Although this observation has not been statistically verified, it seems that most Lutheran parishes have avoided the unfortunate practice of including children's sermons in the Divine Service. Still, there are plenty of churches where little ones, at the appointed time, make a beeline for the chancel, while others reluctantly join them only after being nudged from the pew. This procession is usually greeted with warm smiles. One can only guess as to why those churches which have these intrusions into the service came upon this practice. Two commonly cited reasons are that this practice includes the children in the service in some "meaningful" way, and that it also reaches them at their intellectual level.
These are reasons enough for the average Lutheran pastor to adopt the practice, especially when you consider that we pastors were not well trained in the theology, history, and proper practice of the Liturgy. If there is any resistance by the pastor, it is usually dispatched with little problem. The pressure of popular culture brought to bear upon beleaguered ministers, even the ones who know better, is sometimes too much to bear; and so, regretfully, they cave in. Those who petition for this practice often play what they think is the trump card, for they know the word adiaphora, even though most don't know how to pronounce it, let alone properly understand it. For those pastors saddled with this practice, and who have felt that something's amiss, we offer these reasons to end this nonsense.
1) This practice is a fading fad of the 1970's and 80's, along with avocado colored appliances.
2) We, the church catholic, never did this before. The Christian Church has survived for two millennia without children's applications. They're simply not needed.
3) Children's sermons are not listed in the big book on the altar. Never were.
4) It breaks the flow of the liturgy. Each portion of the liturgy has an ingenious logic as to its placement. Any fiddling with the flow of the rite disrupts the rite, and that's not right.
5) Parents who are prospects for membership usually do not list children's sermons as one of their main "felt needs" nor do their children.
6) Children don't miss this practice when it's discontinued. Indeed, some are relieved that they don't have to be nudged into the aisle.
7) This practice is a crutch for timid parents who are tired of hearing their children complain about going to church, a complaint that would soon disappear if the parents brought their children to church every Sunday and sat up front so their children could see the ceremony of the Liturgy.
8) The existence of this practice reveals a hidden angst which believes that unless we do something for the children they will be lost. This anxiety should not be encouraged. Not one single soul has been lost due to the lack of a children's sermon.
9) The children already came forward for Holy Baptism. In that sacrament the Lord Jesus picked them up in his arms, and there they received all of the Christ and grace they needed. They don't have to come forward for a non-sacramental altar call.
10) This practice is a failure to recognize that the rite of the Divine Service is an extended quote of Holy Scripture, which is the power of God for the salvation of all assembled, reaching all people at their level. St. Paul could say to Timothy, "...from infancy you have known the holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus." (2 Tim 3:15) The children are being reached by the ancient liturgy, for it is the very Word of God.
11) This practice is based on the false premise that children can't get anything out of the Liturgy, and so they need their own part. The entire Liturgy belongs to the whole people of God. By two or three years of age children can learn most of the canticles and the Lord's Prayer, thus participating from an early age, without having to parade down front in order to feel included. The Liturgy is not divided into our part and their part. All of it belongs to all the people of God. Let's not leave the impression that the children's sermon is the only part that involves them.
12) Some parts of the service are simply not accessible to little children. However, it's not a waste of time for them to be passive observers. This, too, is how they learn. It's not necessary that they fully understand those things in which they participate, for form often precedes substance. They learn the words and motions now; the significance of these will dawn on them throughout their lives.
13) It doesn't work from an educational standpoint because the time is too brief. That's why we have the Sunday school hour. Even when something in the children's sermon does get across to them, it's the prop that's most often remembered rather than the point. This applies to sermon props and illustrations as well.
14) The practice easily lends itself to moralizing. Pastor: "We only have one candy bar, so let's learn to SHARE!" (Note: They are called "children's applications.") Remember: Lex semper accusat.
15) It puts the focus on the children (their inherent cuteness) and on the inventiveness of the pastor, even when this is unintended by the pastor. This practice may be emotionally satisfying to some, but it's not theologically valid. It is an anthropocentric approach to the service. The focus of the Divine Service is on Christ, his preaching and his Sacrament. It's not about us nor about our pride in our spawn, it's about Jesus! Here is the chief objection to this modernistic practice. This heresy is compounded by the advocates of this practice because they view the smiling faces and the faith of the children as a new means of grace.
16) It introduces a bit of silliness into the Holy of holies. Have you ever known a pastor who inserted a children's sermon between the Sanctus and the Words of Institution? Of course not. It would run counter to the solemnity of the occasion. If it's inappropriate there, then it's inappropriate everywhere else, for throughout we are in the presence of the Holy.
17) This practice introduces unpredictability into the service. Little girls do lift up their dresses, and little boys do pick their noses, adding the element of unwanted humor to the Holy of holies.
18) This is an example of how the untutored whims of popular church culture which have affected Lutheran people have overcome good liturgics. Placing liturgical matters once again into the hands of trained pastors who have been called to oversee the Divine Service sends a message that the Liturgy can't be changed by the latest fad or by a vote of the voters' assembly. We need to remember that the Liturgy is not our rite, but the Church's. By the way, if you eliminate this practice, then the pietistic/enthusiastic arguments which you will hear in protest will be more than enough to convince you that you have done the right thing.
19) The ready assignment of children's applications to the category of an adiaphoron shows that contemporary Lutheranism doesn't understand what an adiaphoron is. Discontinuing this practice will provide an excellent forum to discuss this much misunderstood and misused concept and will remove this practice from a category to which it doesn't properly belong.
