Q In our worship services children come to the front for a message that, in many cases, is far above their level of comprehension. There’s very sparse participation. When children do participate, their level of ignorance should make parents blush. Children are important in Christ’s ministry, but the children’s message can be embarrassing. What can be done about this? —Ontario
A The children’s message is an attempt to give children an opportunity to experience worship that is both appropriate to their age and includes them as part of the body of Christ. Even though they may be dismissed to church school or to children’s worship after the message, their incorporation in the “regular” service sends an important signal to them, to their parents, and to all members about their belonging. Children’s messages are also valuable in developing a relationship with the pastor, the person who proclaims God’s Word to the other members of the congregation.
It’s easy to deliver a children’s message that entertains adults. It’s much more difficult to deliver one that imparts scriptural truth, reaches children, elicits their participation, and gives opportunity for their knowledge and faith to shine. That results only from careful thought and planning.
If children’s messages are an embarrassment in your congregation, you probably need to focus on those who deliver them, not on those who receive them. Not everyone can do these well. Pastors who can’t should be scheduled only occasionally so they can maintain a relationship with the children, and they should be assisted with preparation. A small group of gifted members can make this ministry effective.
In a church I served such a group developed this children’s SERMON outline:
- Speak clearly.
- Easy—keep the words simple. Go over your message for words and ideas that children might not understand.
- Remember. Children remember what they see. If possible, try to have a visual aid that fits your message.
- Memorize. Talk naturally to the kids. Don’t read your message to them--you’ll lose them.
- One point. Concentrate on only one point.
- No longer than five minutes. Keep it short!
Q What is censura morum? How is it to be done? —Ontario
A The words censura morum mean “examination of conduct.” From 1914 to 1965 the Church Order of the Christian Reformed Church said that before celebrating the Lord’s Supper, council members “shall exercise Christian censure among themselves and in a friendly spirit admonish one another with regard to the discharge of their office.” Linking Christian censure to the Lord’s Supper ensured that it would occur four times a year, since congregations celebrated the sacrament quarterly.
Unfortunately, this also created the erroneous impression that the question to be asked was, “Do you have anything against another officebearer that prohibits you from partaking of the Lord’s Supper?”
For most of us censure connotes something negative. Censure is “a judgment or resolution condemning a person for misconduct.” Unfortunately, the orientation of the Church Order was also negative—it called officebearers to “admonish,” not to encourage, one another. Mutual accountability is admirable, but in Matthew 18 our Lord instructs us to speak to each other privately before speaking publicly about perceived shortcomings. Admonishment in a group setting is sometimes cowardly or harmful and can come across as faultfinding.
Because of such difficulties, a number of councils now use this time to discuss the ministries of the congregation. That can be valuable, but it should not be a substitute for dealing with negligent officebearers (see Banner, March 2005, p. 31). For the sake of the officebearers and the ministry of the congregation, negligence must be addressed, though privately at first.
A good question to ask at “mutual censure,” as the Church Order now calls it (Article 36b), is, “How can we encourage each other to be ‘faithful workers in our Lord’s vineyard?’ ” (prayer in Ordination Form, Psalter Hymnal, p.1005). This gives a natural opportunity for any officebearer to request assistance or prayer and gives all officebearers a time to share ideas they have found helpful in ministry.