Does creativity end with the kids’ talk?

The Children’s Address, as it used to be called, remains the highlight of the service for some.

It’s an open secret that most children’s talks are the main thing that the adults remember long after the sermon has become hazy. It’s also an open secret that most ministers, if they haven’t managed to contract out the kids’ talk, have, at least, half an eye on the adults when preparing.

At our church, prior to Covid, we had all but stopped kid’s talks. This was partly because we were using teaching material that follows a different plan to that of the ‘sermons’. It seemed confused to initiate two narratives for the children.

Post Covid, we have yet to recommence the children’s work and all services are currently ‘All Age’. So, the kids’ talks are back on. Accompanying the main ‘sermon’ we usually provide a worksheet that includes the ever popular sermon bingo.

The kids talks are being given by a range of people from the congregation. What has struck me is the variety and creativity with which these are delivered. They come with visual aids, songs, video, worksheets, and crafts all illustrating what is being said.

In contrast, the ‘sermons’ have a lot more talking and a lot less creative illustration. Why? Why do we teach adults in a way that is much less creative and varied?

Is there an underlying belief that creative illustrations and participation in practical activities are childish? That would concur with my experience of school where primary eduction was play-based but later education was often more like a lecture. I hope that schools have moved on from this approach.

Similarly, even tertiary education appears to have moved on from lectures to greater use of discussion and practicals. Of course, the lecture is still perhaps the most effective way of delivering information to large audiences. Or at least it was until the arrival of massive online meetings. But churches may be alone in their fairly monochrome approach to plenary communication.

People will sit for long periods and listen. Just look at the success of stand up or TED talks. But neither of these examples is supposed to be an all encompassing approach to educating the audience.

Over the years we have tried more interactive and creative approaches. Once a month our church has/had the ‘Breakfast Service.’ This is just as it sounds, a worship event that includes breakfast sitting around small tables.

More recently we added a more discursive approach to teaching. We started with a variation of Nigel Barge’s ‘Hearing the Word’ method. For the first 15 minutes, each table simply read the text and asked questions. In the first section you were not allowed to answer the questions. Afterwards in plenary, each table selected some questions to share and an attempt was made, from the front, to answer these. The other tables were also welcome to share their own answers. All this was supported by a homemade worksheet that displayed related images and encouraged reflection and drawing, even by the adults.

As you can imagine, this was met with mixed responses. Anecdotally, it did seem that often that those who were ‘unchurched’ or ‘less-churched’ were more open to this approach to learning in a church service.

The question still to be answered is, does such an approach constitute a legitimate way of preaching the Gospel? The answer, I suspect, will depend on whether, or not, you think that Preaching the Gospel requires a particular form of communication.


We’re currently studying Revelation in church. We started after the church letters because this was an unexplored frontier. How many churches similarly, study the letters and then jump to the new Heavens and Earth where Kleenex will no longer be required?

The intervening narrative is strange and obscure. But with the help of commentaries and some OT prophets, it is possible to wade through, at least, the shallows of the text.

Studying Revelation has been a thoroughly enjoyable experience, at least for the preacher; if enjoyable is an appropriate term for an apocalypse. But it has also raised some questions about contemporary Christianity in Scotland.

Reflecting on the text and the current state of Scottish Christianity has led to the question, how well equipped are we for the kind of trials that Revelation’s Christians faced and that many face today across the globe?

Some contemporary teaching packages Christian faith as a life enhancing bolt on. There are, of course, many significant life enhancing aspects to our faith. But without certain qualifications, ‘life-enhancement’ sounds a lot like false advertising.

Revelation depicts a persecuted church, making huge sacrifices but secure in the promise of the returning King and the new world to come. This eschatological perspective is often missing in contemporary presentations of Christianity. The, now historical, Christian Aid slogan, ‘We believe in life before death’ is apt. With the current stress on the Kingdom of God as the basis of the Christian life, I wonder if the eschaton has dimmed in the Church’s teaching?

The reminder of the Kingdom lived now was necessary. For many Christians it was important to discover that the Earth is not simply Heaven’s waiting room. Here, conversion is not the end but the beginning of Christlike living defined, not simply by what must now be omitted but, by what must now be done in Christ’s name.

