Monday, November 15, 2010

Monday Morning Preacher: the dreaded children's sermon

After yesterday's illustration, I thought I'd give my thoughts on children's sermons which, as you see from the title of this entry, are not my favorite things.

I remember very clearly one poor woman trying so hard to give a children's sermon on Christmas Eve. It went something like this:

Preacher: Who's the most powerful superhero you can think of?
Children: GOD!
Preacher: No, I mean, you know, superheroes.
Children (muttering): Superman, Spiderman, blah blah blah.
Preacher: OK, now think of a tiny baby...
Children: JESUS!
Preacher: No, just wait a minute...

I misrepresent, but not by much.

I'm not a big fan of the "ask the adorable children a question" school of children's sermons. I'm also not really a huge fan of "have the adorable children come up front and sit around the preacher" school of children's sermons. When it's about being able to see and hear--fine. When it's largely about the "awww" factor, I'm a mite concerned. So often it seems like this is putting kids on the spot at their expense and sharing with the adult congregation the "adorable" things they say.

Yes, he's my favorite superhero. So?
The other things that gets me is how this lets adults off the hook. How would that sermon have been different if the preacher had asked the whole congregation, "Who is your favorite superhero?" and expected adults to answer too? I mean, would you like it if people said, "Awww!" when you said your favorite superhero was Danger Mouse? My feeling is that having everyone participate in the sermon means that children can see adults modeling an active faith. Having them not participate models that when you're grown up, your job in church is to sit quietly and not say anything.

What the example above says to me is that children learn very quickly what is the "right" answer--even though the question was the kind of open-ended question you think would appeal to a child on a subject with which they are familiar. Learning church lingo starts awfully early. One of the things I fear is that the dreaded children's sermon conveys more than anything the message that in church you must know your proper place and play your proper role.

I do think there are ways to have a sermon that engages children. I'm big on telling stories, for example.

All these illustrations are in the same pose; did you notice?
But there's just something about the way the "traditional" children's sermon is presented that rubs me the wrong way. I think there's something in many of the children's sermons I've heard that suggests a nicey-niceyness. And nicey-niceyness isn't true to anyone's experience, I don't care how old you are.  Just because there's a rainbow doesn't mean it's a nice story. Just because it's a children's sermon doesn't mean it needs to be pablum.

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