A few weeks ago our children created a banner during worship to represent the part of the Lord’s prayer that says “thy kingdom come, thy will be done.” I asked them to draw the kinds of things that they thought were in the kingdom of God. I then cut out what they drew and made a kingdom of God on the banner, a banner which is in display in our sanctuary.
My daughter’s drawing gave me pause. It looked like she had drawn a giant person’s head with two long arms. On each arm was a person. One was black and the other was white. As I looked at it I realized that she had drawn a vision of reconciliation, this picture of the God who is intimately involved in our lives reaching down to draw us together. She also picked up on the fact that our country needs to grapple with racism.
It was good work. It made me think. But it wasn’t cute.
I’ve noticed that when people talk about children in church and children’s ministry they often use the adjective “cute.” I wonder if this happens because adults don’t know what else to say. It can be awkward to talk to children, especially when you don’t have any of your own. And it may seem like the kindest thing to say is “you were so cute up there!”
I’d like you to pause before taking that approach.
I’m certain that our children want their music, art, participation in worship, etc., to be taken seriously. I’m certain that they have given thought and attention to what they create. I’m certain that, with time and the building of a relationship, that they want to tell you about their work, their singing, their art.
So I worry about what “cute kids in church” conveys to children about their presence with us. This is why I never ask children for responses during the children’s sermon. I don’t want them to be laughed at, even if they enjoy being laughed at. When children become the locus of “kids say the darndest things” we’ve put our children on display rather than calling them to draw near as Jesus did. They instantly cease to be our teachers, our neighbors and our friends.
My hope is that adults can convey to children that their participation in worship was thought-provoking, well done, engaging, interesting and beautiful. Our children want that, too.
Melissa Florer-Bixler is a licensed minister in Mennonite Church USA’s Virginia Mennonite Conference and a member of Chapel Hill (N.C.) Mennonite Fellowship. She is the minister of children at Duke Memorial United Methodist Church in Durham, N.C., and holds a master’s degree in religion from Duke University and an M. Div. from Princeton Theological Seminary. She blogs on a theology of childhood and other things at breakingnewbread.wordpress.com.