Children’s Talks in the Service

It is my conviction that children’s addresses in the main worship services of the church do more harm than good for several reasons.

First of all, they give the impression to the children that this is their bit and the sermon is not for them.  This is what they are to listen to and nothing else. They are thus gradually trained in the idea of not expecting God to speak to them through the preaching of the Word.  Secondly, children’s addresses are often badly done.  It is not easy to speak to a whole range of ages in an effective way.  In well-ordered Sunday Schools (and of course day schools) children are grouped according to their age, and teaching appropriate to that age is given.  But in churches up and down the country someone gets up with a supermarket bag and pulls out an object, chats about it supposedly to all the children of all ages, and then ties on a religious application, often quite loosely.  Time and time again in many churches I have observed the younger children taking no notice at all of the speaker, or the older children looking decidedly embarrassed, or both!  Often there is clear resentment seen on the faces of early teenagers at being forced to be there. When will adults realize that children above a certain age are acutely embarrassed when they are singled out for the attention of the speaker in front of adults?

One particularly useless practice that I have observed in two churches is when the children are called out to the front and the speaker addresses them at close quarters so that the rest of the congregation cannot hear what is going on, and have to sit in a kind of hiatus until this part of the service is over.  What is that supposed to be doing?  What ultimate benefit is that practice?  And when do the children stop coming forward and remain seated with their parents?

And when this is coupled with the fatal practice of taking the children out for the sermon it is no wonder that many children grow up to keep on going out and staying out.  In travelling around I have been alarmed to see young people as old as sixteen going out for the sermon!  And why not?  They have been trained to go out.  They have been brainwashed into thinking that the sermon has no relevance to them.  No wonder teenagers leave the church when they have been brainwashed into thinking the sermon is not for them.

Over forty years ago I heard the late Dr. Arthur Dakin, one time Principal of Bristol Baptist College, speak against this practice and I have never forgotten what he said.  If children go out of the service part way through that becomes, psychologically, the high point of the service for them.  If you must have them out for part of the service it would be better to bring them in half-way through!

Years ago, through taking Dr. Dakin’s words to heart, and after reading Edith Schaeffer’s book Hidden Art, we devised a much better method which worked supremely well for over 25 years.

First of all, no children under the age of six came into the main service.  Instead we held a children’s church for them where they had teaching appropriate for their age.  In my view, it is not good practice to bring infants into the main services.  The inevitable noise they make disturbs other worshippers, can put the preacher off, and often, unless the  parents are very hard-necked, embarrasses the parents.  It is not necessary.

Secondly, when they reached the age of six or seven, could read, and had learned to sit still, they were told they would be allowed to go into the ‘big’ service and sit with their parents.  It is great to see families sitting together in church. This was looked upon as a great privilege. They were presented with a notebook and pencil.  Their parents were encouraged to follow Edith Schaeffer’s advice on helping the children to take notes of the sermon.

 

The sermons were not at all ‘dumbed down’ but were normal expositions of the Scripture. Of course, in the early stages, the parents simply helped them to put down the preacher’s name and the text, perhaps a few main points, simplified.  And perhaps a drawing related to the church or the sermon. They also encouraged them to look up the hymns in the hymn book and the readings in the Bible and relate to all parts of the service.  This is very important.  Well-meaning parents sometimes mistakenly allow their children to bring books, comics, or even computer games to occupy them instead of encouraging them to participate in the service and listen to the sermon.  This only teaches them that the service and the sermon are not for them.  It is important to get this right.  The preacher serves up slices of the bread of life, and the parent breaks it up into smaller pieces.  Gradually the child gets the idea and begins to take sensible notes.  Some years ago my wife and I had to do a seminar on children in church at a major conference.  After a morning service prior to that seminar I asked the children in our church to let me borrow their notes so that I could use them as illustrations in the seminar.  Over thirty children brought me their notes, many of which I could have preached from.  Some brought me thick notebooks filled with notes of my sermons.  I was greatly encouraged and indeed moved by that proof of the effectiveness of this method.  If children’s addresses must be given, let them be given in another place and time, and not in the main service. Some years ago a university graduate emailed me to tell me that he had all the notes of my sermons he had taken down from the age of six upwards!

Just think seriously about this for a moment.  In some churches a children’s address is given.  Then the children sit through the sermon.  In addition they have a Sunday School lesson either before or after the service.  No wonder they grow up thinking the sermon is not for them.  They have three different addresses to listen to.

If you must give a children’s address because it is written in the church constitution or is according to the law of the Medes and Persians, then perhaps the practice of a certain pastor may help.  He simply told the story of the Bible, working through it gradually in his own words.  This, he told me, took about eight years, after which he could start all over again.

No doubt adults as well as children benefitted from that method.  Knowledge of the Bible among adult Christians is often abysmal today.  If that method is adopted then do not call it the children’s address.  Do not specify that it is for children.  Just do it.  In effect, what you are doing is presenting a paraphrased Scripture reading, not a children’s address.

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