By Tim Brown
Originally published July 30, 2014, at “Reluctant Xtian.” Republished with the permission of the author.
My faith community doesn’t do a special children’s sermon every Sunday.
In fact, we don’t do them most Sundays.
Now we only do them on festival Sundays, or special occasions. Sure, some of our children leave the sanctuary during the sermon on Sunday mornings to go with our deaconess and hear a message or do an activity specifically geared toward them, but that’s not a children’s sermon.
No more coming to the front every Sunday. No more sitting quietly and looking at an object lesson. No more watering down the story about Rahab, glossing over that she’s a prostitute (because it’s kids, you know) and trying to make some sort of moralism out of it.
No more of that.
And there’s a reason. It’s important to be honest here. There’s a reason why we’re not doing that every week anymore.
The biggest reason is that a children’s sermon has, by and large, turned into a “viewer” event in most congregations. That is, the kids are called up front to be viewed by the parents while the pastor engages them like an episode of “Kids Say the Darndest Things.”
And that’s really annoying to me.
It’s annoying because then the message can be as cheap as it wants to be – because the message isn’t the point anymore. Just the act. It’s annoying because then kids get the unspoken social cue that they’re supposed to be cute and “ask the darndest things.”
We should teach our children to ask questions. We don’t need to teach them to be cheeky.
We also then have this “dual sermon” thing going on during worship, where the children’s sermon will have this simple, distilled point, and the other sermon (“adult” sermon?) may have a more complex point. But which one do you think most adults will remember? Perhaps Jesus’ parable of the mustard seed is multifaceted and complex and requires a great deal of pondering, but if you also hear that it simply means some trite moralism that uses a potted plant as an object lesson, which one will you cling to?
Jesus often posits that “infants” and “children” are the true holders of God’s wisdom. Richard Rohr expounds upon this in “Everything Belongs” (a book that also belongs on every bookshelf) by calling it “beginner’s mind.” That is, it may not be children per se that hold the kingdom of God, but those who are open to learning and unlearning – as children are – who do so. When seen in this sense, the “children’s sermon” does more harm than good, especially if it aims to explain really complex texts as moral tales.
In this light, the sermon is for everyone, adults and children. Maybe especially children, as they are the most open to confronting and questioning assumptions.
And I know some parents miss the children’s sermon every week because it is nice to see all the kids in the church together and cute to watch them and – yeah, I get it. To a point.
And I’m sure some kids miss it, too. They like sitting with the pastor and sitting next to their friend who sits five rows over. And some really like a special message for them in that unique situation. Some children are obviously ready to listen to a sermon, but some need a different environment to stay focused. I don’t deny that. In that case I suggest a separate space for the sermon portion where children can engage in a similar message another way.
But I really can’t justify the children’s sermon anymore as a regular practice. I know some love it, but I have some serious problems with it. And I’ve tried it every way, in every style, in every form.
And I just can’t get around the fact that they don’t do for what I think we, as a faith community, want them to do.
It allows more to be lost than to be gained, I think. It doesn’t encourage questions more than it suggests pat answers.
And, really, anything that gets away from worship being “entertainship” is good by me.
Look, I love children. I’m good with children. And we have a ton of children in my faith community. The 0-7 age skews our average age like crazy. And for these reasons, I think it is important that children are involved in the liturgical work on a Sunday morning, but not as spectator or spectacle. Rather as worshiper of a God and as a fellow traveler on the road of faith. No need to carry them; they can walk on their own.
I’ve never seen a 6-year-old happier than when I’ve handed her the communion cup to help serve. Exponentially larger than any children’s sermon smile.
After all, the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these …
Find a link to Tim Brown’s blog “Reluctant Xtian” at Lutheran Blogs.