Talk to anyone who works with kids at church and you’ll find that much of the fall is spent preparing for kids to share the Christmas story in December. Costumes need to be located. Scripts need to be written and distributed. Songs need to be practiced. Speaking of practice … how will that happen when kids have such crazy schedules?! A lot of work goes into preparation for the big day.
In the congregations I’ve served, I’ve been an advocate for kids sharing during worship with one caveat. Stop calling what they do a program or pageant. It’s a huge pet peeve because it lessens their efforts. A program feels like something to entertain us. Yes, the kids are cute and sometimes funny things happen, BUT they are doing powerful work of sharing the joy of God’s arrival for the world. It may look different than our regular services. That’s ok. You will hear me call what they do worship over and over.
In baptism in my tradition, the newly baptized is introduced as a child of God, a brother or sister in Christ, and a worker with us in the kingdom of God. Parents, Godparents, and the congregation promise to help this child of God grow in faith and support them as he or she does. For me, there is an expectation that each and every baptized person has gifts to offer. As church staff, parents, or volunteers, it’s our job to help kids see their God-given gifts and know how to serve in the world and the church. What better way to help kids learn than by letting them lead?
Of course, time needs to be taken to help kids know when to go forward, when to say their part, and even how to speak into a microphone. Practice is an opportunity to teach and set people up well. Kids can read scripture, lead a confession, read or write prayers, and share a message based on God’s Word even when it looks like a skit. They can do this even if they’re in cute costumes and one kid wants to add his own dance moves to the music. When adults do a skit in worship, we don’t automatically call it a program, so why do we do this with kids? Their leadership is a new way of helping us understand and experience God’s Word.
For many, worship must have a certain liturgy and order. It may help the person to connect with God in ways that are comforting because of tradition. At the same time, worship isn’t about us. It should always be about praising God, who loves and forgives us. God can be praised if the service looks a little different and is led by a different group of people. Again, aren’t we all called to use our gifts? What would the church look like if we didn’t worry about mispronouncing Melchezidek? I’m guessing that many don’t know how to say this name correctly. What if we weren’t scared to offer the prayers on our hearts in worship because we might say something wrong? Kids are willing to lead and often get excited about it. Sure, the service may feel different and we may go over an hour, but it’s still worship! When we are praising and thanking God, it’s worship. Kids can teach us how to worship filled with awe and wonder because that comes naturally to them! They don’t take themselves too seriously.
All throughout the Bible, God used young people to lead. Let’s not forget that Mary was likely a teenager when she had Jesus. Yes, God worked through a young person (just like one of the confirmation students at your church) to bring the Savior into this world. Samuel was probably twelve years old when God spoke to him. God gave him a vision when “the word of the Lord was rare in those days; visions were not widespread.” David was “just a boy” (1 Samuel 17:33) when he fought Goliath. He became king and from his lineage came Jesus. Don’t even get me started on King Josiah! At 8 years old, he became king! Second Kings 22 says, “He did what was right in the sight of the Lord, and walked in all the way of his father David; he did not turn aside to the right or to the left.”
When I have 6th and 7th grade guys asking me if they can help during this Christmas worship, I know that God is up to something! What if these kids go on to share the love of Christ in their schools, with their friends, on the baseball field, or wherever they go because they were loved, encouraged, and surrounded by a community that saw their gifts and helped them use them? What if someday there isn’t a pastor shortage because these kids that get to lead now, feel called to continue leading the church? What if these kids become worship directors or youth ministers?
The next time kids lead in church, be sure to thank them for their leadership. Thank them for helping you to see God and feel love in new ways. Ask them if they’d like to usher, greet, or read the prayers with you and then get them on the schedule. Each and every one of us is called to share God’s love with this world! This is powerful work. It’s not just entertainment, it’s equipping the saints for God’s work.