It’s that time of year! The annual church Christmas program. Is there anything cuter than kids in a Christmas program? I mean seriously, don’t we just love seeing the kids sharing their songs, saying their lines, quoting their Bible verses and wearing all the Christmassy things? And, of course, there’s always that “one” kid who unwittingly steals the show with their over-enthusiastic lines or their under-enthusiastic singing. Or the one who is just a little bit off on the motions or the one who is pretending to conduct in the back row. I mean, who doesn’t like seeing kids perform in church?
(slowly raises her hand)…ME.
What?!? I work in Children’s Ministry! Isn’t that against the rules?
You guys, bear with me but, yeah, I usually don’t like them very much at all. I love that the kids talk about Jesus. I do think that they are beyond adorable and I want to hug every single one. But what I don’t like are the many implications that often come with it; things that go unsaid, but speak volumes to children and adults about the place of children in “big church.”
Four Reasons I Don’t Like Christmas Programs
- They define the role of Children in Worship – They are performers. They are cute. Everyone likes to “see” them. Everyone wants them on stage. But children are much more than that. They are active, vital, necessary members of the body of Christ. If they are only invited into worship to “perform” guess what worship/church becomes for them? A performance. And when they get tired of performing or they aren’t cute anymore, they move on to bigger and better things.
- They define the role of the Children’s Pastor – Many or most who work in Children’s ministry, rarely spend much time in “big church.” The role is unseen; serving downstairs or upstairs making sure children are loved, rooms are covered, volunteers are appreciated, parents are affirmed, janitors are appeased, visitors are welcomed, and families are encouraged. But the only time a children’s minister is seen in church is when he/she bring the children up to put on a show. It creates a very limited view of who children’s ministers are.
- They define the role of the Congregation – When the children perform, all the feelings are there! The kids are sweet and cute and the church loves to see them in church. But it is a passive reception; the kids give, the church receives. There are no active, ongoing relationships. Many don’t even know the children’s names. They are the “girl in the red dress that sang so loud” and the “boy in the tie who sat on the steps.” It creates an environment of “us” and “them” and when the performance is over, everyone returns to their posts.
- They define who is and who is not “the Church” – This is the same reason I despise the term “big church.” There isn’t a big church and little church in God’s kingdom. There’s just church. We, all of us, old, young and in-between, are all members of God’s body, part of the Church, His Bride. We affirm this at baptism or dedication. The whole congregations commits to being one body. And then, we go our separate ways, big and little, for the year, until it’s time to perform again.
Important Caveat: I know that not every church is like this.
Please know that I realize that for some churches the program is more than a performance. For those churches, the children are involved in church all year long as participants and not just performers and the Christmas program is an extension of a greater story. I am beyond blessed to serve in a church like this.
But many of the reports I hear from Christmas programs across the board can be summed up like this, “All year we are invisible, but today…Today we shine.” And that makes me sad.
What can be done?
Well, for one, we can start by making the children part of the larger corporate worship more frequently, giving them a name and voice and relationships rather than just being cute and adorable.
Create space for adults to interact with children on level ground rather than as active performer and passive recipient.
Define roles differently – children as saints of God and adults as children of God; the children’s director as pastor and shepherd of God’s flock not keeper of kids; the congregation as a family of all generations not a division of age groups and ministries.
Christmas programs are in and of themselves not the issue.
I mean, let’s face it, they are part of the regular church experience and, come on, the kids are really cute!
But if that’s all they are, if that is the only time they are seen and the only role they fill, then Christmas programs are the issue. If that’s the only time the children’s minister is a part of corporate worship, it’s an issue. If a culture of “us” and “them” is perpetuated or if children are guests in the service rather than family at the table, then it’s an issue.
Christmas is a time we celebrate Love coming to earth…as a child. Our programming, no matter how cute or adorable it is, should be a continuation of that story through the community and family that is the church.
A version of this article was originally published here under a different title in 2017.
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“Waiting for the Light“
It’s not too late to help the families at your church celebrate Advent together in their homes!
ReFocus is grateful to our dear friends, Pastor Matthew and Stephanie Peterson for this wonderful family Advent devotional, Waiting for the Light.
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About the Author
Christina Embree is the founder and director of ReFocus Ministry. She holds a masters in ministry focused on Children, Youth, and Family Ministry and a doctorate in spiritual formation with a focus on age segregation and intergenerational ministry. In addition to coaching churches of multiple denominations and traditions all around the globe, Christina serves as the Minister of Generational Discipleship for the Great Lakes Conference of the Brethren in Christ and as a pastor at Plowshares Brethren in Christ in Lexington, Kentucky. She is widely recognized as a speaker and author in the areas of generational discipleship, intergenerational ministry, and family ministry. As the mother of three children, she is familiar with the challenges of faith at home and pastoral ministry. She along with her husband Luke share a love for the church, their community, and the global work of peace and restoration through Jesus.
Interested in having Christina visit your church, speak at your conference, or coach your team? Christina speaks on a wide range of topics related to children, youth, and family ministry with a unique focus on connecting generations for discipleship within your church. Her personalized approach allows you to pinpoint the needs of your community and gain the insight that you are looking for. Whether this is a volunteer team training and pastoral staff meeting or a ministerial conference, her experience and knowledge will help you determine the next step forward in creating lifelong disciples.