Category Archives: Children’s Ministry

Hidden Curriculum

Somewhere along the way the church decided that it is more important for children to be put into a Sunday school class to listen to lectures about what they should believe instead of participating in the central activity of the larger community of faith, the worship service. Now it is hard to find a church that does not separate  children from the worshipping community by placing them in age appropriate classes to “learn” about faith or practice worship. We have essentially decided that children don’t know enough, can’t sit quietly long enough, or do not have enough practice to be a part of corporate worship. Or we use the excuse that children will get more out of or have more fun in an age specific program filled with games, video clips, crafts, lectures, and discussion with children of similar age.

The first problem with that is a narrow view of what the corporate worship experience should be, one that is not child friendly at all. And I ask myself really…what would God think about children joyfully dancing to songs in the isles, cuddling with their parents, laughing, smiling, fidgeting, turning to the person behind them and making a silly face, drawing a picture, eating some cheerios.  In my mind, I see God smiling at those things.

Then I get back to the idea that children don’t know enough or need a special “children’s church” so they can practice worshipping God. I contend that by pulling children out of the corporate worship service and placing them in “kid friendly” programs, the messages we are sending them about worship are much more powerful than the learning objectives that the teachers are trying to reach.

In his book Will our Children Have Faith?, John H. Westerhoff III writes about the “hidden curriculum” (Westerhoff III, pp. 16-17). Much of how we learn and develop is shaped by what we experience in relationship with others. So what is the hidden curriculum guides the development of children in churches when they are not a part of the regular worship service? There are two dangerous messages encapsulated in this “hidden curriculum.”

Message #1

You are not old enough to worship God. You need to know more, grow more, practice more in order to be a valuable participant in the corporate worship service. Each church has a different threshold for when a person is “ready.” It might be when you have gone through the special Bible and theology classes that allowed you to be confirmed. Or it might be when you reach eighteen and we have done all we can do to teach you, now you are on your own. Some churches decide that there can be special services throughout the year, where children are allowed to participate, but those need to planned and prepare to make those meet the needs of these participants that are not able to handle a typical service.

Message #2

Worshipping God is no fun! You won’t like it at all. We have something much better for you. There will be games, crafts, singing, getting to know friends, silly skits, powerful lessons, time to talk about your prayer requests, and adults who care about you. You won’t find that in the regular worship service, so we offer this program that is better for you. Then when you hit the end of our programming…maybe it’s in 7th grade, maybe it is when you graduate high school, you will have to give up all those fun things you did, and suffer through the adult worship service.

This is when I look at the church and shake my head! What are we doing? What do Jesus’ words about “welcoming the children” mean to us? When will we realize that Jesus welcomed the children because they had something to offer, something that was different from what the adults had to offer?

When we separate children from the central activity of the faith community, when we decide they need to learn more, or decide that the most important thing about worship is meeting the needs of adults, rather than worshipping God as a community, we suffer. We suffer by not enjoying the richness that children have to offer the congregation. We suffer by having a few “trained” (or not so trained) teachers who invest in the children, instead of an entire community of adults who are invested. We suffer by a narrow view of what worship looks like. We suffer by presenting a “hidden curriculum” to children that is often more powerful than the “purchased curriculum” and presents a lesson that hinders our potential to have a powerful intergenerational community that walks together in our faith…and a community that I belive God wants us to experience.

Westerhoff III, John H. (1976). Will our Children Have Faith?. New York: The Seabury       Press.

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The Painted Banana

Two weeks ago, the story of Zacchaeus the tax collector was the topic of our Sunday school lesson. I wanted to do a children’s

sermon that somewhat tied to that story and the sermon topic of change. I am ashamed to say that when I am at a loss, I look to the internet for children sermon ideas. I got an idea from http://www.sundaychildrensfocus.com/ that seemed intriguing and I thought it could either be disastrous or very memorable. I decided to try it. It involved bringing a really old brown banana and asking the kids if they would eat it. Then painting the banana yellow, and asking if they would eat it then. It is all a lesson in how we often change on the outside, but Jesus wants us, with his help, to change on the inside.

It turned out the be memorable, well at least for the adults. I heard many stories about how that illustration impacted or touched them in some way.

