I had someone approach me earlier and comment that, in the past, priests at this congregation have done children’s sermons on Christmas Eve (indeed, I was invited to give one last year, before I became priest-in-charge of the congregation). The unspoken question was why I had not. To be honest, I am uncertain what I think, finally, about the idea of a children’s sermon. On the one hand, I think it demonstrates the fact that we don’t give enough credit to children while on the other, I think it short-changes the Gospel by assuming that every truth should be able to be communicated best in a way that young children will understand.
It’s an appropriate theme given the season. Children often understand more than we give them credit for, and, unfortunately many of us who preach regularly have a hard time grasping the fact that if a sermon doesn’t have anything for the children to understand, then most of the adults aren’t going to get anything out of it either–not because they’re slow or unintelligent, but mostly because we’ve failed to communicate in a clear and understandable way.
So, the jury is still out, but I find these observations by Bishop Will Willimon, former dean of Duke Chapel, now Bishop of the North Alabama conference of the UMC, to be quite convincing and in line with my experience. One of my favorite parts of the article follows, but I encourage you to read the whole thing:
I fear that children’s sermons tend to backfire, saying to parents and children that which we do not intend to say. We wouldn’t interrupt the congregation’s worship with, “And now I would like all those of you who are over 65 to come down front while I say something sentimental and sappy to all of you old folks.” That would be ugly. So why do we single out the children saying in effect, “Boys and girls, I know that you are bored stiff by Christian worship, that you can’t get anything out of what we do when we praise God, so come down front and I’ll take a few minutes to try to make this interesting for you.”