Risky Children’s Messages in Worship

Now retired, I have an opportunity to listen to worship services from churches large and small in a variety of communities. One thing I have noticed is how nervous or unprepared preachers or worship leaders seem to be in talking with the children. You can easily tell when the children ‘connect’ with the worship leader or sit wondering when this time on the steps of the church would come an end. This time with children is the most valuable contact many preachers have with the children of church members. I want to share an easy idea on how to do children’s messages to put in your worship toolbox in working with children.

One of the riskiest things I did in worship, back in the 90s, was asking children and their families to bring specific objects into worship that I could use to create a children’s message. Simply, I would ask a child and her/his family to put an object in a bag and bring it to me the next Sunday.

No cheating. I would not give families any help in what they would put in the bag.

On Sunday morning, during the designated time for the Children’s Message, I would open the bag and see for he first time the object. With whatever was placed in the bag, I would spontaneously create a message. These were not deep, well-organized messages.

I could sometimes find a way to connect the object lesson with my sermon or a hymn or something else going on in the world or the life of the church. While I would often find a scriptural text that could relate to the object, I would mostly pull on my own personal experiences with theological concepts that might be relevant–hopefully memorable. This is not unlike talking with someone about an every-day experience.

The most difficult challenge in doing this type of children’s message was in sharing some thoughts that would be relevant at a level that children could understand.

A neat thing about this type of message was the excitement in children getting involved during the week in finding an object to share. Parents would often search for an object that might have some deep meaning, i.e. a candle, cross, bible or juice on a communion Sunday. Children would search for a ‘stump-the-pastor’ type of object.

Some examples of what children brought me in a bag on Sunday morning: A baseball bat, spatula, a soccer ball, a rose, fingernail clippers, lipstick, a penny, newspaper, marshmallow, apple. The list can be endless!

Could you create an object lesson around these items? You might surprise yourself.

A toothpick was one of my greatest challenges. I only had a few seconds to decide what I could say about this small object. I found myself talking about working on picking or choosing how we would take care of of our teeth and our bodies…..and our neighbors……like caring for our teeth? Lame? A real stretch with the object? It worked. Something to think about when we brush our teeth in the morning–what we pick or choose what to do during the day to share Jesus’ love with someone else.

To be honest, I used to be afraid of children’s messages. This way of doing a children’s message took away some of that fear. I often surprised even myself in what I could come up with on the fly. This type of message helped me create some bonds with the children and congregation in showing how pastors are called to ‘think on their feet’–and often on short notice. I reached a point of actually enjoying the possibility of doing this type of Children’s message.

I would note that this was not the way I would do a children’s message during seasons of Advent or Lent or on special days like the ‘Fourth of July’.

This is a great way of getting children and families involved in the worship experience, regardless how a specific object is discussed.

Something to try when doing on-line or ZOOM services: Have a child simply pick an object in the room around them? Just an idea.

Bottom line? Have some fun in working with children in the church.

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