We have heard many questions – and a few objections – to our view that Christian families ought to have as a goal worshiping together. Many of the questions/objections have to do with children and sermons. Can they understand the sermon? Can the parents hear/understand the sermon when dealing with their children? Should the rest of the congregation be subjected to your child-rearing practices during the sermon?
Yes, I do believe that there is a tremendous upside to exposing our children to the [reaching/teaching aspect of the worship service. I do understand, however, that family participation in corporate worship is not a “one-size-fits-all” experience. Families will differ as to how they approach the issue, how they teach their children about sermons, and how they relate to other worshipers. Even those who do not yet understand the content of the sermons to which they are exposed will gain a feeling for the reverence of the worship service as God’s Word is preached.
Families also differ in number of children, age spans, and abilities. When we automatically dismiss the notion, however, that children can have a meaningful worship experience, even during the sermon, we are shortchanging those children. They will understand more than we realize. They will gain from the opportunity no matter how much or how little they get from the content of the sermon. They will likely remember the experience of worshiping with you more than they would being with relative strangers in a program for children.
With these things in mind I offer a brief, three-point, strategy for incorporating the sermon as a part of your children’s worship experience.
Prepare. Preparation is often the key to success – in any venture. This is no less true in our approach to introducing our children to sermons.
- Look ahead. Many churches publish the scripture passages and/or themes for the sermons in advance. If your congregation does not, why not ask for the preaching schedule. There are probably others who would like the opportunity to prepare in advance for next Sunday’s sermon. Once you know what the passage or topic will be for next week’s sermon, you can read the passage with your children. Depending on the ages and abilities of the children you can then have discussions on what is likely to be preached on Sunday. Be careful, however, not to pre-judge the preacher’s sermon. This reading/discussion could be part of your regular devotional time with your children.
- Pack well. Make sure you have what will be needed for full participation. Do you have paper, pencils or crayons? Chapter 6 of Children in Church discusses the ever-important “church bag.”
- Talk with your children about what behavior and participation is appropriate during the sermon. Explain the nature of sermons. What are they? Why is there a sermon? How does the pastor know what to say? Can I talk during the sermon? Reinforce this discussion often. If you don’t have answers to some of these questions yourself, ask the pastor. That’s also a good example for your children.
Participate. There are many ways to teach and model how to listen to a sermon. Many of them are examined in chapter seven of Children in Church.
- Draw. One needn’t be a professional artist to make a simple stick-figure sketch of what is being taught in a sermon. Illustrate the main point. Is Jesus preaching? Is He in a boat? Whisper to your child as you create a word picture. As they get older children can begin to take over the artistic duties.
- Note-taking. As they get older, children can begin to take notes on the message. If your pastor provides an outline, you can use that to jot down key words. This is a good opportunity to teach the skill of note-taking. Teach the concept of capturing important concepts. Again, as they get older, the children can begin to create the notes themselves.
- Keywords/Concepts. As a pastor, I used to publish a “Keyword” in the church bulletin for the children to listen for and count during the sermon. How many times did the pastor say “Grace” or “Jesus” during the sermon. Children would excitedly give me their numbers after the worship service. Truthfully, I usually didn’t know that actual count, because my sermons were not scripted, but I could be enthusiastic about each child’s answer. You don’t need the pastor to post a keyword. You can look at the passage or topic in question and choose your own.
- Don’t forget to pay attention during the sermon. It may be difficult at times, but take your own notes, or make your own drawing. Let the children know that this is not just an academic exercise for their educational advancement.
Prolong. Keep it going. Don’t quit just because the sermon has ended and you got through it without a meltdown (though that’s certainly a good thing!). There is much to be gained in the follow-up.
- In the car. While it’s fresh in their minds, ask your children age-appropriate questions about the sermon. What was the topic today? What part did you like the most? What was the pastor’s outline? Get a discussion going. Encourage everybody to take part at their own level.
- At home. Look at the drawings, the notes, the keyword count. Be enthused about their understanding. Gently discuss what they may have missed. This is a good discussion to have around the dinner table.
- On Monday. Before moving on to look at next week’s sermon topic, why not review just a bit on Monday? You can also take this opportunity to fine-tune note taking and other skills.
In Acts, chapter 17 we read of the Bereans, a noble people. They compared the sermons of Paul with Scripture, not in hope of catching him in error, but anticipating greater understanding. God has chosen and anointed some to preach the Word. We will gain most from the labors of these servants of God if we listen carefully. Jesus said, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear.” He was referring to understanding the Word, not just receiving it in our ears. We can help even the youngest of our children to understand God’s Word by teaching them to hear.