John O’Hara is a husband, father, and ordained minister who is stumbling forward in the Way of Jesus. He serves as Family Ministry Pastor at Sequoyah Community Church in Oakland, California and writes at www.oharaville.com; and on clear nights, the soft electric glow of his laptop can be seen among the terrestrial stars of the California coast, patiently awaiting the appearance of words.
SIX YEAR OLD NAMED KEYNOTE SPEAKER AT BI-ANNUAL DENOMINATIONAL CONFERENCE
ORLANDO â€“ Taking quite literally Jesusâ€™ instruction that a person must â€œbe like a child to enter the kingdom of heaven,â€ leadership for the Assemblies of God (USA), one of the largest evangelical organizations in the world, have named six year old Billy Thompson as the keynote speaker for itsâ€™ bi-annual national convention to be held in Orlando, Florida.
Several better known pastors and authors, who normally occupy the keynote position in order to draw an audience to these events, have voiced their surprise at this unexpected announcement. Some have expressed concern. â€œItâ€™s not that I donâ€™t like kids,â€ said one leader who asked to remain anonymous. â€œitâ€™s just that Christians need good, solid discipleship. I doubt Billy has the proper biblical training, much less the stage presence, to pull off an event of this magnitude.â€
In fact, because Billy is in kindergarten, the normal preaching format has been shelved in favor of story time, in which Billy will re-tell stories of Jesus healing the sick and loving people that society looked down on, interspersed with songs about farm animals. This will be followed by snack time, during which his classmates will help distribute crackers and juice to the ministers in attendance. Billy has chosen Elaine â€œLaneyâ€ H., his bestest friend in the whole world, to offer the benediction prayer. It is rumored that she will use hand-motions.
When asked about his position on various doctrinal hot-button issues, Billyâ€™s response was â€œI donâ€™t know about that.â€ Asked what he does know about Jesus, he said, â€œWell… Jesus had a lot of friends because he didnâ€™t care if you were a bad guy. He always said to love each other and to treat people the way you want to be treated. And he helped Peter catch whole boatload of fish.â€
â€œThe unconventional choice of a six year old to speak at a national denominational conference wasnâ€™t easy, but we gave it a lot of thought and even more prayer,â€ explained one of the denominational leaders. â€œbut when youâ€™re looking at a plateau in membership, a growing population, and an ever-increasing need in our world for faith in action, we realized that another three-point sermon was simply not going to cut it. Seriously, if I donâ€™t hear another message in my lifetime I wouldnâ€™t even notice. This is stuff weâ€™ve all heard before, many times over. Most of us have given up on real transformation years ago. Thatâ€™s a dangerous place to be, because when you donâ€™t have the imagination to see the future, all you have left is the pageantry of the past to defend. Let me tell you: over the years, we have gotten real good at rehearsing the past, so much so that we wouldnâ€™t know the future if it bit us in the butt. Maybe having a kid up front for a change will shake something loose in our thinking.
â€œBilly hasnâ€™t been taught yet to box the Creator into a religious grid. He still colors outside the lines, you know? His creativity hasnâ€™t been tarnished by whatâ€™s practical, and he hasnâ€™t traded the wild and surprising possibilities of faith for the narrow defensiveness of certainty. Kids get it. Kids get God in a way that eludes the most educated among us. I just hope we arenâ€™t too proud to receive what the Spirit wants to say through little Billy.
â€œThereâ€™s still more beauty to be discovered in the universe. As a pastor and a theologian, itâ€™s too easy to miss the forest for the trees. Iâ€™m getting a little older, and hopefully a little wiser, and Iâ€™m quickly realizing that my days are numbered. I donâ€™t want to waste any more time classifying God and the universe, because every moment I spend trying to make sense of it is a moment I could have been participating in it — participating with God in the world. Jesus help us, and please make us all more like Billy!â€