May 13, 2011

All Fun And Games

Some of you may be wondering why I rarely blog about youth ministry. Which is fair given that 80ish% of my current ministry role is youth related. The truth is I don’t have a lot of advice to offer. I am far more a learner then an instructor. I have to study hard and reflect long to figure out things that some of my peers seem to know intuitively.

So most of what I could pass along you will find in these books.

However there is one youth ministry issue I would like to weigh in on. The age old debate between 'fun and games' and spiritual growth.
It is no big secret that there can be a tension in trying to figure out the right balance of ‘games’ and ‘spiritual development’. On the one side someone will say if youth group is boring and all bible study no one will come. They'll ask; if we do that how will we reach the community for Jesus?

Which is a good point.

The other side will ask, if the youth group is all fun and games how are the teens supposed to learn anything about Jesus and their faith?

Also a good point. 

So what do we do? 

First we need to have a good understanding of why we play games. As far as I can tell there are two reasons why a youth group might play games. The first is because youth groups are supposed to play games. This means relatively little reflection is put into games beyond the how questions; how much, how messy, how loud, how fun? The second is more deliberate. Those youth groups play games on purpose. But, and this is an important distinction, the purpose is not to have fun the purpose is to build community.

The latter is what we do in our youth ministry. Fun and games become the vehicle we drive to to build relationships so we are able to have spiritual conversations. 

Think about it this way, have you ever met a teenager that didn't already have a firm opinion on just about everything? God is no exception from this. Therefore every teenager I meet I am either trying to reinforce what they believe or alter what they believe. But to do that I have to prove I am worth listening too.

One of the most wonderfully frustrating calls a person can have
Teenagers, perhaps more than any other age group are social beings. Their ears are turned to listen for people they like, and that care about them. If I have any hope in talking to them, about the big stuff I have to do the work to show them I am worthy to talk to at all. That's where games come in. Silly games, high energy games, competitive games, etc help to form a bound between leaders and teens. 

If we can laugh together, we can cry together. If we can joke with one another, we can talk with one another.

I understand that the process is slow. And truth be told it is only going to get slower. Each year it seems that teens are holding an increasingly negative or even antagonistic view of God, Jesus and the church than ever before. That means a lot more pies in the face, a lot more cheeseburgers, and a lot more trips for ice cream before we can hope to have the spiritual conversations.

Second, we need to change the scorecard some. We need to stop setting up such a shape divide between spiritual and non-spiritual. Like I said above games are the vehicle we drive to be able to have spiritual conversations. Sometimes our activities run long and we miss our devotional for the night. That doesn't really worry me, because those devotionals are not the main way we communicate about God on our youth activity nights. Our behaviour, our interactions with each other, the time we spend getting to know one an other are the major items on the agenda. 

Third every youth program needs an entry level place, and a place to go deeper. They can be on the same night, or on different nights, but they don't happen at the same time. Your going deeper place can look like a lot of things. Ours are bible studies. Yours might be weekly service projects. However it looks those are the times you take your committed kids and stretch them. 

Like I said I am no expert, and this is hardly anything ground breaking. But if it is new to you and it helps great. If you have another tip, fire away I always need to learn more. 

Finally hang in there. Doing something important is rarely easy. And it is safe to say youth ministry isn't easy, but it sure is important.