“Too many congregations have become accustomed to being entertained when children are included in the main service of worship. This truly is a shame, as Jesus reminds us: It is to such as these that the kingdom of heaven belongs (Matthew 19:14).”
Nurturing Children in Worship
I have a love-hate relationship with children’s messages (sometimes called a children’s sermon). I love that a children’s message provides time for talking about God with children within the context of the worshipping community. But it pains me when this opportunity becomes silly entertainment or simply another way to address adults.
Perhaps what I dislike the most is pressure from the congregation for the minister to provide what I call “the Ministry of Cuteness.” Marching children out with a shallow message and questions aimed at hilarity neither models discipleship nor teaches it. Some congregations have become accustomed to being entertained when children are included in the main service of worship. This truly is a shame, as Jesus reminds us, “…it is to such as these that the kingdom of heaven belongs” (Matthew 19:14).
What can we do to assure that time devoted to the children’s message is used most effectively to minister to our beloved children? How can we approach our youngest disciples in ways that will nurture their souls? My five tips are below.
5 Tips for a Children’s Message
1. Use visuals, but avoid object lessons
Don’t use object lessons with preschoolers and elementary aged children. These children are not developmentally ready to make symbolic connections. They will remember the object, but not the lesson.
Do use visuals to capture children’s attention. Hold conversations with the children, inviting their questions, particularly about God, prayer, or important items in your sanctuary.
2. Respect children as participants
Don’t ask children to do anything you wouldn’t ask an adult to do.
Do invite the entire congregation to join the children in singing a song or participating in some sort of litany or echo activity together.
3. Ask good questions
Don’t talk down to the children or insult their intelligence by asking obvious questions. For example: “What day is it today?!”
Do invite the children to wonder aloud about big picture concepts such as God, Love, Jesus’ miracles, etc. Ask imagining questions, such as “Why do you think we use water to baptize?” Allow the children to share their wisdom with the rest of the congregation.
4. Remember that the children’s message is for children; not for adults
Don’t use this time to prepare the adults for the sermon or to get a laugh from the congregation at the children’s expense.
Do tell a story – a Bible story or other story – from memory to engage the children in the narrative through verbal imagery. Then trust that they will take from it what they are developmentally ready to hear.
5. Keep some parts open-ended
Don’t ask questions with one “right” answer.
Do ask questions that allow the children to get at all aspects of the topic. For example, “What do we know about God’s Love?”
We want to model the best of what the Church has to offer, as our children grow in faith. May we all love this time with the children as we nurture them with God’s Love.
Debbie Gline Allen is a Commissioned Minister of Christian Formation in the United Church of Christ who serves as the Digital Missioner for the Association of United Church Educators. She also is an independent Consultant for Children In Worship. She lives in Derry, NH with her spouse, two sons, and beloved cat.
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