Monday, September 20, 2010

Let the Children Come?

I have no idea how to relate to kids. In fact, I would venture to say that most pastors, due to their time spent pondering the "deeper questions of faith", struggle to relate those questions in terms that children can understand. So, besides preparing for a sermon, the part of worship that I (and most pastors) get the most nervous about preparing for is the "Children's Moment".

Recently, my bishop, Will Willimon, released a blog article about the Children's Moment. He derides the idea as a noble attempt to show a congregation's emphasis on children, but a poor attempt to convey the gospel to the little ones. For Willimon, kids simply cannot grasp the abstract information in a sermon, even one directed at their level. And furthermore, these sermons are so superficial (most of the time) that kids grow up deluded by some of these ideas as they learn more in-depth information about the faith (at least that is my interpretation of part of his argument).

But he certainly realizes the importance of utlizing children in worship, so as to not marginalize them (Luke 18:15-17). He suggests having them sit at the chancel to observe baptisms, which I have seen in practice before, and it is a beautiful moment for sure. But this suggestion falls apart in most small churches where they may baptize children once or twice a year. Another suggestion is to have them pray or read a Scripture passage, which I wholeheartedly endorse. However, this suggestion can only affect one child every Sunday.

As a person who has to lead Children's Moments, I understand Willimon's frustrations. Sometimes, I too wonder if the kids are "getting it". But have issue with Willimon calling out Children's Moments on two grounds. The first is, I have seen kids "get it" in the Children's Moment before, and there is nothing greater in my eyes to see a child's eyes light up when they understand even the tiniest bit of the gospel. Perhaps the fact that this has happened so often to me is because I serve a church where most of the kids grow up in solid families where the education at church is being supplemented by good nurturing at home. Secondly, I cannot think of a better alternative for most churches (who don't have baptisms every Sunday) to exhibit their devotion to Christ's command in Luke 18 than for all of the children present to gather in front of the church- to remind the congregation of the gospel's preference for those who are meek and mild.

I agree that the Children's Moments do not have to be merely abstract information. There are certainly more creative options for conveying the gospel to children. The burden here lies on pastors to be creative, to reach out to those who work with children on a daily basis (Children's Ministry directors, elementary school teachers, etc.) and find fresh and tangible solutions to Willimon's quandry. Most importantly, though, I call for pastors (especially myself) to put more care and planning into Children's Moments than to just be satisfied with seeing it as another check to mark off on the worship bulletin. I think the gospel deserves at least that much from us.