Published November 10, 2005
Ray Coleman remembers when, as a student at Southern Seminary, a visiting professor was asked if there should be a children’s sermon in church each week. The professor’s response was “Of course! The adults should get something out of every service!”
Across the country each Sunday, pastors and children’s ministers enter that land of unpredictability where a six-year-old’s words are given as much attention as the preacher’s. It’s in this mix, though, where all listeners often learn a truth in an unexpected forum.
It’s not known for sure if Jesus was the first to give a children’s sermon, as recorded in Matthew 19:14. However, many Georgia Baptist pastors agree it is a vital, if not humorous, part of their church’s worship service.
“I’ve found [children’s sermons] to be an invaluable way to develop relationships with the greater congregation and for visitors to be able to connect with the minister to children,” says Susan Allen, minister to children at First Baptist Statesboro.
“Seldom do I have a Sunday when a senior adult does not say how much they enjoy that time. I know it is largely being able to see me interact with the children and enjoying their unscripted and unexpected responses.”
Marcus Combs, interim director of missions for Kimbell Baptist Association, says the well-applied children’s sermon has a way of connecting to people of all ages.
“A lot of times preachers preach over their congregation’s heads, not because they are too educated, but due to the pew sitter not being as familiar with Scripture. Adults as well as children love to hear simple stories that relate to Scripture or describe things in simple ways.”
Biting off too much
At times ministers can find themselves on the verge of disaster during a children’s sermon.
Before his current position, Combs was a member of Liberty Baptist Church in Riverdale, where he and his wife worked in the children’s ministry. One Sunday a demonstration came perilously close to creating a huge mess.
“I almost bit off more than I could chew,” recalls Combs. “The sermon was about the Trinity and how you could ask God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit to help you if you knew Jesus as your Savior.”
It so happened to be the day that communion was served and the table had already been set up and was in place.
“Before the service I went to three of the most muscular men in our church and asked them to help with the children’s sermon that morning. I told them that when I asked for them to come to help they were to get up, take off their coats, roll up their sleeves and pump up as much muscle as they could.”
It should be noted that the auditorium was fan-shaped, with the front of the stage curving into the seating area. The communion table was on the floor in front of the stage, leaving a space of about six feet. It was in this space, between the table and front pew, where Combs laid down a rope in front of the group of about 16.
“I told all the boys except this one little one to go grab the end of the rope opposite me,” says Combs. “I asked the little boy – who weighed every bit of 50 pounds – to come to where I was.”
While holding the rope and explaining the power of the Holy Spirit to the audience, Combs began to note the increasing intensity of the bigger boys pulling on the other end. The image of a grown man and little boy being pulled into a communion table, casting a shower of wafers, grape juice and tiny plastic cups, went through his mind.
Front and center
Without waiting, Combs called on his three helpers, representing the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, for a little backup.
“The pastor, deacons and congregation were relieved when the three men stepped into the story,” he laughs.
It’s not unusual for one particular child to end up being front-and-center with an unusual question or observation.
As pastor for Bethel Baptist Church in Americus in the 80’s, Coleman recounts how the same six-year-old boy contributed the following observations.
• One Sunday, the little boy broke in before Coleman even gave a “good morning” to the group and asked, “Preacher, do you know how to crank up a bulldozer?” When Colman responded “no,” the boy explained in vivid detail. When the boy was finished, Coleman thanked the little boy and said, “Preachers have to know all sorts of things, and if I ever have to crank up a bulldozer, I’ll know how to do it!”
• When Coleman’s wife brought homemade “nutty putty” – an edible modeling clay – to church, the boy announced, “I don’t know what that is, but I don’t think I’m going to like it!”
• Dressed as an early American Baptist, complete with costume and powdered wig, for a monologue sermon, the boy shook Coleman’s hand at the door and said, “Preacher, you’re not s’posed to have that thang on your head!”
Sometimes children aren’t the only ones to slip up during the sermon.
“On John Waters’ first Sunday as our new pastor, I surprised him by inviting him down to join us on the steps and share his early memories of church,” says Allen. “He began telling a story in which he intended to say ‘When I was a boy my grandmother gave me a Bible,’ but instead said ‘when I was a Bible my grandmother gave me a boy.’
“He had no idea he had switched his words. The children and congregation were collapsing in laughter and further encouraged by his totally puzzled expression.
“It’s amazing what can come out of any of our mouths when we are surrounded by 35 to 45 children.”
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