But has there been an overcorrection? Are we still teaching the necessity of contemporary cross carrying in order to participate in eschatological rest? On the contrary, it seems to me that we are often teaching an over-realised eschatology where suffering with Christ has little place. Not only does this breed immature, self-indulgent, Christians, but it does them an injustice. Christians today may not be prepared to deal with reality? What happens when the first bump on the heavenly road is hit?

The Christian life is marked by suffering, self-discipline and self-denial. Is it all bad? No, it’s glorious! In the midst of trials we see heaven opened and angelic armies worshipping the Most High. The problem with the ‘life enhancement’ theology is that it expects no suffering. It offers Heaven today while circumnavigating the way of the cross.

Sadly, there are other theologies present in the church today which struggle with over-realised eschatology. Of course there is full blown prosperity preaching. But there is also a more subtle blend of pietism with a dilute prosperity gospel which considers God to owe us because we have been devoted to him.

It’s not wrong to expect blessings from God. But it’s mistaken to presume upon them. Because the only thing guaranteed in the Christian life, prior to death, is that we will suffer with Christ. All guaranteed blessing is eschatological and therefore tied to the life to come.

We should, of course, avoid a morbid, pessimistic, theology that only expects bad things from our Heavenly Father. Early in life I developed a theology that seldom moved beyond the cross. I thought little of the resurrection or ascension apart from being proofs for Christ’s divinity and my forgiveness. It was liberating to realise that King Jesus rules today and we meet each day as his willing subjects and servants, with grateful work to do.

But ‘life enhancement’ or ‘God owes me’ theology is prone to forget altogether our crosses and may not prepare us as servants and heralds of the Kingdom. Instead are we becoming suburbanites; viewing the Kingdom of God as a gated retirement community that dishes out heaven’s blessing like a gratuitous pension?

Philip and the Ethiopian

An Angel said to Philip, go to the Gaza road. So he did just that.

On the way he met an Ethiopian man, who looked important and wealthy. The man was on his way home from worshiping at the Temple in Jerusalem. He was reading the Scriptures from the book of Isaiah.

Philip heard what the Ethiopian was reading, because the man, thinking no one else was listening, was reading aloud.

“Do you understand what you’re reading?” asked Philip. And soon the men were talking about Jesus and everything that had happened in Jerusalem.

As they continued along the road, they passed a small stream. The Ethiopian turned to Philip, “listen, why don’t I just get baptised right now?” he said.

Philip paused and began to feel flustered. At last he replied apologetically, “sadly I can’t do that. I’ve not done the proper training. I was only ordained to catering.”

The Ethiopian continued on his way disillusioned with early church structures.

In Christ’s Name

“Teacher,” said John, “we saw someone driving out demons in your name and we told him to stop, because he was not one of us.”

(Mark 9.38)

“Did you get his name?” replied Jesus, “Let’s google him…wait has this place got wifi?”

“Has he got twitter?” someone asked.

“I found a blog” shouted Matthew.

“Is he evangelical?” asked John.

“What does that even mean nowadays John” said James.

“Ok then, is he complementarian?” asked John.

“Does his church sing Getty or Bethel?”

“What’s his view on N T Wright?”

“Is he emerging?”

“Ok, ok” said Jesus, loudly.

“To be on the safe side, let’s issue a press release distancing ourselves. The usual thing please Matthew; say he isn’t part of a ‘Gospel’ church.”

As you go

Matthew sat among a group of disciples eagerly listening to his story of Jesus.

“Jesus said, ‘all authority on heaven and earth has been given to me, therefore as you go make disciples, baptising them and teaching them all I have taught you…’”

“In other words”, continued Matthew, “life is about sharing the Gospel; as you go about your business, make disciples.”

“That almost sounds too simple” said one of the group.

“Quite right” said Matthew, that’s exactly what we thought. And so we invented ‘mission’. Matthew now had a glint in his eye.

“Mission” replied the questioner, “what does that mean?”

“Precisely,” said Matthew, “what does it mean? It means everything and nothing at the same time. It means whatever you want it to mean.”

“Mission means; courses and books, research and consultancy, workshops, webinars, conferences and lectures.”

“Mission means; experts and advisors, specialists and coaches. It means having little time to do anything else because you’re too busy talking about mission.”

“But doesn’t the Church need to know that Jesus wanted them to get on with life, sharing the Gospel as they went? Wouldn’t it make things much simpler?”

Matthew looked aghast. “Of course the Church doesn’t need to know that Jesus left them a clear and simple task”, he shrieked. “That would ruin everything.”