“Cute” Kids in Church

A few weeks ago our children created a banner during worship to represent the part of the Lord’s prayer that says “thy kingdom come, thy will be done.” I asked them to draw the kinds of things that they thought were in the kingdom of God. I then cut out what they drew and made a kingdom of God on the banner, a banner which is in display in our sanctuary.

My daughter’s drawing gave me pause. It looked like she had drawn a giant person’s head with two long arms. On each arm was a person. One was black and the other was white. As I looked at it I realized that she had drawn a vision of reconciliation, this picture of the God who is intimately involved in our lives reaching down to draw us together. She also picked up on the fact that our country needs to grapple with racism.

It was good work. It made me think. But it wasn’t cute.

I’ve noticed that when people talk about children in church/children’s ministry they often use the adjective “cute.” I  wonder if this happens because adults don’t know what else to say. It can be awkward to talk to children, especially when you don’t have any of your own. And it may seem like the kindest thing to say is “you were so cute up there!”

I’d like you to pause before taking that approach.

I’m certain that our children want their music, art, participation in worship to be taken seriously. I’m certain that they have given thought and attention to what they create. I’m certain that, with time and the building of a relationship, that they want to tell you about their work, their singing, their art.

So I worry about what “cute kids in church” conveys to children about their presence with us. This is why I never ask children for responses during children’s sermon. I don’t want them to be laughed at, even if they enjoy being laughed at. When children become the locus of “kids say the darndest things” we’ve put our children on display rather than calling them to draw near as Jesus did. They instantly cease to be our teachers, our neighbors, and our friends.

My hope is that adults can convey to children that their participation in worship was thought-provoking, well done, engaging, interesting, and beautiful. Our children want that, too.


Blessing of Backpacks and Beginnings

A few weeks ago we had a Blessing of Backpacks and Beginnings during worship. We blessed everyone returning to school – Divinity school professors, two-year olds headed to their first day of preschool, school counselors, Sunday school teachers, and homeschoolers. The litany we used is adapted from Worshiping with Children. The prayers are adapted from another church that I cannot for the life of me remember. If it’s your church let me know and I’ll provide the link!

It was awesome to see a little more than half of our congregation come forward for this blessing. We then handed out buttons that said “I am for you,” a reminder that no matter where we go, we are never alone.

Leader: When it’s the night before school or class, and I’m excited or nervous or tired I remember..

Children: Jesus is with me.

Leader: When I’m waking up to start the day I remember…

Children: Jesus is with me.

Leader: When I’m getting on the school bus, in a car, on a bike, or walking I remember…

Children: Jesus is with me.

Leader: When I meet my new students, teachers, and friends I remember…

Children: Jesus is with me.

Leader: When I am a friend to those who are lonely, sad, or afraid I remember…

Children: Jesus is with me.

Leader: When I must do something difficult that stretches my mind and my patience I remember…

Children: Jesus is with me.

Leader: When it is time to rest at the end of the day I remember…

Children: Jesus is with me.

Leader: Students receive this blessing: May God open your hearts and minds to new discoveries. May you find friendship in unexpected places. May you be gentle and gracious to those who are in need. And may God protect you throughout your days. May all that goes into these backpacks and out of them again be blessed.

Teachers, staff, and administrators, receive this blessing: May your gift of teaching awaken minds to new ideas and expand hearts beyond boundaries. May your desire to educate evoke the unique gifts of each student and the deep desires of each heart. May your story-telling and support inspire imagination and creativity and your example lead those you teach to be generous and noble. And, as you bless your students on their way, may you delight at the gift your life offers to the future.