Balloons, Object Lessons, Skits, and Puppets: Not Just For Children
By Jane Harris
It started out as a casual request. I was at a family camp and was asked if I would do a balloon routine for the morning worship time. I was used to the bringing the children down front and doing a “children’s sermon.” I have always been uncomfortable with this scenario because usually adults are whispering in the background. Children twist and turn and you spend most of your time trying to keep track of them.
To my surprise I was the main event. As I walked to the podium I was told the speaker had not shown up, and the camp director who is usually the back up speaker was also not available. I was the main event. I had planned on doing two simple routines and now I had 20 minutes to fill.
I just started ballooning and story telling and preaching kind of all at the same time. Guess what? The adults appreciated entertaining skits and routines with a message just as much as the kids did. Five years later, I am much better at this. As I walked out of the chapel I had several pastors stop me to talk. As one pastor put it, “You did in 60 seconds what it takes me 30 minutes to do.”
Since that time, I have been given the pulpit on a regular basis, not just at camp but at many other events. I no longer agree to do “ children sermons.” I do not bring the children down in front. I often use the audience for helpers, sometimes children sometimes adults.
The question is: Is there a difference in the message between children and adults? I think the answer is, in most cases, “probably not.” We need to ask
What is the message? Who is it for? How can we make it work for both adults and children?
For example, this year at camp, I was going over my possible list of routines for Monday morning. I looked at what were favorites, what would be new to this audience and what needs there were that I could address with balloons.
We had a situation where most of the adults were over-committed. These are all people who love the Lord, most are full-time ministry workers, others both have full-time jobs and still pastor churches, etc. Camp is important but often gets squeezed in between many other things. One pastor is a Christian counselor and his phone rang continuously.
Before I balloon at such events I go back over my material. The first thing I do is read the scriptures behind each routine. The second thing I do is pray. I take some time to listen to the Lord. I read the following, Luke 19:1-7:
19:1 Jesus entered Jericho and was passing through. 2 A man was there by the name of Zacchaeus ; he was a chief tax collector and was wealthy. 3 He wanted to see who Jesus was, but being a short man he could not, because of the crowd. 4 So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore-fig tree to see him, since Jesus was coming that way.
5 When Jesus reached the spot, he looked up and said to him, “Zacchaeus , come down immediately. I must stay at your house today.” 6 So he came down at once and welcomed him gladly.
In the past, with children, I had done a Zaccheaus routine that had the kids spinning balloon monkeys in a tree. Could I adapt this to address some of the needs of our busy team? With a few changes in the way I presented this it became not only fun for children but also very meaningful for the work team. This time we had the busy adults spinning the monkeys and the message was that they needed to stop spinning and come down and spend some time with Jesus.
So how do you bridge the perception gap that balloons, puppets and the like are just for children?
1) Present it as for the whole audience, not just for children.
2) Use volunteers when you can, use both children and adults.
3) Follow a traditional format. Each of my routines starts with a scripture, and I often paraphrase the story (for example, the prodigal son) and end with a prayer.
4) If you are a guest speaker make sure the audience knows where to turn if they want more information. Many of my routines talk about salvation, it is important that I make sure there is follow up.
5) Practice, practice, practice. An audience of both children and adults will not put up with sloppy work.
6) Make sure what your are doing matches the message. Making a balloon dog while talking abuot something else will not keep your audience attentive.
7) My basic motto is KISS ( keep it simple, stupid).
8) Do not apologize for your work. Your message is the same as anyone else. (avoid the “I’m not used to doing this..” or “I usually work with children…”)
9) Have a back-up plan. When working with object lessons, balloons, paper stories, chalk talk, etc., make sure you have everything you need. In my routine “bulldozing sin out of your life” I always have spare parts made ahead of time. I call it the “just in case” factor.
10) Remember who is the producer. Always dedicate what you do to Christ.