The Senior Pastor believes Ethan is thinking, "It is so great to have our own special time in worship with the pastor. He knows how to talk to children. He understands that six-year-olds love metaphors. I wonder what object he has today. Maybe we'll get Skittles and learn how God helps us taste the rainbow. I can't wait."
Ethan is actually thinking, "I hate my shoes. Why can't I wear flip flops like Aiden? Sophia's mom brings Laffy Taffy. My mom brings raisins. How fair is that? I need a break from mom and it's children's time-our time to shine. I hope Isabella says something that makes everyone laughs. Why does the preacher always bring something? It never makes sense, but Starburst day was pretty good. Why doesn't he tell a story? I like stories. If I scoot a little I can touch that candle. Mom's probably watching, but she can't get me from there. I'm going to take off my shoes."
Children's sermons must be hard, because most of us have heard more bad ones than good. Eager preachers hope the children will say funny things so the grownups will think the preacher is clever. Desperate preachers use party hats, horns, leis, popsicles, and cats. Preschool comedians see this as a chance to start their career. Church members secretly hope some child decides to practice rolling.
Have you ever heard, "The red on this candy cane is the blood Jesus shed," and thought, "That should keep the children from eating candy canes"? Maybe you have heard, "This sucker is sweet just like God is sweet to us," and thought "Not really." If the minister is holding a pair of scissors, do you pray the subject is anything other than circumcision? Have the children in your church been told more about Calvinism than first graders need to know? Perhaps you have heard children's sermons on biblical texts that are not the best choices-Song of Solomon, David and Bathsheba, almost anything in Leviticus, the slaughter of the innocents, or Elisha calling on two bears to maul a group of children who called him "Baldy."
Children's sermons would be better if ministers stopped using confusing props. Object lessons are popular with those who never talk with children. Six-year-olds do not make the intellectual leap from seeds in Dixie cups to how the Kingdom grows. Children do not think in object lesson logic. No children's sermon should begin:
"Here's a bent spoon. Let's imagine the woman with a crooked back."
"I brought two slices of bread, peanut butter, and a knife, because today we're talking about sanctification."
"Look at this picture of a zebra because our Bible lesson is about who goes to heaven."
"Here's a walnut. Picture the Gospel in a nutshell."
"I brought a T-shirt with the Nike logo. Let's just do it."
"Here's a cell phone that reminds us of five things you need to know about prayer. Text messages, for instance."
"I brought my favorite Transformer, Devastator, because he reminds me of St. Paul."
"Here's a key ring. It's mine. Who has the key to your heart?"
"I brought a bag of fortune cookies because we're starting a sermon series on the prophets."
"This is a camera. Let's focus on justification."
"I brought a snake, but it's a rubber snake, or is it?"
Ministers should not use children as props. Children's sermons are often filled with questions that are thinly veiled attempts to entertain the congregation. The preacher should not be going for laughs from the adults. No one should ask these questions during the children's time:
"How is God like this rock?"
"What does your Sunday school teacher teach you?"
"Who is the oldest person in the church?"
"What's the worst thing about church?"
"What does your mother call your father?"
"Could you say some funny things?"
The phrase "children's sermon" is not found in any concordance. If we continue the practice, we should do better. Speakers should prepare thoughtfully and prayerfully. Pay attention to children at times other than the children's sermon. Remember that the purpose is to talk about God's love. Engage the children on a child's level. Do not offer abstract thinking that is developmentally inappropriate for concrete-thinking children. Resist the temptation to put children on display. If you ask questions, ask real ones and listen to their answers. Tell the truth that will matter to a child. Children deserve better than a dumbed-down, cutesy version of the morning message with an attention grabbing prop-though everyone loves M&Ms.
Skeptical people might ask, "If the children's sermon is for the children, then why doesn't the preacher meet with the children when the adults aren't around?" The skeptics might have a point.