“You can’t just read the Bible to them!” “The sermon isn’t for them.” “It’ll go over their heads!” “We have to introduce at least one new song every week – so they won’t get bored.”
I am astounded every time I hear one of these statements, or ones like them. Typically, they come up in conversations with parents, Sunday school teachers, and other lay people and pastors. They are often highlighted when discussing curriculum for Sunday school and VBS in addition to weekly worship. Imagine such a situation where the curriculum for Sunday school, or VBS, or just how weekly worship should go and someone balks at the idea of reading straight from the Bible to children, or that children should listen in worship, or that music is more than entertainment. “How could you possibly think the kids could pay attention?” people will say. “What crafts are you doing and could you give us a list of games?” These, of course, were the crucial parts of Sunday School – to be entertained.
The same thoughts were held behind the introduction of bags ‘o’ stuff for children during worship. There are no Bibles, or paper and pen to write notes in them, but there are games, and puzzles, and things to color instead of listening to the sermon. Of course, they go up for the children’s message, and they might recognize one of the five new songs introduced that week in worship, but besides that, they busily spend their time doing anything except learning about what part of the Word the Pastor is speaking on that week.
This is not to say that kids can never color in Church nor that they are forbidden from fun in the classroom. However, so much of the ministry focused on children takes away their focus from what is important: prayer, fellowship, and learning about God through His Word. They do not sing the songs because they do not know them nor why they are important. After all, you can never do the same couple of songs too many times in a year. Children do not pray because adults do not want to wait for everyone to go around the room, or worse yet, no one has taught them. And in Sunday school, in worship, in the home, the Bible is never read by children because there are no pictures, no encouragement, no example.
There are four things adults in the church say children are bored with: the music, the sermons, the prayers, and the Bible. But are the children actually bored? Could it perhaps be that no one has taken the time to set an example for and encourage them? Could it possibly be that adults do not understand what they do? Could it be us who are impatient?
The first thing adults say about children in Church is that the songs are boring for children. “Oh, they are in that old-timey language. Oh, they do not know what that word means. Oh, the writing style and tune is from 200 years ago, lets make it new. Oh, ….” The list could go on. I have heard these issues about the music in church for years. There is always a reason why we should do a song from last year or 10, 20, 200 years ago. But the basic idea behind it is because the songs are boring. We have to make it new, make it flashy, make it catchy. Unfortunately, as these new songs are introduced, the emphasis on who knows the songs and on what the songs teach is lost.
But are these songs boring? Is Jesus Messiah or Amazing Grace or Great is Thy Faithfulness or By His Wounds boring? I think not. Furthermore, children do not know to be bored with these songs. Rather, most have never heard of them before! This is a shame, since many Scripture-derived songs are ignored. If children do not get bored with the same songs they hear on every kid show, they are not going to be bored hearing repeated songs in worship. In fact, they will love being able to participate. Young children often cannot read, so singing the same songs over and over again help them learn the song before they can read. We should be doing all we can to encourage praise in the mouths of children (Psa. 8:2, Mat. 21:16).
We might be tired of having the songs from kid-shows stuck in our heads, and yet we let them listen to them ad nauseam. But what songs do we want in our kids hearts? The culture is winning on this front – they know repetition means long term-retention. If songs change from week to week and are never repeated, and children never hear them outside of sanctuary doors, children will not remember them nor the truths they hold. This is not to say that every song has to be a hymn or that new songs cannot be introduced. But songs need to have meat, and they need to be sung often enough that the truths remain with us for a lifetime to come.
Another common complaint I hear is that children are bored with sermons. Though I can understand that a last-ditch effort to keep your children calm and collected in church is giving them something to do, this should not be the default. Games, coloring pages, and stuff in a bag is not going to keep children entertained for long and it does more damage than good. For one, it teaches children that they do not need to focus on the sermon. Two, that the sermon is not about or for them. This leads to them having a harder time focusing as they get older and failing to see the necessity and importance of worship as adults.
Additionally, there are children’s messages and children’s church. These both give the impression to children that the sermon is not for them – it is for adults. For the former, parents tune out, and children tune out for the sermon. And for parents who “take more from the children’s message,” perhaps more object lessons should be included in the sermon, for the much-loved object lessons are better suited to adults rather than children. Concerning “children’s church,” children are literally taken out of the service for their own special sermon. How does this instill good Christian discipline? How does this keep the family as a unit, worshiping the Lord together? How does this demonstrate to children that worship is important? (Mat. 19:14, Mar. 10:14, Luk. 18:16).
