Drawing stick figures can be a spiritual act of worship. That statement may sound childish to you, but it can become a gateway into engaging your children with your pastor’s weekly sermon. And, you might be surprised at how often it causes you to engage more as well.
In elementary school, I sat in the pew of my local church each Sunday and drew pictures during the sermon. My mom bought me twistable crayons, which I thought were awesome, and I created masterpieces on the back of church bulletins. However, these masterpieces had nothing to do with the sermon because, honestly, I wasn’t listening. My mom had simply given me something to pass the time.
As a young adult, I heard a pastor say he challenged the children in his church to draw pictures of his sermon. The children often showed him their works of art afterward, and he was amazed that these children were indeed listening to, and understanding, his sermons. He kept some of the sketches as reminders of how the Word of God was shaping even the youngest hearts in his congregation.
As my own children graduated from the nursery, my wife and I committed to helping them learn to worship in Big Church. More than trying to teach them to “behave and be quiet,” we wanted them to engage in the music, prayers, offerings and sermon as best they could at their age. Frankly, I wasn’t sure how it would go. Sure, they could participate in the music and “get the wiggles out,” but could children really grasp everything in a 30- to 45-minute sermon? But time has proven that I underestimated how much they pick up.
It hasn’t been easy. Some weeks caused me to want to give up and default into “behave and be quiet” mode. But by God’s grace, we kept at it and little by little began to experience the overwhelming joy of seeing our elementary-age kids grasp the Word of God and grow in their understanding of the Lord. Through trial and error, we developed a pattern to help our kids stay engaged throughout the church service and draw pictures from the sermon rather than just draw pictures during the sermon.
Here are eight tips we’ve learned along the way:
1. Prepare in advance – During the week, talk with your children about how everyone in the family is going to start drawing pictures of the sermon. Talk about how fun it will be to see what they draw. Have this conversation every week at the beginning and then periodically as reinforcement thereafter. Parents set the attitude, so speak in a positive manner rather than harp on past mistakes.
You’ll also want to prepare supplies. We bought inexpensive canvas bags for each child that we call “Bible bags.” Inside the bag they keep their Bible, a spiral notebook, a pencil and … twistable crayons. Early on, we realized that once they filled up the back of the bulletin, they would check out, which could be five minutes into the sermon. The notebook provides a solid surface and unlimited pages to keep them drawing throughout the sermon and bundles together what God is teaching them through His Word. On Saturday evening, remind everyone of your expectations and ensure Bible bags are ready to go. Trust me, one of the quickest ways to derail your efforts is to get to church and realize your child’s bag is empty because of the mad rush to get out the door that morning.
2. Sit close to the front – Many parents sit in the back of the auditorium because they don’t want to distract others. We choose the opposite approach and sit as close to the front as we can in order to remove distractions from our kids. They are more engaged when they can see the musicians and preacher up close. Of course, we also don’t mind taking our children out to the foyer if they become a distraction.
3. What to draw – We keep it simple and tell our children to draw pictures of whatever they hear in the sermon. It could be from an illustration, the biblical text, or an application, but we give them free reign. Sometimes it looks bizarre. You may look down and see an elaborate drawing of a car driving across your son’s paper and think, “Oh no, he’s totally checked out and not listening.” Then, when you discuss it, he says something like, “I drew this because Pastor John said the Gospel drives a wedge between us and sin.” Though it’s humorous, he got it, and that’s the point.
4. Model it – This tip, and the next one, will make or break your efforts to build this discipleship pattern in your kids’ lives. You need to be drawing pictures of the sermon as well. My drawing skills are terrible, but my weirdly drawn stick figures have actually been an encouragement to my kids that it’s not about being a good artist. I let them copy my drawings because it shows them how to draw pictures of more abstract concepts when the sermon is not from a narrative passage of Scripture. If they don’t see you doing it, they’ll likely be less interested in it. As a side benefit, you’ll actually be surprised at how much it helps YOU pay attention to the sermon as well!
5. Discuss it over lunch – Every Sunday while we’re eating lunch, everyone in the family takes turns sharing their drawings, which capitalizes on the innate “Daddy, look what I did,” and reinforces what they learned. When our kids have shown disinterest in drawing the sermons, we’ve often looked back and realized that we fell out of the habit of sharing our sketches at lunch. Some of the sweetest times of family discipleship have occurred during these lunchtime show-and-tells.
6. Share it with your pastor – Pastors are greatly encouraged when they see how God’s Word is shaping the children in your congregation. Scan a drawing and email it to your pastor.
7. Teach and reteach – Like other areas of parenting, it’s trial and error. Some weeks will be better than others. Some sermons will be easier than others. Don’t give up. Hit the reset button each week, and you’ll eventually see fruit in your efforts.
8. Teaching is worship – The reason most of us fall into the “be quiet and behave” mode is because we don’t want our kids to distract us from worship. One of the most powerful concepts I’ve learned is that even if I might feel a little distracted during that worship song because I’m redirecting my son, or I might miss one of the sermon points because I’m helping pick up a rogue crayon rolling under the row in front of me, teaching my kids how to worship the Lord in Big Church is actually a form of worship in itself. One way we love God with all our hearts and souls is by teaching our children how to love Him too (Deuteronomy 6:4-9).