I’ve just seen my son come as close to worship as a two-year-old can get. He was in the presence of Barney.
During this year’s Spring Break, we went to Florida to visit family. We Baptists are boycotting Disney these days but that was no problem, because the real object of devotion around our house these days doesn’t have mouse ears — he is a giant purple dinasour with green spots, a goofy voice, and probably vacation homes in Malibu and Madrid.
For those who lack the joy of toddlers underfoot, a brief description may be in order. Barney is a doll who “comes to life” every morning at 7:00 am on PBS and plays with a group of joyous children. They sing, dance, do arts and crafts, and generally frolic for 25 minutes, until it is time for the children to move on to lesser tasks and for Barney to reclaim his secret identity as a stuffed dinosaur.
At Universal Studios, we went to the “Barney Show” and enjoyed twenty minutes or so of silly songs, jumping around, and toddler-sized entertainment. At the end of the show, the kids line up around the stage and Barney makes the rounds, hugging each child. James was entranced throughout the show, so we couldn’t help taking him for another time — and another hug.
I think I understand why little guys and gals are so attached to this bouncing bundle of fluff. He sings with them, plays with them, teaches them, and generally takes them quite seriously. At that age, that’s a lot more than many children can expect anywhere else.
The other thing Barney does is love them. He tells them every day, every show: “And remember, I love you!”
As an observer of this phenomenon, I have noted that we preachers might learn a thing or two from the king of preschool TV.
For one thing, we need to be reminded that the power of the imagination is immense. The secret of Barney is the power of imagination — children really can imagine their stuffed animal turning into a living friend who plays with them.
Many of the great preachers were successful communicators because they learned to harness the power of their audience’s imagination. With carefully crafted word pictures, we can carry a congregation down the dusty streets of Jericho or onto the windswept hill called Golgotha. I believe in exposition and the need for propositions, but great preaching can take those things and help drive them home for the listener by using his or her own imagination.
Another thing we can learn from Barney is that love attracts attention. I watched scores of children drawn to this character, in part because they sense he cares for them.
I’ve known plenty of preachers who were not the greatest communicators in terms of raw skill, but whose congregations were drawn to them week after week because they sensed a pastor who loved them. In a cynical world like ours, where we increasingly sense that everyone is out to sell us something or take something from us, there is power in selfless love. It has drawn people to Jesus for two millenia, and it will draw people to listen to those who proclaim His love and grace.
As for Barney, I figure he’ll be around for awhile. But I see those Veggie Tales making their move …

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About The Author

Michael Duduit is the founding publisher and editor of Preaching magazine. He is also the founding Dean of the new College of Christian Studies and Professor of Christian Ministry at Anderson University in Anderson, South Carolina. Michael is author and editor of several books, including the Handbook of Contemporary Preaching (Broadman & Holman Press), Joy in Ministry (Baker Books), Preaching With Power (Baker) and Communicate With Power (Baker). From 1996 until 2000 he served as editor of the Abingdon Preaching Annual series. His email newsletter, PreachingNow, is read each week by more than 40,000 pastors and church leaders in the U.S. and around the world. He is founder and director of the National Conference on Preaching and the International Congress on Preaching, which has been held in 1997 at Westminster Chapel in London, 2002 at the University of Edinburgh, Scotland, and 2007at Cambridge. He has been a pastor and associate pastor, has served a number of churches as interim pastor, and speaks regularly for churches, colleges and conferences.

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