Week in and week out, the same group of unconverted people come to our worship services — and we practically ignore them. We’d never treat first-time visitors like this, and if we ever heard that they felt ignored, we’d certainly respond quickly to go out of our way to make them feel at home.
But this group? We basically ignore them. If you haven’t realized already, I’m talking about the children in our gatherings. Even in thoughtful, biblically sound churches, you can hear months of sermons without a word spoken to them.
Don’t assume children can’t or won’t listen. Many things will escape them, but they understand more than we give them credit for.
Surely, anyone who has raised children has learned this. But for some reason, in church, we’re training them to think they don’t need to listen — that what the adults are doing is simply not for them. I know we don’t mean to do this, but when, week after week, we never directly speak to them, I can’t say I blame them.
Speak to the children in your sermons. It’s a fun and endearing task. I’m not always successful, but I try in every sermon to make a specific application to children. This helps them to perk up and listen. It helps them to know that their pastor cares about them. But most importantly, it communicates that the preached Word is for them, too.
If you’re not convinced, here are seven reasons that prompted me to commit to this practice:
1. Scripture speaks to children. Paul’s letters spoke directly to children, which means God in His Word speaks directly to children. As Paul addresses Christian households in Ephesus and Colossae, he tells children what obedience to God looks like (Ephesians 6:1–3, Colossians 3:20). Were these children already converted? We’re not told, but they are given specific, pointed instruction. We should do no less.
2. Children need instruction. Children need instruction just like everyone else. We don’t believe they’re born in a state of innocence, so they need instruction in the commands of God. They need to know what it looks like to obey. It’s easy for church people to complain about “children today.” Don’t be among those who merely complain. Be one who instructs.
3. Children need evangelizing. Once you begin to instruct anyone in the commands of God, you also owe them instruction about their inability to obey God. In many of our churches, children are probably the largest group of lost people who regularly attend. Yes, we expect parents to be evangelizing, and we seek to help equip parents to do so. But one way we help parents is by modeling evangelism for them.
The world is eager to allure children in every way. Let their pastors be at the forefront of calling them to faith in the God who created them, loves them and is able to redeem them.
4. Direct speech builds trust. Pastoring is about caring for souls. Speaking to children builds a bond with both them and their parents. I love to hear children telling their parents they know they’ll be addressed. One dad told me his teenage daughter said, “Uh, oh. Pastor Ray is preaching, so I know I better listen because he will talk to us.” That’s right!
5. All ears perk up. When you speak to the children, I’ve noticed that every ear seems to perk up. It’s especially fun to watch the parents. They want their kids to pay attention, so they nudge them. Of course, this usually means the parents are locked in, too. So it turns out the application to children is also relevant to adults.
6. It will help you with other applications. Speaking to children will sharpen and strengthen your application work overall. It will prevent you from being generic. It’s all too easy for preachers to talk about lofty principles without pushing down to engage the heart. But if you spent time thinking through how your text connects with children, then you will inevitably improve in speaking directly into the lives of the rest of your congregation.
7. All eyes begin to notice children more. Churches tend to prioritize what their pastors prioritize. So I’ve noticed that my applications to children have pushed the church as a whole to build intergenerational relationships. Various cultural forces push us to isolate into narrow affinity groups, rather than embracing the fullness of the body of Christ. This is one reason why my application grid includes children and the elderly — and for ways to connect the two. Speaking to children helps others notice them as people created to follow Christ.
Speaking to children in our sermons is not a novel idea. Jonathan Edwards preached entire sermons specifically for children.
Charles J. Brown, a leading 19th century Scottish pastor, exhorted fellow pastors,“As regards the pulpit … surely, were we but more deeply concerned about the matter, our ordinary preaching might be somewhat more of a character which the children could profit by. Independently of occasional sermons addressed to them, might we not, by a little careful forethought, find some word in almost every discourse more expressly for the children?”
Speak to the children. It takes work, but doing so has become one of my highest pastoral joys. B&R — This article was previously published by 9 Marks.