At the Christian Century’s blog, William Willimon recently wrote about children’s sermons. As a pastor, I’m not a fan of children’s sermons for many of the same reasons that Willimon mentions—they’re not usually for children and they’re not usually sermons.
I love the idea of making worship meaningful for children. I often get annoyed when I hear people say, “children are the future of the Church.” That is totally not true; children are part of the church today. 21st century North American Christians don’t always do a good job demonstrating that sentiment. Too often, kids get ghettoized into children’s church or Sunday school during the worship time.
Though nearly twenty year later, I still remember attending a service where the preacher stopped his sermon to sternly invite a woman to stop her child from crying. Now as a pastor, I don't want to be like that guy.
At Amazing Grace, our bulletin usually includes the line: “We find the sight and sound of squirming children in worship to be a beautiful and welcome sign of God’s new life. For the convenience of families who prefer it, however, we do have a cry room near the back.”
I prefer that children worship with their families. That said, I know I don’t do the best job of making children welcome. We have a few second and third graders that regularly acolyte and hold the chalice during Communion. It’s great to have kids at worship (and in leadership roles), but I find children’s sermons to be a difficult task.
I think I’ve done about three children’s sermons since coming to Amazing Grace, and none in recent months. We barely have a quorum of kids. There are fewer things more awkward than giving a children’s sermon to one or two young people. It puts them on the spot, and is uncomfortable for the pastor, too. Far too often, children’s sermons become a chance for kids to become the center of attention when they say funny things to entertain the adults. That’s not a sermon. The purpose of Lutheran preaching is to proclaim Good News. It’s about what God does, not what we do. Moralistic fables that command us to be nice to people are not sermons.
With this in mind, I attempt to have “adult” sermons have some children’s sermon elements. For me, this means that I try to appeal to a variety of senses. This also recognizes that people of all ages learn in different ways. Last summer, when lots of bread imagery was in the lectionary, we had fresh bread baking in the sanctuary as people entered, so the aroma of bread would be a sign of welcome. In January, I stood in a kid’s swimming pool on Baptism of our Lord as I preached about living in God’s baptismal grace. I don’t do things like that every week, but often enough to keep me creative.
I’d love to hear your thoughts about how worship can be more welcoming to children.