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Lessons Children Teach Us in the Children’s Message

Updated: Aug 31, 2023

[Jesus] called a child, whom he put among them, and said, “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. —Matthew 18:2-3, NRSV

The children’s message. It’s that moment in a worship service when kids come to the front of the sanctuary and sit in a horseshoe semblance around an adult who, presumably, has seeds of spiritual knowledge to plant in their eager minds. For me, it’s often more nerve-racking to give a children’s message than a sermon. This is because no matter how much an adult may prepare a lesson for kids, it’s those little ones sitting and squirming at their feet who hold the greater message. And they don’t shy away from sharing it.

I recently gave a children’s message where I talked about a four-legged family member in our home, Amelia, our dog. “Do you any of you have pets at home?” I asked. Hands went up. “How about a dog?” Some hands stayed up. As I went on about Amelia, one child raised his hand to say something but put it back down before I could call on him.

When I invited the children to say a prayer with me, another child stood up holding a crumpled piece of paper in his hands. “Pastor Dan, may I go throw this away?”

The lesson to me and every adult in the room: Echoing Proverbs 3 (My child, don’t lose sight of common sense and discernment) and Galatians 6:9 (Let’s not get tired of doing good), the child publicly asking my permission to throw away some trash not only demonstrated his commitment to a social good even in a formal, orthodox setting, he also showed the importance of standing up, speaking up, and not curling back into oneself when doing good for the sake of the whole community is always supposed to be the top priority for God’s people.

At the end of the prayer when I said “amen,” another child asked, “What does ‘ah-men’ mean?” I hadn’t pronounced it with the hard ay-men that she was accustomed to.

The lesson: Never stop questioning things. God’s prophets challenged the status quo with revelatory questions, and Jesus always questioned the powers and principalities that society accepted as normal. In the gospels, Jesus asks more than 300 questions, and he often answered questions with questions. Surely, there are passively accepted laws, practices, and social mores today that Jesus would take to task with revelatory questioning. Maybe part of what it means to change and become like children is that we ask tough, necessary questions, too.

And as the children got up to leave, the kid who had his hand up wanting to say something earlier leaned toward me and whispered, “My cat eats popcorn.”

The lessons: 1) Pay attention to the beautiful creatures God places in the world around you. Recognize not only their finicky likes and dislikes, but what makes them feel safe or unsafe, protected or endangered, loved or dismissed. How we treat the entirety of God’s creation is a reflection of our innermost self. 2) Share your joy. Even when the formal lesson has concluded, stick around and let someone around you know the goodness that came to mind for you because of it; for, truly Jesus tells us, whatever we bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever we loose on earth will be loosed in heaven (Matthew 18:18). Joy isn’t meant to be withheld, especially when it’s about a popcorn-eating feline.

That’s your children’s message for the week, brought to you by God’s Spirit of truth speaking through the littlest ones in our midst. Ay-men.


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