Demonstration teaching is when teachers learn a new strategy or skill by watching it “live” … I began to adopt this mindset when giving children’s sermons in congregational settings.
Most of us are looking for ways to better equip parents, grandparents and caregivers for the work of raising children in faith. We’re feeling some urgency about it, too, as we face the double-bind that comes from fewer people attending church. Without regular church-based spiritual formation, parents are responsible for more instruction; parents themselves are in need of more support in this important work. If only we could easily teach parents and other adults how to talk to kids about faith, without requiring extra time from them.
The Power of Demonstrative Teaching
The good news is we can reach and teach both children and parents…and it’s already part of many worship services: the children’s sermon. My bivocational ministry coaching and consulting with preschool teachers made me realize the power of demonstration teaching.
Demonstration teaching is when teachers learn a new strategy or skill by watching it “live” as the trainer leads a lesson or activity. The approach works on two levels: the kids learn content from the guest teacher and the adults learn technique by watching the interaction. The result is very powerful and effective. I soon began to adopt this mindset when giving children’s sermons in congregational settings.
Approaching the children’s sermon as an opportunity for demonstration teaching doesn’t take much more effort from us, although it does require a slight shift in thinking. The children’s sermon has to work on two levels. With every children’s sermon I prepare, I ask two questions:
- What will the children get out of this?
- Am I demonstrating an approach I want people to emulate in their interactions with children?
With these two questions in mind, here are four of the things to consider as you approach your children’s sermon:
The best thing to model for others is that our relationships aren’t one size fits all. Every adult is different and every child is different, which means that no two interactions will be exactly the same. For some reason, though, we tend to have a stereotype image of what a good children’s sermon is: funny, flashy, loud or all three. If you’re a natural performer, this might be your style but it’s not actually how most people teach. It’s ok if you relate better by sharing a Godly Play story, reading a book, singing a song or just having a low-key conversation.
Being present to children is hands-down the most important thing any of us do in our ministries with children. And the truth is, most parents don’t get to experience this joy very often. Our heads are too crammed with all the things we need to do. However, when adults see the connection that happens with real presence, they appreciate the power of it in a new way.
Vary the format
While it’s absolutely true that we should be ourselves, we also want to avoid falling into a rut. I’d read a picture book for every single children’s sermon because there are so many good books out there, it’s easy and it’s almost a sure-fire hit. While that’s certainly one valuable way to do a children’s message, if we stick with one thing we lose the opportunity to show people a breadth of ways to talk to children. The same holds true for object lessons, puppet skits or story telling. By varying the ways we approach the children’s sermon, we expand our opportunities to connect with children who relate differently, as well as showing adults different interaction styles.
Share the responsibility
Just as it’s good for adults to hear the sermon from other people, it’s also good for the children to experience messages coming from other people. It increases the possibility for them to connect with different members of church staff and lay leaders. As “demonstration teaching,” it also helps adults see different personalities and styles at work.
As I’ve been intentional about crafting children’s sermons with these ideas in mind, I’ve seen shifts in congregational approaches to children’s ministry. The children’s sermon, often an after thought in worship planning, can become the cornerstone of a ministry that understands and values children, supports their caregivers with practical ways to talk about faith and makes thoughtful space for families in worship.
Amelia Richardson Dress is a pastor and writer focusing on spiritual development throughout the lifespan. She lives in Colorado with her family and can be found online at ameliadress.com.