If someone thinks that children do not understand the sermon, then perhaps they should explain it to them. This is what at least parents are called to do, if not also the whole church! (Deut. 6:4-9) Not only will explaining the sermon help children understand, but you too will be better able to explain and know your faith. Qui Docet Discit.
I will admit that I have yawned during prayer, either out of boredom or simple tiredness. But prayer is a necessary part of the Christian walk, and it is something Christians should be actively working on and growing in. With that being said, why do so many people discourage children in prayer? I was listening to a chapel service for preschoolers recently and the leader asked if each of the children wanted to pray. They said yes. I was humbled and touched by the prayers of those little children. “Thank You for Your blood washing my sins away.” “Thank You for my bed, and my family, and my brothers and sisters.” “Thank You for loving me.”
If you let them, children could go on for ten minutes telling God about every concern, every bad thing, every hopeful wish, and every blessing from the last year. Children bring every little thing to the Lord because every little thing is important to them and all of them are precious in God’s sight. There is a reason we are told to have faith like a child. Children do not think they need to do anything to receive God’s love. They do not come with the preconceived notion that we need to work for salvation and love. Perhaps it is selfishness, but God loves us still. Children might not understand the Trinity, or baptism, or a lot of other things, but they do know they can come to their Father with every anxiety, praise, and request (1 Pet. 5:7, Phil. 4:6, Jam. 5:13). As for the youth of the church, for adults, it is no wonder they are so hesitant to pray. They have either been discouraged or they never have been taught! This should not be so.
Finally, there is the Bible. It is not malicious to say “you can’t just read the Bible” to children, but it is telling of what many people in the Church think. They say the Bible is stuffy, full of words children do not understand, and we just tell the same stories over and over again. I would say, rather, that we do not tell those stories enough and we skip over too many. In fact, if children knew the Bible more, if adults knew the Bible better, those “old” songs would make much more sense.
Furthermore, if you think children are too bored to listen, have them read and participate. Act it out, make voices, engage them. I have been subing for a second and third grade Sunday School class for the last couple of months. The first time I went in, I read the first few verses and then we talked about them. But before I moved on I asked, “Hey, would any of you like to read?” To my astonishment and joy, most of the hands went up. After that, I nearly always have the children read that day’s text. Children love to read, and having them read helps instill in them that habit and love for Scripture.
And if children cannot read, they love to pretend to read. Have you ever begun to read a child their favorite book, and they asked to read it to you? They take that book and they tell you almost verbatim what the book says, but you can clearly tell by the page turns that they are not actually reading. And yet they know that book by heart. Why? Because they have been read that book over and over again so they do know it by heart. They are not bored with that book. In fact, they might just read it to you again.
The same is true with the Bible. Sometimes, children will follow along if they can watch while you read and repeat the words you say so that they can pretend to read. Additionally, they love hearing about Jonah, or Daniel, or Joseph, or Jesus. They love knowing the answer if I ask them what John 3:16 is; they love knowing the answers. But in order for children to know the Bible by heart, their parents need to read it over and over to them untill they do. Even if they cannot read the words yet, read it to them until they know it by heart, like with music. Then when they can read, they will read because they know it, they can connect the big picture, and they have it in their hearts. They are not bored with the Bible. And if they were, children must be encouraged, guided, and given example to read the Bible. They need to know the words so that they can eventually understand them.
Let us not place our boredom of repetition, or our lack of understanding, on children. Children will live up, or down to our expectations of them. They do not know they should be bored with saying the Lord’s Prayer every week, singing Amazing Grace every month, or reading the Bible over and over every year. Prayer, praise, and the reading of Scripture are the characteristics of Christians, and we, the adults of the Church, should be trying to raise our children as mature, Christian adults. So many people, young and old, have been lost to the separation of children and church. Let us move forward with what is in the best interest of our children’s faith for the future and encourage them in these things.
Blessings to you and yours,
How can a young man keep his way pure?
By living according to your word.
I seek you with all my heart;
do not let me stray from your commands.
I have hidden your word in my heart
that I might not sin against you.
~ Psalm 119:9-11 ~