“And now, I’d like to invite all of the children to join me on the steps for the children’s sermon.” I say those words almost every Sunday. They are followed by the mad rush of hurried little feet making their way past me onto the top step of the chancel. I then sit down with all those beaming faces in a Mr. Rogers styled flop, followed by a loud and hearty welcome. Then, week after week, I make my feeble attempt, as quickly as possible, before I’ve totally lost their attention, with as much creativity as I can possibly muster, to teach them something.
But what can you really teach a child in 2-3 minutes? An even bigger question is what can you possibly say that will actually make sense to a child? Ever since my wife presented a research paper at the Carolina Psychology Conference on children’s ability to understand religious metaphors I have been crystal clear on the fact that young children are totally literal thinkers. When you say, “Give your heart to Jesus,” they think you mean your actual, physical heart. Or, perhaps they think you mean give him a valentine. They do not really get it! Other studies confirm this truth. Now, considering the fact that most of the really fun children’s sermon ideas rely almost totally on metaphorical language, this is a problem for me! Ugh!
While I certainly think that Sunday School teachers and parents should set out in plain, literal language the truth of scripture in the most understandable, clear, and non-metaphorical ways, I’m not so sure if that really works for a children’s sermon. Besides, I just can’t resist using props, doing tricks, and finding an excuse to throw a paper airplane in church! But, are they getting any real message? Hmmmm…
Now, added to the literal thinking problem is the fact that several of the children who come forward, and stare at me with those wide eyes, and giggle when I act like a clown… actually have no idea what I am saying. Some speak no English at all! Others only have a limited understanding of the language. What could they possibility get from my so called children’s sermon?
I have received, however, a modest revelation. As I look into their faces, and they look into mine, as we connect and enjoy each other’s company, as we have a roaring good time in the middle of a worship service, they are actually learning everything they need to know in that moment. They may not understand the message. It is even less likely they would remember it, even if they got it! Here is what they do know. Their pastor loves them. They hold a central place in the life and worship of their church. They matter. Church is actually a pretty fun place to be. And, most importantly, God really is love after all! Those are lessons they will always remember.
I think it is important for all Christians, not just the pastors, to find ways to communicate the love of God to children, and to show them just how important they are within the church. You don’t have to use clever tricks or tricky metaphors either. Just pay attention to them. Speak to them. Love them. It will make a lifetime of differences. I promise.