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My DOs and DON’Ts of children’s sermons

The tricky truth about children’s sermons is that it’s easier to come up with bad ones than good ones.

Yesterday, a Sunday morning Twitter exchange with a few pastors got me thinking about my children’s sermon approach, and how it differs from many of my colleagues. For example, when I saw this site and the idea of teaching about the bentover woman in Luke 13 with a bent spoon, I laughed out lout and closed my browser tab immediately.  Later, when I had time to reflect, I found some redeeming qualities to the suggestion, but the bent spoon as an object lesson still puts me off (as if osteoporosis is anything like a bad ice cream scoop — that’s insulting both to our adults with bad backs and to our children’s intelligence!).  So, here’s a few of my children’s sermons DOs and Don’ts:

DO:

  • My main resource is usually the Bible, usually a story (I say more here ). I don’t tend to tell moralistic stories from life – there’s plenty of time for those outside of worship.  Non narrative scripture lessons can work too, but narrative is probably better.
  • Teach about worship, liturgy, our worship space, traditions, etc. For example, our congregation often sings the psalm appointed for the day, but rarely did so before I was pastor. So, as we began this practice, the children and I talked about singing psalms, and where we could find them in the Bible.
  • One point. One point. One point. I try to make one point and stick to it.
  • I’ve found that hand motions and using our bodies together works very well – I thought a very effective children’s sermon took place when the reading was on a version of the Lord’s Prayer, so I taught hand motions to the prayer and everyone – children and older folks – prayed it together with the motions.

DON’T

  • I don’t use myself as an example except to connect with the children (and not to connect or get a laugh from the non-children congregants).
  • I don’t usually use an object in my children’s sermons. If I do, it’s often a picture and very tied to the point of the children’s sermon rather than a traditional “object lesson.” It’s not that I hate objects (though Calvin did call most of them “idols,”) rather what I understand about children’s learning development is that most of the kids who come up for our children’s sermon can’t yet make the intellectual leap from an object to a point loosely tied to the object — “This chocolate is sweet, just like God is sweet to us” or anything like that. If it doesn’t connect very clearly, I don’t use it.
  • I don’t view the children’s sermon as entertainment for the congregation, so I don’t try to get the children to say funny things the congregation will enjoy; I keep open-ended questions to a minimum.  Besides missing the point of worship, laughing at the children makes them objects that entertain rather than fellow worshipers. Objectification in worship is never good.
  • I don’t feel I must connect the children’s sermon point to the longer sermon later, or even use the same text. Sometimes a children’s sermon is a good way to teach a lectionary text not used otherwise.

I’d love to hear your thoughts. I’m certainly not a gifted children’s sermonizer, and I’m always looking to learn more. For example, last time I posted on children’s sermons, someone commented about a UMC church she knew where the children’s sermon happened on a special rug unrolled for the occasion, on which the kids and a pastor huddle. But that pastor doesn’t have a microphone, and another pastor with a microphone shares announcements from the pulpit while the children quietly huddle around the other pastor. Everyone worships, but the children aren’t made the center of it. Sounds heavenly to me.

Originally posted at A Wee Blether.

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