Monday, December 24, 2007

In Defense of Children's Sermons

When I started this blog, I claimed that I would push the buttons of Confessional Lutherans like myself - challenge them on places where they have become intellectually lazy and unthinking, where they have not given the study and thought that their office deserves. I have not done this in a while. I shall do it now, with a bold statement.

Children Sermons can be a useful and appropriate tool in a liturgical service.

I remember many of my professors, whom I respect greatly, speaking of how a Children's sermon will break up the flow of the liturgy, and should be avoided as they do this. I will be blunt. They were wrong. Children Sermons do not of necessity break up the flow of the service - any more than a sermon breaks up the flow of the service.

The sermon is the pinnacle of the Service of the Word - and I don't think any of us would say that it disrupts the service. Now, if instead of a sermon you chose to do some sort of tomfoolery - a chancel drama, a skit - that would break up the flow of the service because of its tenor and conduct.

Likewise, a children's sermon should be that - a sermon, a matter of teaching God's Word. There are ample places where this can be done without disrupting the service or destroying it's solemnity.

What has brought this out to me is that for the past few months we have been doing children sermons every Sunday (I did this because the custom had been children sermons on non-communion sundays - now when every Sunday communion is introduces, there will be no false complaint that there wouldn't be any more children sermons) - and the practice is after the Creed I will summon the children forth - and then they and the entire congregation will go over a part of the Catechism - which I will then sit and discuss with the children for a few minutes, teaching them. And then, they head back to their seat while the intro of the sermon hymn begins. There is no disruption, just another pause for teaching.

(of a note - some might say that using the Catechism is schismatic - in jest perhaps, but still it is said. I say, "Balderdash! The Catechism is simply pure teaching of the Word, and that can never be schishmatic, no more than the preaching of the Word.")

The bigger problem with children sermons is not that they exist - but rather what people expect. If you make them a cutesy object lesson time - they do disrupt the service. If you make them a time to watch all the cute little kids - they do disrupt the service. If you make them what people generally want them to be rather than a time of simple and direct teaching - they disrupt the service. But if they are simple, short moments of teaching, then they can be done.

I think after the creed and right before the Sermon Hymn (or after the Gospel and right before the Sermon Hymn) is a fine place - it is a time of transition (hymns are for transition), so adding something there works. I also think you could do so before the opening hymn (although if I did something there, instead of being a catecatical lesson I would probably do a service preview - this is what we are going to learn today and I want you to be listening for x, y, and z) with fine and great reverence - and benefit to the children.

But be wary - do not give into schmaltz! You are to teach - if you do a children's sermon, then let it be a sermon! It is not cutesy play time - it is not object lesson time - you are teaching and training them to listen to the Word preached (I do ask them questions and listen for their answers, but I ask questions, albeit unanswered by the congregation, in my sermons all the time - it mirrors how I preach). And that does not disrupt the service - provided it is part of the service of the Word.

So thus my advice - children sermons can be okay if the following is remembered.
1 - Place them before a hymn - either the opening or the sermon hymn - because those are times of transition anyway - where the "action" moves from the Pastor to the Congregation.
2 - Let them be matters of teaching - which are fitting for the service of the Word. We like and value the teaching of the Word.
3 - Do not give in to the idea of trying to make things cute - make them simple, but do the same type of things you would do when teaching adults - because that is what they will grow into.

It's interesting - at first a few people didn't like that I was doing stuff with the Catechism for the children's sermon. . . I was actually asked if that wasn't too advanced for kids (boy, doesn't that demonstrate that we've forgotten what the Catechism was designed for) - but now the congregation has gotten used to it, and I think the parents see and understand what I am doing and how this is a benefit.

If you do a children's sermon, do it with care and and with the thought of teaching - and then it can be a fine practice. . . by no means a required one - but a fine, Confessional practice.


Anonymous said...

Rev. Eric Brown

I think that you raise a great point about using the Children's sermon to teach the catechism. If you are in the situation where there must be a children's sermon. I think however that we must be careful breaking up church into parts (one for adults and another for children). I know for a fact that my two young sons (3 yrs old and 2 years old ) do pay attention to the sermon and will at times answer questions that there father may raise in the sermon itself :) .
We must keep in mind that the powerful word of God works on the hearts and minds of all people even and that the sermons that we preach can and do work on all our members young and old.

I enjoyed reading your blog and I hope you have a blessed Christmas

In Christ

Rev. Ken Stottlemyer

Rev. Eric J Brown said...

That is a fine point, my friend, that kids do listen. The downside of a Children's sermon can be the idea that this part of the service is for them, the rest isn't. That's why you need to find ways of encouraging and teaching them about the rest of the service (which sadly their parents probably aren't).

Mike Baker said...

As an adult (at least as far as the calender and the US Government are concerned), I can tell you that I get alot out of children sermons. Their value comes from the absence of retarded metaphors, stale object lessons, and convoluted rehtorical devices.

It is not just for kids. It actually helps the "adult" sermon by presenting the congregation with material that they can apply to the preaching that is to come. In several cases, I have gotten more out of the "child" sermon than the "adult" one because the pastor took the time to make sure that the children's sermon had purely presented Law & Gospel and that the delivery was simple and clear.

I wish more adult sermons were like children sermons: Here is the Law. Here is the Gospel. Here is Christ. Here is what we should do by faith. Everyone agrees? Good. Go sit down and don't shove anyone along the way.