They Listen…

Today I began the teaching at church with the question ‘If I were a Muslim evangelist and my mission was to convert you to Islam what would I need to do to get some traction?’

My intention was simply to show that it is a huge ask to shift someone from one deeply entrenched world view to another completely different one. The answers were interesting, but what was of more interest to me than the answers themselves was who was giving them.

Of the 6 or 7 responses we had, 3 came from our 12-13 year olds, the crew just out of Sunday School and with no option but to sit in church and listen to us. (I think that’s a good thing by the way.) What I liked was firstly that they felt confident enough to engage and like they had permission, but also that they offered some excellent observations. They were thinking.

I have been very aware over the last 6 weeks that my 13 year old daughter Ellie has been in for the teaching and she has made a few comments about what I have been teaching, comments that show she is engaging with at least some of what I am saying.

What today has prompted me to consider is how to intentionally engage with these guys more – how to communicate in such a way that adults learn, but the younger ones follow and are able to learn also. I think it was Billy Graham who said he preached his messages to an imaginary 12 year old as if they could comprehend then anyone could. So I am thinking that in the next few months when preparing teaching I will be running it thru the grid of ‘how does this connect with a 13 year old?’

As a kid who sat thru church at that age it didn’t kill me, but I remember regularly counting the number of boards in the roof at Maylands Baptist. I was often bored to tears but with no way of escape. Sunday morning teaching is typically pitched at adults – often thinking adults – but what if it was pitched at ‘thinking kids’? I wonder if we wouldn’t pick up all the adults as well?

Its just an observation, but its one that has sparked my thinking as to how we engage the young ones rather than just expecting them to sit quietly until the boring bit is over. What today showed me is that they are willing – if we are willing…

2 thoughts on “They Listen…

  1. Hey Hamo,

    I have two teenage girls (16 and 14). They have been in “adult” church with us since they were 5 and 7. They listen, and since my wife and I generally discuss the service on the way home, they frequently offer their own reflections on what was said. A couple of things I’ve observed.

    1) They shouldn’t be treated like “children”. Or, if they are, we need to look long and hard at what we think a child can and cannot understand. By the times kids get into school and start forming relationships with other kids and other adults, we have to recognize that they have actual lives. With the availability of the Internet, this is expanded even further. They can understand pretty much anything an adult can (sometimes even more since they truly are listening–as opposed to looking for reinforcement or challenge to their own beliefs.) The only thing that would need to be adjusted is that references or theological terms be briefly qualified/explained. The rest, they can handle.

    2) Keep it short. One difference between adults and kids is simply the number of sermons they’ve heard before. Most adults–who have been in church on Sunday for 20, 30, 40 years have pretty much heard a half dozen sermons on every topic under the sun. They can effectively “check out” on the repeated parts. (On a side note, the repetition lulls adults into a mode where their attention wanders and they risk missing the new stuff. Another reason to keep it short.) But for kids, you have to think that everything is new. If you are covering something significant, say it and end it. Give them think time because the truths of God take a little time to chew on. My kids will often complain about how they really “got” something said in the sermon but ended up forgetting it because there was too much else said (and usually, the other stuff didn’t support the main point anyways.).

    IMHO, the Gospel is beautiful and simple yet profoundly meaningful. An aspect of it can be explained in about 5-7 minutes. Any more and the minds of listeners are overloaded. Personally, I’d prefer a 5 minute sermon and 15 minutes of “think time” to a 5 minute sermon with 15 minutes of stories, bad jokes, and blabber. But then again I’m a thinker.

  2. Interesting comments – I’m starting to lead all-age services, and trying to find a way of reaching a wide range of kids, usually through storytelling, as well as finding something for the adults. Stories seem to be a good way to draw everyone, but they also need telling with conviction or else they seem to be no more than stories.

    Bob – about length of message, there are some preachers for whom speaking 10 minutes is quite enough, and others who I’d happily listen to for more than an hour – even when I was an older teenager. But if a sermon is 75% entertainment and 25% message then no wonder it needs shortening.

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