There is a big difference between having "a children's corner in every sermon" and telling a children's story before the sermon. Sermons are not intended to be story hours for children. At the same time they are not to be so dry, so heavy and ponderous, so formal and lifeless, that the children receive no benefit from them. It is the sermon that the minister preaches to his congregation that is to contain interesting thoughts for the children. The wise man has said, "to every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven" (Eccl. 3:1, KJV).
"At every suitable opportunity let the story of Jesus' love be repeated to the children. In every sermon let a little corner be left for their benefit. The servant of Christ may make lasting friends of these little ones. Then let him lose no opportunity of helping them to become more intelligent in a knowledge of the Scriptures."- Gospel Workers, p. 208 (Italics mine.)
WHAT ABOUT THE PRESERMON STORY?
Telling a story to the children for five or ten minutes prior to the preaching of the sermon may be the method some preachers have to use in order that the children may be interested in coming to church. But what about the next half hour or thirty-five minutes during which the minister is speaking to the rest of the folks in the congregation? During those long minutes for John or Mary they must sit and wiggle or try to sleep or cut out paper dolls or do something else to pass the time away. Children should early become interested in listening to the sermon, watching for the points of interest that may open to them a vista into the spiritual things of God.
I am afraid that some of our presermon storytelling does not quite measure up to standards set by some of our more able workers for youth and children. In fact, some that we have listened to hardly belong in church, especially when after the story the minister is expecting to preach a sobering message to the church. To have the children on the front benches laughing and enjoying an amusing story to the full or witnessing the clowning antics of a minister, is hardly the thing to prepare the way for sound doctrine. Surely a minister loses some of his power when he acts in this dual capacity before the congregation. We are not paid entertainers, but we are to be sober, serious men of God.
Surely Jesus loved children, and apparently they loved Him, for they sought to be in His presence. I wonder just what kind of stories Jesus told them. I am sure they were based upon solid, helpful foundations. His methods for reaching the hearts of His youthful audience were the same as those He used to reach the hearts of mature men and women. Common people heard Him gladly, as did the children, because He spoke so that all could understand.
THE BEST COMPLIMENT
One of the objectives that I have sought in my ministry is to be able to hold the attention of children, youth, and adults at the same time. It is difficult. But it can be done. Often it is done unconsciously. Sometime ago a mother came to me and said, "Pastor Amundsen, my children like to hear you preach because you speak simply, and they can understand what you are talking about." To me that was one of the best compliments I have ever received on my preaching. And I must hasten to add, I am not a great preacher. I am just an ordinary speaker, but I have sought to reach the minds of the common people during my ministry. If we can reach the minds of the rank and file of our members and also the minds of the children, we need have no fear but that we can also reach the minds and hearts of the intellectuals among us. To ancient Israel the instruction came regarding teaching the children:
"These words, which I command thee this day, shall be in thine heart: and thou shalt teach them diligently unto thy children, and shalt talk of them when thou sittest in thine house, and when thou walkest by the way, and when thou liest down, and when thou risestup" (Deut. 6:6, 7, KJV).
When Jesus was only twelve years of age He was found in the temple talking to the scholarly priests of Israel, asking questions that all but confounded them. Whence came His understanding of these things? He had been taught diligently by Mary, His earthly parent.
Possibly one of the reasons why so many of our Seventh-day Adventist children are so unruly and so worldly is that as ministers we have sought to entertain them with stories. We have given them chaff instead of fine wheat.
I certainly believe in stories for children. We must, however, as ministers of the gospel seek to prepare and deliver our sermons in such a way that the children will find their "corner" in the sermon itself. Sometimes they might be told at the beginning that the sermon was planned "for today" with the boys and girls in mind, and that you want them to "listen carefully all the way through." Then as we preach from Sabbath to Sabbath they will be watching for those places where their interest is aroused. The sermon will not be lengthy and dry for them, but they too will be interested in attending church services because they understand what the minister is saying. He speaks to them as well as to the adults. By all means let us have "a children's corner in every sermon."
Wesley Amundsen was the president of Madison College in Madison, Tennessee, when this article was written.