The Importance of Teaching Padawans

The focus of this blog is on where geek culture and the Christian faith intersect.   With that in mind, it might seem a bit off to put focus on a book called Seven Things John Wesley Expected Us to Do for Kids.   However, I think there is a strong way in which this book intersects with the things that geeks love.  The author clearly points this out.  In writing about the need to know children in the church personally and serve as a spiritual mentor Chris Ritter writes:

“Hagrid took Harry Potter to Hogwarts.  Obi-Wan introduced Luke to the ways of the Force.  Gandalf called Frodo into the Fellowship of the Ring.  Morpheus helped Neo take off his binders.  Batman had Alfred.  Daniel had Mr. Miyagi.  Bill and Ted had Rufus.  Mutants were recruited by Professor Xavier to become X-Men.  Could it be that Hollywood makes billions of dollars telling these and similar stories over again because they have tapped into a deep spiritual longing within all of us?”   

            It is obviously a rhetorical question, but the answer is a resounding “yes”!   Many of the greatest stories have a mentor who guides the hero to be the hero.  This book is a reminder that as adult Christians we are to be those mentors in the faith to children.   Adult Christians are to be the masters teaching the padawans the Way of Christ.   They are to be the wizened teachers walking with the halflings in fellowship along the path of discipleship.     This short little book is an excellent resource explaining why it is necessary to care for children in the church as well as being a source of encouragement.

The Book

            Seven Things John Wesley Expected Us to Do for Kids by Chris Ritter is a recent publication by Cokesbury.   This is a bit of a hard book to classify.   It is not strictly a devotional book, an academic book, or a resource for children ministry professionals.   It is in the same vein of books as Three Simple Rules by Bishop Ruben Job.  Like that classic and well-loved work, this book takes a teaching of John Wesley and expounds upon it for the modern era.   It is a short, easy to digest book written for the church.   Like Three Simple Rules the intention seems to be for whole congregations to consume the book and put the wisdom into practice.   As the title of the book implies, this takes the instructions that John Wesley gives to his preachers about caring for children and expounds upon them.  From a small section of Wesley’s writings Ritter is able to extract seven things that he more fully develops.  

The Good

            There is a lot of good to this book.   The Wesleyan principles that Ritter pulls out for reaching kids are both practical and profound.  These include things like “know them personally” and “pray for them intensely.”   Ritter stresses that these are jobs not just for the children ministry professionals, but jobs that all Christians should take seriously.    Ritter backs up these positions with a mixture of personal stories, practical examples and well rooted theological principles.   One gets the sense from this work that he loves children, loves the church, and deeply wants the church to better love children.    Ritter also writes with a strong sense of power and conviction.   Ritter writes from a place of deep passion, and this creates a few “mic drop” moments.   One good example of this is when Ritter writes:

“The type of parenting espoused by Wesley really doesn’t make much sense if all you want is to raise kids who are nice, believe in the existence of God, and don’t cuss much.  I dare say that is the extent of the vision most Christian folks have for their kids.”      

This book is equal parts convicting and encouraging, because after reading it most readers will be ready to do something and radically love the children of their congregation. 

The Bad

            Just like there is a lot of good, there is very little bad.   I deeply appreciate the way that Ritter interpreted John Wesley for the modern era, and I connect with the strong Methodist ethos that pervades this book.    That is because, like Ritter, I am ordained clergy in the United Methodist Church.   I do have to wonder how much of an appeal this will have outside of Wesleyan denominations.   I think that Christians of all flavors can learn a lot from this book, but I dare say that the average Baptist will not have the same kind of connection I found with the subject matter.  

            My only real complaint with the book is that it is too short.   The book comes in at seventy nine pages.   I realize that this is by design, and it is meant to be a quick read.   That is kind of a pity, because there is a lot of great content here.   There are some fascinating areas that Ritter just began to touch on before moving on.   He gave a few practical examples of how to implement these seven things, but there was not enough pages to fully develop the nuts and bolts of those examples.   In our fast paced, multi-sensory world brevity is often a virtue.  However, I feel this book suffers a bit from being too brief.   

Final Verdict

            I fully and wholly endorse this book.   If you are a member of a church I urge to consider buying this book for your pastor.  If you are a pastor then you especially need to buy this book.  As Ritter points out the words of John Wesley this is based on were originally directed to preachers, and preachers need this message.   If you are someone who works in ministry with children and youth, then buy this book.  You might be doing these things already, but this book will encourage and energize you.   Finally, if you are a Christian who is ready to take on a youngling as a Padawan learner, then buy this book.  It will get you started in the right direction.    

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