Considering the Children's Sermon
Children's sermons. You either love them or hate them. They can be cute with no content, or embarrassingly out-of-touch with a child's cognitive development. Adults often like them . . . could it be because they understand them better than the 'usual' fare?
Dr. Joyce Ann Mercer, professor at Virginia Theological Seminary and author of Welcoming Children: A Practical Theology of Childhood (Chalice Press, 2005), shares some pros and cons of why we should (or should not) offer children's sermons.
Relationship & Belonging:
- Pro: Children's sermons can communicate inclusion & belonging.
- Con: they can segregate children.
- Pro: It is an opportunity for adults to learn from children
- Con: Children can become entertainment for adults during worship - it objectifies them.
- Pro: Physically gathering children functions as a visible reminder of a faith community's responsibility for its baptized children
- Con: Some children are uncomfortable being physically singled out for special attention if they choose not to participate.
- Pro: Adults become familiar with the children in the congregation as they see them week to week
- Con: "face familiarity" is not a substitute for a relationship.
- Pro: A special time of closeness with the minister is available
- Con: May communicate that ministers are people who don't understand or are uncomfortable with children if it doesn't go well.
Knowing & Learning:
- Pro: Children are provided with opportunities to hear faith stories told and retold
- Con: "object lessons" in which children are asked to mentally transfer some information about an object to a moral lesson or theological concept (may be okay for older children, but hard for younger ones). The object often becomes the focus and not the story.
- Pro: Offers a window into hearing scripture read and participate in the remainder of the liturgy, including the "adult" sermon
- Con: implicitly demonstrates that children can only learn when being talked to separately - they don't really need to pay attention to the rest of the liturgy.
- Pro: There is an opportunity for concrete stories to be told that are helpful to the whole church in an effort to make the proclamation of the Word available to everyone
- Con: the tendency to reduce the meaning of faith to moralisms.
In addition to Dr. Mercer's book, she recommends several others for understanding how we can fully include children in the worshipping community, especially as related to the "children's sermon."
- Formational Children's Ministry: Shaping Children Using Story, Ritual and Relationship by Ivy Beckwith (BakerBooks, 2010)
- Sharing Faith with Children: Rethinking the Children's Sermon (Westminster John Knox, 1994) by Sara Coven Juengst.