In one of the churches I served we offered each Sunday an abbreviated family service sandwiched between two other longer worship services. The family service provided Holy Communion along with a children’s homily. Though the service was designed primarily for young families with children, a retired circuit court judge attended this service on a regular basis. Once I asked him why he preferred this service over the others. He answered that he could better understand the sermon.
The children’s homily is a challenge. Though it may be short in duration, it must be a real homily in the sense that it is a word from God to his very special people. Jesus said:
Then they also brought infants to Him that He might touch them; but when the disciples saw it, they rebuked them. But Jesus called them to Him and said, “Let the little children come to Me, and do not forbid them; for of such is the kingdom of God. Assuredly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will by no means enter it.” (Luke 18:15-17)
Children can often understand much more than we realize. They are eager to learn, but we must be prepared to hold their attention. Their thoughts may quickly wonder if we do not generate some excitement about the homily ourselves. They want to learn, they want to be entertained, but they do not want to be bored.
Not every preacher has a natural gift for preaching to children. Nonetheless, we may still be called on to do so. Preparation is the key. We must understand the core of what we want to say and streamline the telling of the story. Yes, the homily should be a story and not a lecture. We cannot expect the children to listen to us if we are reading directly from our text.
The shorter the length of the sermon the more preparation is required on our part. The homily must be short, but to the point. It must be interesting and interactive. A question and answer format is often a good formula. This gets the children involved. Of course, that could be dangerous if we always expect to be in control. Better to roll with the punches and allow the Holy Spirit to take charge.
At least one of the kids will probably go off on a tangent. If we are trying to control everything that is said, we will fail. The Holy Spirit can help us subtly steer the direction of the homily, if we are listening. The Spirit can take over the homily. We should not need to take any credit for the homily. The joy comes from watching the kids participate with interest.
We must be prepared to put everything we have out there and hope for the best. Let us offer ourselves up to God to be a living sacrifice. Cue the intercessors to be standing by before and during our homily. If we are willing to do our homework, we may be able to preach a children’s homily after all, one that even an adult can understand. May God grant us his mercy.
See example of a children’s homily.