How do you help a 4-year-old better understand the Gospel of Jesus Christ?
One clear way a 4-year-old experiences the love of Jesus is “through the mutual conversation and consolation”1 of sisters and brothers in Christ. A 4-year-old encounters this conversation and consolation from blood-relatives (parents, siblings, and extended family), and also from water-relatives (“church” parents and all of her or his congregational siblings). When a 4-year-old attends worship, the love of Jesus comes through the gathering of God’s people as she or he experiences and participates in worship: the liturgy, the singing of songs, the architecture, the splashing of water, the hearing of scripture, the preached word, the prayers, the Eucharist, the peace, the smiles, the grandma-like lady helping pick up the crayon that rolled under the pew.
Well, what about kids’ sermons? Are kids’ sermons an effective way to convey the Gospel of Jesus to a 4-year-old? Should we do kids’ sermons at all? That’s a good question, but it’s for another article.
Kids’ sermons are happening. I suppose you are reading this because you have been given — or have chosen! — the task of preaching a kids’ sermon, or children’s time or whatever else you call that particular time during worship when kids are given the undivided attention of a worship leader.
So if there WILL be a kids’ sermon, and if YOU are the worship leader who has/gets to do it … what makes for a good kids’ sermon?
First, I’ll tell you my bias: I love kids’ sermons. So if you don’t like kids’ sermons, and are stuck/expected to “preach” one anyway, maybe I can help. I’ve been preaching kids’ sermons for more than 25 years. I have used kids’ sermons to tell the main kernel of my big people’s sermon in another way. I have used kids’ sermons to explore the lectionary text I’m not preaching in my big people’s sermon. And as you have no doubt experienced, any kids’ sermon, like all sermons, can hit a homerun or can be a disaster. After delivering hundreds of kids’ sermons, I’ve slowly noticed some consistent characteristics of kids’ sermons that worked.
So here’s what I suggest. Figure out your plan for your kids’ sermon. Then, before those sweet little kids gather around your feet, check your incredibly engaging and creative message against these five things:
Five questions for every kids’ sermon
- Is your kids’ sermon “simple and short”? Although I love kids’ sermons, they are not the main thing in the worship service. Kid’s sermons shouldn’t be longer than a few minutes. And here’s some good news (especially for those who care deeply about the length of the worship service!): effective kids’ sermons do not have to be long … in fact, they are better if they are NOT too long. (But it sure is tempting to have a long chat with those adorable munchkins.) It’s up to you to stay on point, have some fun, and then move along. And a key way to keep the kids’ sermon short is to have only one point. Not many. Remember this variation of K.I.S.S.: “Keep It Simple and Short”
- Is your kids’ sermon memorized? Eye contact is so important. I am bad at memorization. I can’t remember the second line of song, much less the second verse. But I have made a commitment for all of my 25+ years of parish ministry to never take notes with me to a kids’ sermon. If I can do it, you can do it. (And it’s much easier if you Keep It Simple & Short!)
- Are you “preaching” this kids’ sermon? Remember that you are the theologian. Theology is faith seeking understanding. You have been called to preach to those kids. You are the one who knows the scriptures. You are the one who helps kids and adults explore and deepen their faith through the scriptures. Don’t depend on the kids’ answers to deliver your message home … they are just kids! You need to drive this bus. It’s great to ask kids questions, but ask for information, not in hopes they will have the right answer, or the answer you want them to answer. Every kids’ sermon should have a message — the message you have prepared just for them. Don’t leave that to chance.
- Will a 4-year-old connect to the message of your kids’ sermon? Why a 4-year-old? I believe if it works for a 4-year old, it’ll work for all elementary aged kids (as well as everyone else). So first, check your vocabulary. No big words. If you have to use a big word … think twice about it. Do you want to use half of your time with the kids helping them understand that big word? Or, is there another way to explain it without the big word? Second, make sure the point of your message connects with the life and daily routine of a 4-year-old. If you don’t know what it’s like to be a 4-year-old, ask someone who does. Without that understanding, your kids’ sermon might not have a chance. For example, instead of a kids’ sermon about the meaning of Advent, try exploring what it means to “wait.” All kids have a deep understanding of what it means to wait! A kids’ sermon about waiting would never even need to mention the big, churchy word “Advent.” (And yes, even a six-letter word can be a big word to a 4-year-old)
- MOVE! OK, that’s not a question. But you get the idea. Plan your message so the kids have to walk, make noises, crawl, jump, or roll around. Kids have bodies and they know how to use them. Kids will learn so much more when you involve their entire body, not just their ears. Is it Transfiguration Sunday? How about talking to the kids while you walk up to the balcony? Is the Sunday’s text about evangelism? How about sitting at the front doors of the church instead on the altar steps? Is it a healing text? How about hopping around on one leg or using blindfolds or pretend the altar steps are the edge of the healing pool in Jerusalem (don’t fall in!). If you can’t figure out a way to involve movement with your one-point, short-and-simple, 4-year-old-appropriate kids’ sermon, then brainstorm with a preschool teacher or a Bible camp counselor.
5-plus. OK, one more, but this one is your call. I end every kids’ sermon with a call and response prayer. Here are a few examples:
Time to pray. Repeat after me.
Dear God. Thanks for your house. Thanks for your kitchen table. Help us … to welcome everyone … like You do. Amen. Amen-Amen-Amen. AMEN!
Time to pray. Repeat after me.
Dear God. Thanks for sending us Jesus. Jesus is the best leader ever. Help us to follow Jesus. Amen. A-a-a-amen. Amen.
Dear God. Thanks for life. Thanks for promises. Help me remember … my invisible cross. AMEN! Amen. Amen. Amen.
What will be your “liturgy” with the kids?
God bless you as you share the Gospel with children in worship!
1Smalcald Articles, Part III, Article IV. Of the Gospel.
We will now return to the Gospel, which not merely in one way gives us counsel and aid against sin; for God is superabundantly rich [and liberal] in His grace [and goodness]. First, through the spoken Word by which the forgiveness of sins is preached [He commands to be preached] in the whole world; which is the peculiar office of the Gospel. Secondly, through Baptism. Thirdly, through the holy Sacrament of the Altar. Fourthly, through the power of the keys, and also through the mutual conversation and consolation of brethren, Matt. 18:20: Where two or three are gathered together, etc.