A lot of what I write tends towards the practical. In trying to connect the things we love with the God who love us, I tend to write about ideas that can be implemented or in the very least enhance the faith walk and practice of an individual believer. This post is something different. This is not something that I have ever attempted. This is a “what if” post. This is a thought exercise about how we might do things as disciples of Christ differently. My question is this, “What if we trained children in churches the way that Jedi are trained?”
I had this thought last month when I attended the Orange Conference, one of the leading conferences for children and family ministry. As I learned from some of the best minds in the country on this topic, I could not let this thought go. I truly think that on a whole we would be much more effective at making disciples for Jesus Christ if we treated Sunday school more like Jedi training.
In some ways there are already some similarities. The Jedi and the church both start young. One of the things established in Star Wars lore is that children are recruited in infancy to begin living life as a Jedi. In church we are unapologetic about doing that as well. Starting at birth we raise up our children in the church. We have dedicated nurseries for them, Sunday school classes, vacation bible schools, choirs, and a whole variety of activities cued to all age groups. It has been my experience that if a church has children in it, they will attempt to provide some sort of age appropriate ministry for that child. Like the Jedi, churches start young. Like the Jedi, churches seek to teach these children the tenants of a faith. Unfortunately, that is where our similarities end. There are three ways that we as churches should teach children more like how Jedi teach padawans.
#1 The Leaders should know the children
There is a scene in Attack of the Clones where Obi-Wan Kenobi interrupts a training session to ask Master Yoda a question. Yoda is teaching children the basics of how to use a lightsaber. It is firmly established in Star Wars canon that Yoda is one of the wisest and most powerful of the Jedi. He is one of the leaders of the Jedi Council. Despite his importance, Yoda makes it a point to teach the youngest generation.
Most churches have amazing volunteers and talented staff to lead the children ministry. However, the pastors and other church leaders should still help teach the children. No matter how big the church, the lead pastor should know and be known by the children. John Wesley knew this was important. If there were just ten children present in a society he instructed his preachers to spend an hour a week with them. If a pastor is to lead and teach a congregation, they need to lead and teach the entire congregation, including the youngest ones among them.
#2 Teachings should be put into action
I know this is going deep into Star Wars lore, but there is a story arc in the Clone Wars cartoon where a group of younglings are sent on a rite of passage to retrieve kyber crystals so that they can build their lightsabers. The story line tells us that this is a test that all potential Jedi must go through. The younglings were expected to use all that they have learned in their training up to that point in order to pass the test.
This is something that we can learn from. In general in churches we are great at teaching children the theory of our faith, but we are not so great at helping them put it to into practice. We drill into children that they should love their neighbor as themselves, but we do not give them many opportunities to actually love their neighbor. We teach them that God is with them and that they can rely on God. However, we protect them from ever having to actually trust in God to provide. The Jedi order clearly has an expectation that their young students can put their training to good use, and in the church we should have a similar expectation.
#3 Most of the training is mentoring
The final and most important part of Jedi training is when the future Jedi becomes an official padawan. A Jedi who has already been knighted takes on the responsibility of bringing the training of the padawan to completion. This is a deep and intentional mentoring relationship where one is the learner and the other is the master. The padawan and the master go everywhere together. The master is always modeling and always teaching. It does not matter how dangerous the mission, the padawan is serving beside their master, and always learning from their teachings.
This is where I think churches could benefit the most. The closest I have seen this done is during some Confirmation processes a mentor is assigned to a confirmand, and the two of them go through a workbook together. What if we adopted a more master-padawan model in the church? Imagine if for several years, a young person learned how to be a Christian from a mature disciple. If the mature disciple is a committee chair, then the padawan goes to the committee meetings, If the mature disciple volunteers at a school or soup kitchen, then the padawan serves besides them. The entire time the mature disciple is modeling and teaching the young disciple in the faith. As the relationship advances, the mentor allows the padawan to take more responsibility until they themselves are a mature disciple.
This would be radically different than how ministry with young people is approached. I think the potential here is enormous. Imagine the pastors and leaders investing in the young children, churches actually trust children to put their faith into action, and then mature disciples train a child through adolescence so that they are on the same level as their mentor. One of the often lamented problems in the church is that we lose young people when they graduate high school, but I believe training disciples like Jedi padawans would stop that trend.
What if we trained children in churches the way that Jedi are trained? I think it has the potential to change everything. What do you think?