A View from the Pew: Is the Children’s Sermon for or by Children?

I miss children’s sermons.

Our church hasn’t had one since March 2020. It’s one of the most anxiety-inducing and unpredictable times during a worship service. As with everything in church life, the pandemic has changed how churches handle this moment. Some have asked children to remain in their seats and delivered the children’s sermon from the pulpit. Others have recorded special messages that kids can watch during the week. Still others have canceled it altogether from the service, viewing it as too risky to bring all the kids together at the front if they are unable to be socially distanced.

In this absence or readjustment of children’s sermons, I can’t help but think back on children’s sermons of days gone by and remember what I have learned from them. Many who deliver the children’s sermon mistakenly aim it at the adults, using big words and deep concepts… “Today, girls and boys, we’re going to talk about your hermeneutic…”.

I’ve been guilty of this when I’ve had the opportunity to give the children’s sermon. I’ve also fallen into the trap of talking down to the kids. Both errors contribute to poor faith formation in our children and result in missed opportunities to convey the love of God at a foundational time in their development.

The not-so-secret truth about children’s sermons is that the most profound lessons come from the children rather than being directed at them. If you don’t believe me, the next time you have a chance to be in a service with a children’s sermon, look at and listen to the children.

Children lack pretense. As the person who posts photos from our worship services to my church’s social media accounts, I have enjoyed but deleted dozens of photos of children yawning or otherwise showing a complete disregard for the person giving the children’s sermon.

Children wander away. I never had to jump and chase down one of my boys during a children’s sermon, but I have empathized with many parents who have. Once the children are released from the confines of their seats with their families, they are suddenly emboldened to roam all over the place, even the choir loft or the pulpit.

Children talk about themselves. You have to be careful not to ask too many questions during the children’s sermon or you will quickly get off topic. Such divergences include the latest episode of “Paw Patrol” or the fight their parents had on the way to church that morning. If you give them a chance, they will make the story all about them.

Children grab attention. You’ll see a mischievous grin when they know worshippers are watching them. If they know they’ve elicited a chuckle, they’ll stick to that behavior no matter how embarrassed their parents become. Raise your hand if you’ve had to endure your child flashing the congregation during the children’s sermon. It’s not a good feeling, but everyone else thinks it’s hilarious.

Children engage with the story. We’ve all seen children’s sermons go awry, but there are also many times when they hang on the words of the minister, imagining the scene and placing themselves in the story. Even with their fidgeting and roaming, kids can make connections to the text that adults have become too dulled to experience.

During worship, children often lead in unexpected and insightful ways. It’s the way the Holy Spirit teaches. If we can shut out the distractions, set aside our discomfort at their unorthodox  responses, and soak in what they’re really saying, we may actually learn something.

I look forward to the resumption of the children’s sermon in our post-pandemic worship and will look for what the children can teach me.

Lance Wallace is a Baptist layperson and member of Parkway Baptist Church in Johns Creek, GA. He earns a living in higher education communications and writes a blog at newsouthessays.com.

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