Thursday, November 10, 2005

Pastor: Do you preach to the children?

Confession: I hate “Jr. Church.”

One of the joys of preaching is having little 4 and 5 year old kids look up at you and expect you to say something they can understand and think about. I try to make it a point in every sermon to address the children directly – sometimes 3 or 4 times. In my mind, a sermon that cannot be understood at a basic level by a 5 year old (i.e. the main point of the whole thing) is no sermon at all!

Children need the Truth. Like us, they are “idol factories” at heart and have all sorts of whacky conceptions of God. Where we got the idea that it was the sole responsibility of a “Sunday School” to teach children is beyond me.

It would amaze you to know the kinds of things that kids can learn. I try to talk to one or two kids each week and ask them spiritual questions. We also allow for wide interaction in certain contexts and the kids will fire off some amazing stuff. My point is that they are not stupid. They can handle learning about the Trinity and the doctrines of grace and sin and hell and election and sanctification and justification... shall I go on?

It saddens me to no end to attend worship somewhere and see the children neglected. No wonder so many “church kids” grow up thinking church has nothing to do with them! It doesn’t – in that context. This is pastoral failure in my thinking.

Even men who do not have a lot of “kid sense” can still connect with the little ones through illustrations and stories – planted in the heart of the sermon... not in some silly “children’s story” (a.k.a. the “let’s get the kids up front and see how witty our pastor is and how funny these kids are” time).

I say, preach to the children. I have on several occasions taken a Sunday to preach a message just to the kids... the whole thing. If you cannot do that, then could you not at least find one spot in your sermon to look the little ones in the eye and help them to see how a text like Romans 9:1-6 applies to them? Challenging? You bet! But well worth it if we are serious about “preaching the whole counsel” to all men in a way that we are “not guilty of the blood” of any man... or little man, for that matter.

7 comments:

  1. How tremendously important this is!! Paul, your stories and comments to the kids stick remarkably well. And they give we the parents (us the parents?) a chance to reinforce those points over the week.

    Just ask our kids about the servant who died when he belonged to the evil master so the good master to bring him to life, the soldier who dropped the evil lord's weapons for the good Lord's, the man in the red cap who pays the parking tickets, etc.

    And in terms of handling theological concepts, we are continuously surprised by the ability of the kids. All those things Paul mentioned (Trinity, grace, sin, etc.) are not a problem. We're working through the Westminster Shorter Catechism (using the P&R book "Teaching hearts, training minds") and what a wonderful foundation that provides for the kids.

    Preachers, preach to the children! Parents, disciple your children! It's your responsibility and will be your joy!

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  2. I do have to say that was one of the things that drew me to Grace Fellowship Church (among other things). It is amazing to see and hear how the children (and us adults) remember and can understand sometimes deep concepts using simple illustrations. I think its a wonderful way to teach and to plant the Word of God within us. Also, it give us all as Christians opportunities to get to know one another, to encourage and remind each other of Christ!

    Twin#2

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  3. As a boy I grew up in a church where "JR Church" was very popular. Unfortunately I look back and I don't think it really did any good for me or any of the other children that were apart of it. All I really remember from it is eating animal crackers, drinking apple juice and singing Father Abraham. When I graduated from JR Church it was a nightmare because I didn't want to attend church that was ,in my mind at the time, boring. I never payed any attention to the sermons because I had no reason to, I wasn't getting any juice or crakers and we weren't singing Father Abraham. Instead I would draw pictures and ask my mom "how many minutes until church is over?" and then "how many seconds is that".

    I don't intend to take a stab at churches that do have JR Church but I really think people need to reconsider this whole "little people church" idea. I work at a Christian bookstore and there aren't many Children's products that are very deep. Most of them have short lessons telling them that Jesus loves them(nothing about sin or judgement) and usually consist of some kind of craft that gets thrown out as soon as the kid gets home.

    Jesus taught to Children and he did a very good job at it. He incorporated it into his sermons to grown ups as well. He didn't send them off to learn "light doctrines". Last Sunday I was having trouble staying focussed but when Paul addressed the Children it made me understand some of the main points.

    Something that we also have to remember is that Children are saved no differently than us adults. They need to understand the fundamentals just like we do. There is no Christianity Lite for anyone. I really appreciate a sermon that helps Children and people with Child-like minds to understand. Wow I can't believe my rambling. Hehehehehehehe....

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  4. Thanks for that exhortation. We make sure we take our children to the worship service and are frequently amazed at what our five-year old retains. It's great to hear pastors like yourself and John Piper encouraging parents to have children take part in worship services and encouraging pastors to preach to children.

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  5. Amen and amen. Great comments by all too. Was church not supposed to be a family thing? Then why do we come to church to have our family broken up so much that no two of us are in a room together.

    And you couldn't be more right about the children's story simply being a platform for the pastor showing off how "witty" he can be. I hate it.

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  6. I appreciate your comments, as teaching our children is something we need to take very seriously. However, i need to comment that Scripture gives no clear instruction on how children are to be taught in church...therefore, all of us are simply using models that we deem the best.

    There are testimonials here of people who really appreciate what your church is doing with the children, but there would be people who would testify to the same thing in churches where children had Sunday School. We just all need to remember that we are using a particular model, and others use other models or methods. What we need to be doing is dialoguing and teaching each other what works and what doesn't. The goal is to teach our children, not blast someone else's method for doing so.

    One more thing, while i agree children have the capacity to learn and understand important dotrines, i am curious as to why you only mention the doctrines you teach your children. Should we not also be teaching them about some of the primary principles of Jesus, such as loving your neighbor. It is just interesting to me that indoctrination seems to be the primary goal in teaching children...is there more than that? Could someone please clarify for me.

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  7. Hi Brad! Nice to see you dipping your toes into the blogosphere... although that sure is a weird title to your blog!!!

    Well, you are equating my preaching to children with Sunday School. I am not.
    I see them as different birds... and am arguing in this post for an inclusion of children to the preaching ministry. Sunday School is something entirely else and has nothing to do with this post.
    As for doctrines, I could have made my list a mile long! Again, you draw a distinction that I don't. Teaching the kids under my charge about love is teaching doctrine. But I am hopefully framing it in the context of the Scripture in which it is found.
    In other words, Ephesians 5 has a ton to say about love... but it follows Ephesians 1-4. Children are no different than us in their need to understand the indicative prior to the imperative. Now, how I explain Eph 1:1-14 to a child may differ significantly from how I would explain it to a 50 year old seminary student... but it is my duty to preach to both in a way that both can understand. And understanding that glorious passage does so much to inform our understanding of Biblical love!
    I just want churches to think about why they do what they do. Why get rid of the kids from worship and preaching if that is what they are going to do the rest of their lives if God graciously saves them?
    Just some thoughts...

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