohesiveness topically during the worship service. Just as hymns and worship songs are carefully selected to support the message, so should the children’s sermon. In fact, the children’s moment should “tee” up the sermon. No pressure here!
- Following the Lectionary – Some pastors follow the Revised Common Lectionary for their preaching texts. Get a copy of this or go here (http://lectionary.library.vanderbilt.edu) for Scripture references.
- Following a series – Some pastors choose to create sermon series that do not necessarily follow the Lectionary. Find a time to meet with them and get a list of Scripture verses and topics if possible.
- You’re on your own – For whatever reason, you are unable to access the sermon text or title. I would recommend following what the Sunday School lesson is about that day or using the children’s sermon to set up your lesson for children’s church (if you have one). Use this opportunity to teach about Sacraments or symbols found around your sanctuary (Crismons, parament colors, stained glass, altar, candles). Connect the dots where you can. If you have no dots, go with the seasons or use a resource online like sermons4kids.com to help give you ideas.
Every congregation is different, but there are some simple ingredients that can be used in most contexts. I never follow a recipe exactly and I sometimes have to substitute ingredients based on what I have in the pantry, so these are more suggestions rather than rules.
- Learn how to use the microphone (or equip the person using it). This cannot be understated.
- Bring a second adult to the front to sit with you to do “crowd control.”
Try not to ask open-ended questions. This allows for children to take over or hog the show. If you ask questions, make them guided or give them options.
- Be concise. The common rule for a children’s moment is to go no longer than three minutes. This has to do with their attention span as well as the timing of the service.
- Speak to (not at) children. Use language they understand. Don’t talk down to them or over their heads either.
- Use object lessons. Children are not abstract thinkers yet.
- Use the narrative. Tell The Story and tell it well.
- Use parables. Tell a story about The Story. There is an abundance of children’s books that can help with this (as long as it’s under three minutes).
- Pray. Conclude with a prayer specifically for the children and the application of what they just heard. Keep it short. Writing this out ahead of time can be helpful.
- Borrow ideas. The Story belongs to all of us.