20) Those seeking transcendence and an encounter with the Incarnate God will view a service with a children's sermon as the trivialization of the Holy and will go elsewhere. Those seeking Twinkie tunes and silly stuff should not be led to believe that this is what the Church of the Augsburg Confession is about.
How we believe is how we worship. That's what the ancient church believed. Worship is a function of faith and doctrine, flowing from both. Therefore it's important to note the theological source of the children's sermon and the baggage which it brings with it. It is merely the old Baptist "children's church" which originated in the early 20th century and made its way into some Lutheran churches starting about two decades ago. As Bishop Richard J. Waters notes,
It is a practice first used in the (early 20th century) by those who reject infant Baptism, infant faith, creeds, original sin, divine monergism in conversion, and the sacramental nature of liturgical worship. (Gottesdienst, Vol. 1:4, 1993)
Here is more than enough reason to reject this non-Lutheran, modern fad. Besides, eliminating this bad practice will free up time so that an appropriate Eucharistic prayer can be included in the service. Te Deum laudamus. §
The Reverend Peter M. Berg is the pastor of Our Savior Evangelical-Lutheran Church, Chicago, Illinois.
Herbert Miller writes,
I just read the April 2004 issue of the Motley Magpie newsletter. I have never been a fan of Children's sermons but one pastor I had explained why he did them (I was an elder at the time and was concerned about the practice). He said it was not usually for the children. He wrote them for the adults that were new to the faith and those that were struggling with specific sins. He felt that this was a way to get a basic point across without "dumbing down" his regular sermon. The pastor took another call before we could see if it really worked for that congregation.
I thought you might be interested in hearing a different angle on the children's sermon theme.
By the way, I don't ever remember him using props. He did have the children come to the front though.
8MM Thanks for your comments. Your former pastor's rationale for children's sermons seems rather peculiar, and your instinct in this regard was true. If the tiny tot talk is actually intended for adults, then why have another sermon, since the Holy Liturgy already gives a prominent place to preaching. It also seems that a dumbed down sermonette for those new to the faith is rather condescending, and probably doesn't give these folks their due. Catechetical classes intended for the inquirer eliminate the need for cutesy stuff.
Especially odd is your former pastor's second reason for children's sermons: addressing those who struggled with specific sins. Again, isn't that what the preacher also addresses in the Sermon? Once again, children's sermons, intended just for children, are precluded based on the points which I raised in my article on the subject. (PMB)
Reverend Fr. Michael Brockman writes
Thanks for spending time and delivering up 20 strikes as to why the catholic church needs to ditch children's sermons! (Vol. II:2) Number twenty-one might be "They are discriminatory." Why do only little children "get to come forward." Why not teenagers? College kids? Married couples? Retired folk? Couldn't we fill a felt-need and provide a "singles' mixer" at the steps to the altar? Fine, I must confess they are just god-awful and I must also confess that in 20 years of ordained ministry, I did one, one Sunday. My elders at my third parish were getting their ears tugged as to why the new pastor didn't do children's sermons. I battled and went through 101 reasons. Finally, I agreed. I told the Board of Elders I would start on Sunday. I said nothing else. The liturgical event called the "Children's Sermon" was listed in the bulletin that Sunday. It was listed before the first hymn. I called all the children to sit in the front pew, backs to their parents and grandparents.
I said this (or something similar):
We all use our hands for many purposes. We use our hands and fingers to make signs. If I make a fist and shake it at you, you know what that means. If I move my fingers back and forth from you to me, you know I am asking you to come here. Some people make indecent signs with the fingers.
Luther has urged Christians to make signs with the hands. I want to teach you that sign this morning. It's the sign of the holy cross...
Then after easily teaching the children how to make this sign, I told them to teach it to their mothers and fathers that night before going to bed and saying their prayers.
That was the last time I did a "children's sermon."
8MM Egad, you stole our thunder, or should I say, great minds think alike. Perhaps you noted on the cover of our most recent MM the article which is to appear in "An Upcoming Issue" entitled "Twenty Ideas for Children's Sermons (If you Still Preach Them)." Guess what the number one idea was we were going to offer?
Thanks for the great comments and we will give you (half) credit (although I don't know about the wisdom of bringing up the issue of the indecent signs, you know, running the risk of some kid saying "Like this one my dad gives to you behind your back!?" (JWB)
Jim Leonard writes,
I received the periodical (all issues) this past weekend and can hardly put them down. Great opinions and better sermons.
This past weekend we had a children's sermon about the ascension of our Christ. The prop was a helium filled balloon that was let go to bounce around the ceiling for the rest of the hour. Guess where most eyes and attention was focused the rest of the service. And yes, I must confess that I was watching people look at the balloon instead of concentrating on the liturgy. I will share the article about Children's Sermons with our Pastor and the Elders. Please prayerfully consider a longer run of this periodical than three years - we are just getting to know about it. It is what we need to hear for true confessional Lutheranism.
8MM As if we don’t already have a problem with the Nestorian view of Christ that his humanity is hovering way up there in heaven somewhere while his divinity floats about down here that we have to lead the little children to say “Bye, bye Jesus.” Thankfully the balloon didn’t pop and plummet to the ground. One could hear the kiddies anguished cries of horror, “Oh, the humanity…!”(JWB)