The Mailbag: Is it OK for women to teach the children’s sermon?

What your views are on a woman giving a children’s talk as part of an all age service? I am part of our children’s ministry team, and did the Bible talk at our recent Christmas family service. It was a talk aimed at the children, and delivered to them, although it was an all age service, and the gospel message is always for everyone. Would this be ok? My understanding has always been that a woman’s ministry within the church can be to children or to other women, and under the authority of men.

Great question! It’s always good to examine the things we do – even after the fact – in light of Scripture. Just because your pastor, husband, or someone else in authority tells you it’s biblically OK, doesn’t necessarily mean it is. And if even if it is biblically OK, you shouldn’t be doing it if it means violating your conscience.

For those who might not be familiar with what this reader is referring to, a word of explanation: Some churches, as a part of their regular Sunday worship service and/or Christmas Eve service, set aside a few minutes for a talk aimed at children, or a “children’s sermon”. Normally, the pastor (or sometimes the children’s director, or a children’s teacher) will sit down on the edge of the platform and invite all the children in the sanctuary to come sit around him. He tells a brief story or illustration with a simple spiritual point, asks a question or two, sends them back to their seats, and the worship service commences.

So, is it OK if a leader in the children’s ministry who’s a woman, gives the children’s sermon, since there are grown men in the congregation who are watching and listening? Does this violate Scripture’s prohibition against women instructing men in the Scriptures during the gathering of the church body?

(At this point, some may be wondering if it’s even biblical for a woman to serve as a children’s director. Short answer: Yes, as long as Scriptural parameters are observed. Longer answer: Click here – #21)

I’m going to land on “no” on this one. Not because it’s a direct violation of 1 Timothy 2:12, but for several other reasons:

I don’t know who invented the children’s sermon or what his (or her) rationale was, but where is the biblical support or command for this practice, regardless of who’s teaching it? We don’t see it in New Testament narrative accounts of the church. We don’t see it instructed or practiced in the epistles. And we sure don’t see any sort of counterpart to it in Old Testament descriptions of temple worship.

Some would probably cite the “let the little children come to Me” incident in the gospels, but here’s why that passage doesn’t work to support the practice of children’s sermons:

  • it’s a descriptive passage (a description of what happened), not a prescriptive passage (a command or instruction to be obeyed)
  • the parents spontaneously brought their children to Jesus for him to bless them and pray for them – it wasn’t a time of teaching or a children’s “sermon”
  • it wasn’t part of a worship service
  • the church didn’t exist yet
  • your pastor (or children’s ministry workers) isn’t Jesus

Children’s sermons during the worship service are unnecessary:

  • “But it gives the children an age-appropriate Bible lesson!” That’s your job, Mom and Dad. You are supposed to be the primary teachers and disciplers of your children. Age-appropriate Bible lessons are also what Sunday School and children’s discipleship classes are for.

  • “But it gives the children a part of the worship service they can understand!” Take it from a veteran mom – your children understand a whole lot more than you give them credit for. Set the bar high and help them reach it, don’t dumb things down for them.

  • “But it makes the children feel like a part of the worship service!” The biblically appropriate way to do that is to train them for worship. Help them learn the songs that will be sung so they can join in the singing. Show them where to find the sermon passage in their Bible. Devise a simple way for them to take notes. Train them to pray.
  • “But it makes the children feel like they’re special to the pastor when he takes time out of the worship service just for them!” Making a certain sector of the congregation feel like they’re special to the pastor – where does the Bible say that’s one of the purposes of a worship service? Besides, there are plenty of other ways to accomplish this. The pastor can guest teach or just drop by the children’s Sunday School class occasionally, take the time to talk to kids in the hall or before or after church, or participate in other children’s activities. The purpose of a worship service is not for any of us to feel special, it’s to focus all our energy on worshiping God. That’s the lesson we need to be teaching the kids.

Children’s sermons during the worship service are a disruption. They not only disrupt the flow of the worship service for the entire congregation, but as most moms can tell you, they get the kids all stirred up. Just when you’ve managed to get Junior all settled in and sitting quietly, it’s time to jump up, run down to the front of the sanctuary, wiggle around and poke and play with the other kids for about two minutes while the children’s sermon is going on, and then run back to mom and dad. Then you’ve got to start the settling down process all over again. And heaven help you if whoever’s doing the children’s sermon passes out candy at the end of it.

As I was putting this article together, I bounced it off one of my pastors, Laramie Minga, whose area of focus is worship1. He raised a couple of good points:

  • “The children’s sermon teaches a consumer mindset.”
    I agree. It subtly imparts the message to kids that they should expect to be pandered to and that the worship service (or at least that part of it) is about them, and making them happy, not about worshiping God.

    I also think a valid argument could be made that setting aside part of the worship service for a certain segment of the congregation crosses the line into showing partiality, which we’re commanded in James not to do.
  • “When the children’s sermon comes from a woman, it conditions the children to find it acceptable to be taught or preached to by a woman in the worship service when they grow up.”
    I can’t argue with that. And in this day and age of biblical illiteracy and the rampant conflation of everything under the sun, if the church where the children’s sermon (taught by a woman) holds an anemic or unclear position on the role of women in the church, the adults in the congregation who don’t know their Bibles well on this issue are not going to draw a distinction between a woman teaching the children’s sermon and a woman preaching the regular sermon to the whole congregation: “What’s the difference between her preaching to the children in our hearing and her preaching the real sermon to all of us?” they surmise.

So, should a woman be teaching the children’s sermon? I would have to answer your question with one of my own: Why are we even having children’s sermons as part of the worship service?

1Laramie (along with Scott Aniol, Josh Buice, Matt Sikes, and Owen Strachan) will be teaching at G3’s upcoming Biblical worship workshop, February 8-9. I highly recommend it for any pastor or potential pastor (it’s open to men only).

If you have a question about: a Bible passage, an aspect of theology, a current issue in Christianity, or how to biblically handle a family, life, or church situation, comment below (I’ll hold all questions in queue {unpublished} for a future edition of The Mailbag) or send me an e-mail or private message. If your question is chosen for publication, your anonymity will be protected.