Why We Don’t Do Children’s Sermons Often…

My faith community doesn’t do a special children’s sermon every Sunday.  Bored Boy

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 for 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 at most churches.  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.  Fr. 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 that 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…


14 thoughts on “Why We Don’t Do Children’s Sermons Often…

  1. I respectfully beg to differ. At my church, the children’s moment (that’s what we call it) allows the kids to feel included in the worship process. Many kids can’t read, so they can’t follow the words of the scriptures and hymns that are posted on the wall. They get frustrated trying to sing songs they don’t know, and get fidgety and distracted. They don’t understand the meaning of some of the rites and traditions. Grownups are always telling them to sit still and be quiet, but they’re bored. The children’s moment gives them a chance to be the audience instead of just overlooked bystanders (to their minds, anyway). They face away from the congregation. Yes, sometimes they do say the darnedest things, and I love their honesty. Yes, the children’s moment often delivers a simpler version of the central theme of the sermon for the teens and grownups. Our pastor does a wonderful job of using the later sermon to expand on the point of the children’s moment, so most of us tend to remember both.

    • Always welcome disagreement.

      And we agree on many points. I’m just not convinced that a “children’s message” is the way to integrate children into the liturgical life, for the reasons I mention above.

  2. Good thoughts but I disagree with your premise. Little kids, developmentally need b&w/ concrete. Sorry. They are not abstract or post modern. You solve nothing by eliminating this. And you miss out on a big opp for the kids to be and feel important and valued. Don’t make it cliche. But honor them where they are at. And for Gods sake don’t take them out of worship. And don’t pretend they can understand an adult sermon.

    • Thank you for the comment.

      There are valid arguments on any side of this issue. It’s clear we don’t agree.

      We should absolutely honor children where they are at. Some require a similar lesson at a different level. Instead of a watered down 4-6 minute object lesson, take them and do the story big. For them.

      As I try to say, I don’t think children’s sermons are for the children in common practice. That’s a problem.

      Children are more complex than we give them credit for. And I think we give them “show” value with a children’s sermon.

      I do not think they do what we intend them to do.

  3. We stopped during children sermons years ago. Children leave after the first hymn for “children’s church”, where they learn a bible story, do a craft, and have a snack. While I don’t think we should have the sermon every week, it would be nice if we had one once a month or so.

    I do miss the children’s sermon, because it provides interaction between the children and the pastor. While children’s church is more at their level of understanding, it also separates them from the rest of the congregation, and that’s something in our church that seems to continue into youth group (when most the youth end up sitting together during worship).

    • Yeah, I have similar discontents with a full-blown “children’s church” or even a separate youth service apart from the main worship.

      Questions raised for me in this struggle:
      -how do we include children in worship authentically?
      -how do we acknowledge that some kids are ready for the sermon, and some need a message (a FULL message, not some object lesson or moralism) at their level?
      -how can we all be church together?

      At our community, some children leave during the sermon. Some choose to stay. But they’re back by the time the hymn is sung.

      And parents sometimes need the time to focus on the sermon in distracted by their kids. As much as we want to say it’s important that everyone is together, after sitting with my 16 month old through a wedding, I can understand why a break is needed at times.

  4. All churches say they love kids. Some love the idea of kids. Some love actual kids. Churches that love actual kids should be wrestling with these issues. I think every context is different, and I appreciate your articulation of some of the exact struggles I have with the children’s moment. I cringe at the “Kids Say the Darndest Things” aspect of them. I love the term entertainship. Lots to ponder. Thanks for adding to the conversation.

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  6. There are plusses and minuses to all kinds of approaches, and churches differ in their needs in part according to size and personality. I served a church of over 900 members. There the children’s time was a chance for me to reinforce to the kids that I was their pastor, too. I used other ways, too, but they saw that as their time. In smaller churches that part wasn’t necessary. I try not to “dumb down” the children’s time, nor make it about entertainment, but rather a part of a whole service based on the same theme and text. They often get something tangible to remind them of the story. In a church that’s small enough, I’ll do that for the adults, too.

  7. I do agree with your evaluation. There are certainly dangers and obstacles, though I think circumstances and a congregation’s mindset play into this a lot. Our church does continue to (most often) offer a short message to the children prior to our regular sermon. Beautifully, it primarily serves to focus the kids on what pastor will be sharing during the sermon. He leads them to an anticipation of other things that will be shared during the sermon and quite often references things shared in the children’s sermon during the sermon teaching.

    • Yeah, it seems prop-ish.

      Look, if we have to do children’s sermons, I think this pastor may have the correct approach. But by and large I just question their role and function within the liturgy, as well as the subliminal messages we’re sending to children when they’re used in this way.

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