A Pepper Grinder Post

Children's Sermons

Recently we attended a church where the pastor called the young children up front, and gave them a children's sermon.  It was a church with a lot of retirees, so there were only about six to eight children who came up front.  The pastor passed around a bag, and asked the children to guess what was in it.  It was kind of fun to see the different children making speculations, and I got the feeling that the congregation may have enjoyed the whole thing more than the children.  In the end the mystery object turned out to be an eraser for a whiteboard, and the message the children received before being dismissed to children's church was that God can erase our sins.

A few days ago I was reading the July 25, 2015 issue of World Magazine and I came across an article by Jamie Dean about the suffering of Nigerian Christians at the hands of Boko Haram terrorists.  (You can read the full article .)   This article told of a very different kind of children's sermon in a church in northern Nigeria.

On a Sunday morning last September, hundreds of Christians gathered for worship at Billy's church, a congregation of the Church of the Brethren in Nigeria (EYN).  The pastor walked down the platform steps, laid his hands on the children's heads, and delivered a harrowing message.

"It is the plan of Boko Haram to come and drive us from our homes and from our churches," he remembers telling the little ones.  "If they do come here, never deny Jesus.  If they kill your parents, never deny Jesus.  If they take you away to the Sambisa Forest, never deny Jesus Christ."

childThese were not idle words, for shortly after the service ended, Boko Haram did, in fact, arrive in that village, which they occupied for the next five months.  Church members fled to the surrounding bush, but at least 40 of them were killed.

Perhaps it is not fair to compare a message given to children in a fairly affluent, peaceful town in America to a message given to children in a village which expected to be attacked by Islamic terrorists in Nigeria.  I am not trying to say that pastors in normal circumstances should be giving messages to children like the one quoted in World.

On the other hand, I'm afraid we underestimate children.  I think we assume they are less capable of understanding difficult truths or facing scary realities than they really are.  This is why so many churches "dismiss" the children before the sermon starts.  We don't want them to be bored, or disruptive, or whatever.  I'm not saying that little Mike is going to understand all of a sermon on one of the five points of Calvinism, but I think he'll understand some of it, and I think he might ask questions later about things he doesn't understand, which would be a good thing.

Speaking personally, my wife's and my children have almost always been with us in church, including during the sermons.  When they were little, they might sleep or sometimes need to be taken out of the sanctuary if they were fussy.  However, as they got older, they gradually woke up more and more to what was being said.  Instead of getting the idea that real Christianity was for adults, and they were only ready for "Christianity Lite," I think the way we did it showed that the real deal was for everyone--young and old.

When it comes to exercise, we understand the concept that we need to push ourselves beyond the point where it feels comfortable if we want to get stronger.  I'm not sure we always apply that concept to our children's minds and spirits.  Maybe it would be better for them to wrestle with a Bible passage presented in the grown-up sermon than to listen to some canned message which has been deemed safe and acceptable for little Mike's age range by some curriculum publisher.

mountain lionI admitted earlier that the situation in a comfortable American town was quite different from that of an imperiled Nigerian village, but how different is our situation, really?  Listen to what Peter has to say:

Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. (1 Peter 5:8 ESV)

Do we believe that?  Do we think that Satan has any less desire to rip our children's souls to shreds than Boko Haram does to enslave or convert them?  If we accept what God says through Peter at face value, then we are living in as much of a war zone as the suffering Christians in northern Nigeria.  It may be a war we don't see with our natural eyes, but it is real.

I believe our children need to know we are at war.  I think it might be good for them to hear, "No matter what happens, never deny Jesus Christ."


*Photo Credits: child from , mountain lion by .