The 10 Commandments of Children’s Sermons

As I noted in my Welcome and Logistics, I follow a formula for crafting my sermons:

1.     Welcome
Our organist plays a short piece to cue the children to walk (though they usually run) to the chancel steps. I meet the children there and look at them, smile, say hello, give them time to sit and get comfortable.

2.     Story
I begin with a personal story or some event that the children can understand through their personal experiences.

3.     Bible Story
Next, I segue with In our Bible story today and give the lectionary summary.

4.     Connection
Now I connect the opening story with the Bible story. How does this Bible story from long ago become part of our lives today?

5.     Echo Prayer
I like to model the way we pray: Call God by name; Give thanks; Petition for help; Praise God. I say a line and the children repeat it back. (Our whole congregation joins us, too.) Keep the chunks short–five or six words at the most!

When filling out these steps, I am led by the obvious guides of our faith.

The Lord is God. You shall have no other gods before Him.
Keep it simple. The lectionary offers several stories, but a children’s sermon should focus on ONE topic. This can be hard when you want to talk about forgiveness and diversity, but keep in mind: the sermon is five minutes and you are talking to five-year-olds. It is only possible to cover ONE topic. Like packing for a trip. Write the sermon. Then take out half of it.

You shall not make for yourself an idol.
Props are optional. Sometimes an object can help the children see what you are talking about. Many times an object can distract them from the message. Too many props can cause you to look like a juggler. When using props, make sure they are not the focus of the message.

You shall not take the name of the Lord Your God in vain.
When I do a sermon, I pick one name and stick with it. If it is a New Testament focus, I use Jesus and Lord. If it is a Old Testament focus, I use God and Lord. Adults fully understand the Trinity and switch between Lord, God, Jesus, Christ, Holy Spirit, Father, et al, without a problem. A variety of names seems like too many characters to children. Kids will tune-out if they feel lost in the story.
The Presbyterian Church USA is advocating inclusive language. I try to be sensitive to this, but Jesus was a He, and until we get an appropriate God-pronoun, using It or The One is not an option for me. It is okay to repeat the word God instead of using He, just make sure that it is not distracting.

Remember the Sabbath Day, to keep it holy.
Nervous? After 20 years, I still get what I call ‘sewing-machine leg’ with my legs shaking all over the place. But the sermon is about God; it’s not about me. So I hold my script with the must-say parts highlighted; I sit on the steps with the kids; I use a microphone so the whole church can hear me, but I can just look at the kids–adults are the scary ones! Eleanor Roosevelt said, “Do one thing every day that scares you.” Praise God that we can do a scary and holy thing in one morning!

Honor your father and your mother.
At the time you do the sermon, some of the message will be lost on the children. But I view this mission as a gift to the parents–here is a starting place for a Biblical conversation with your child. I hope that parents will take the nugget from the sermon and discuss it with their children later to share their own faith and help their children grow in wisdom.

You shall not murder.
Nothing will kill a children’s sermon faster than asking a question in which you expect a specific answer. For the full-congregation sermon, the preacher does not call out individuals or pause and wait for hands to raise with answers. I like the Godly Play approach of asking wondering questions that lead the children to make personal connections to the story, but I do not expect or encourage an answer at that time. I leave the children to ponder/discuss their answers during Sunday School or later with their parents.

You shall not commit adultery.
The children’s sermon is for the kids. While everyone hears the message, we are talking to the children. Our sermon must be appropriate and relevant to them. This does not mean we should ‘sugar-coat’ the message of God. By acknowledging the good and the bad, we include the whole child in God’s world.

You shall not steal.
I’ve created this website with the mission to share, inspire, and encourage. I want you to use these sermons–verbatim or with personal changes–but please do NOT re-share them as your own original material. Please ask me if you would like to re-print these in any form. I don’t expect you to footnote me during the church service, but do refer others to me and this site when asked. And of course, you can always say, “I heard a story from a friend of mine…”

You shall not bear false witness.
Be theologically sound! Yes, many of my translations of the lectionary may seem like a BIG simplification of the gospel, but we must be truthful. One tool to beware is metaphor. You know, when we say this is like that. Christ’s Kingdom is like a mustard seed. Huh? Metaphor is difficult for kids. Kids are literal. Understanding metaphor comes around 1st and 2nd grade; 4 year-olds don’t get it. But don’t let that stop you from using metaphor. We learn by doing so if we keep giving them metaphors they’ll start to learn it. Christ was the greatest teacher and how did He teach? He told parables–great big metaphors. Ahh. Just make sure the connection is clear and true: the atmosphere is not like cotton candy; hurricanes are not God’s anger. Carolyn Brown says this best here.

You shall not covet your neighbor’s stuff.
Do not be jealous and wish to do the “adult” sermon. Compacting the word of God into 400 words is a fabulous challenge and a full ministry. God’s message is shared in a variety of ways. Rejoice that you are including the youngest members of the family and creating a safe, loving place for them within your whole church.

But when questioned which is the greatest commandment, Jesus replied:
Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment.
And the second is like it:
Love your neighbor as yourself.

Sometimes the lectionary is hard. Adults struggle with the message. How can we then make it relevant to young Christians? My friend John has the solution: When you don’t know what to say, talk about LOVE.  We must remind our children daily: Share; Pick up your mess; Eat your food. Therefore, we can never tell them too many times that God loves them. God loves them no matter what. No thing can separate them from the love of God.

God’s love IS the message. Share it. Inspire it. Encourage it.

Isaiah 52:7
Thanks be to God for your ministry!

15 responses to “The 10 Commandments of Children’s Sermons

  1. I have just discovered your website and really wanted to write to you to say how enthused I am as a result of all I have found here. God’s love is the message and it does inspire me, but this is so clear and encouraging that I feel doubly inspired.

    Thank you for sharing your thoughts – they are very welcome.

  2. God Bless Text week for sending me to this site! Your eloquence on these are soooo helpful, even to a seasoned Christian Educator with over 15 years in ministry. I could not agree more, and thanks for giving words to the inklings that I have had on this topic

  3. I love the ten commandments for Children’s Sermons.

  4. I am so happy to have found your website. I am a layperson as the Director of Children’s Ministry and while I have learned much over the 10 years…I am always looking for new ways to tell a children’s message. This article is awesome and has given me much insight. I like the layout of your messages and how child focused they are. Thank you for your gift and your willingness to share with others. I appreciate it.

  5. Love the ten commandment tie-ins! Very helpful.

  6. Great list not only for children’s time, but for sermons, too! Thanks!

  7. Shannon Somerville

    I came across your website and was able to incorporate much of your message for the blessing of the backpacks for my first children’s sermon today. Thank so much for sharing! Currently our church does the children’s sermon 1x a month. I am hoping this will increase to every Sunday. If we do I will appreciate having your website as a reference.

  8. Pingback: What Do You Want To Be? | on the chancel steps

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