Churches are often like a painted banana when it comes to children’s ministry. We recognize that we aren’t doing the greatest job, and there is a need for change. However, the change we bring is typically just painting over the stuff that makes it bad from the core. We make it look better and more enticing, but in the end we still have what we started with, a rotten banana. It is a lot easier to paint over something that we have done for so long, instead of going through the challenging work of making it better on the inside. But for our children, isn’t it worth it?

Easter bunnies, candy, eggs…where is Jesus?

I got to spend Easter morning with a group of delightful preschool and kindergartners. They were all full of energy and excited to be there. When they entered the classroom they got to watch a puppet show about an adorable beaver, Mr. Brown. After that I sat down with the kids to talk about Easter Sunday. When I asked them what makes Easter so special. I was surprised at all the words I heard “Easter bunny”, “egg hunts”, “candy”, even “presents”!

After some prompting from me, one girl told me that we are celebrating that “Jesus died on the cross and rose again.” I don’t know why I was so surprised.  Maybe it is because I spend two years working with preschoolers in a public school, so we couldn’t talk about anything Easter related. But it got me thinking and wondering when we are competing with Easter bunnies and candy, how can children get the greater message of what Easter is about?

Well, my solution this Easter was not the best one. I tried explaining what is so great about Easter and comparing it to the story we just heard from Mr. Brown. It was way too confusing for preschoolers….even older kids! Though I don’t think it was a complete failure, in that part of passing on the faith is sharing the story and passing on the language of faith, even when the concept may be too hard for a young child to understand.

I am not one to advocate for no Easter bunnies and no Santa Clause, though I might choose to do that when I have my own children, but I don’t think it is necessary. When it comes to the Christmas story children can easily and readily articulate the story of Jesus’ birth. But that is something they understand, they have all celebrated a birthday, heard a story of their own birth, watched as their mother grew with a baby inside her, and heard a baby cry. However, the Easter story is quite different. Raising from death is not something that we experience or have seen, let alone can really understand.

That said, how to we pass on the story of Easter? Maybe make it more about Jesus’ act of victory and love, than about the story. Think about what traditions or rituals you can add in your home, along with the Easter eggs and bunnies, to get kids just excited about Jesus.

Some ideas:

-Get a butterfly garden every year and start in on Easter.

-Make heart shaped pancakes. Why are they heart shaped? “Because Jesus love us!”

– Make an Easter scene like a nativity scene, except with a tomb, a rock to roll over the front of it and a figure of Jesus. On Good Friday you can put it up with Jesus in the tomb. On Easter Sunday hide Jesus somewhere around the house. Have the kids roll the rock away to find Jesus isn’t there. Then everyone can go on a hunt to find where Jesus is in the house.

Come Paidia

I wanted to start a blog for a long time. When I finally found the time to get onto wordpress and sort through all the information on how to start a blog, it took me several months to get it up and running. It was for one reason…I needed a name. My husband laughed at me and told me just to keep going, but I just couldn’t without finding the right name that represented what I wanted the blog to be about.

Finally, I decided on “Come Paidia”. Paidia is the greek word meaning “little children” used by Jesus in verses like Matthew 18:5 “And whoever welcomes a little child like this in my name welcomes me.”  As a Director of Children’s Ministry this verse is constantly in the back of my mind. In fact sometimes I can’t stop thinking about those words and questioning if the church today is really living up to this challenge from Jesus.

Anyone who has recently attended a conference for children’s ministry or Christian education may argue that children in the church are being recognized more than ever. There is everything you could think of out there. Curricula containing eye-catching videos, musicians, entertainers, music dvds, electronic check-ins, companies that transform your classroom into sets, props, books for parents, and more. In the process of choosing a curriculum for our Vacation Bible School, I spent hours searching through the many choices, imagining children walking into the church and entering everything from a jungle filled with pandas, to New York City, to the streets of Jerusalem. Everything is about child-friendly, eye-catching, entertaining fun to capture kids hearts for Jesus.

However, I often wonder if all of these great programs, curricula and ideas are really “welcoming the little children” in the way Jesus meant. I can’t help but believe there is something we are missing. There is something in the way Jesus interacted with children that makes me believe that if Jesus were here today He would challenge our current trends in children’s ministry. As I continue to read, study, and discuss this topic I will unpack my discoveries on how Jesus might be challenging us to question how we welcome the paidia.

Heather