Tuesday, April 24, 2012

I Hate Youth Ministry Games

I'm not talking about some obscure metaphorical mind game, I'm talking about real, literal, games. Games that are messy, that are clean, that involve teams, that involve individuals... all of them. I'm really not a fan. Every youth ministry internship I did played these crazy games. The kids would be split into teams, or individually have some sort of activity. They did this... every single week. A couple of things seemed really odd to me, first, why do they feel obligated to play games every week? It seems like a complete waste of time, to scour the internet for a new idea, and a waste of resources to spend who knows how much money on that food/shaving cream/string/baloons/whatever, only for it to be thrown out less than 10 minutes later. Second, half, if not more, of the students would be sitting on the side, refusing to play, while all the time being told by the youth pastor and the volunteers that worked with them that playing the game wasn't optional. They were told and harassed that they didn't have the option to sit on the sides, so if they actually listened and decided to play, they were absolutely miserable. Lastly, what does playing games have to do with being a disciple of Jesus Christ? Is there some part of scripture that I missed, where Jesus and his disciples were out playing poop deck? When Paul was out planting churches, was there a lost scroll of how he played chubby bunny with the new church leaders? When I became the youth pastor, vs. just the youth ministry intern, I decided intentionally to chuck the weekly game playing out the window. Do we ever play games? Of course! We play games at lock-ins, in the summer time when our schedule is different, or when we have fellowship times that are set aside for that, but we don't have organized game time on a regular basis. This was an important decision for me as a youth pastor. First, I don't like to waste my time or resources. Both are vitally important to me. If I have extra time I want it to be spent investing in students, I want it to be spent praying or studying, and quite frankly, sometimes I just want my time to be able to browse Facebook, read a book that's completely unrelated to ministry, or watch a TV show. My time is precious, and sucking it into hours of time preparing something because "it's what we've always done" seems silly and wasteful to me. The other side of that is the resources. I have seen youth pastors talk about their huge budget, and so "we might as well buy this".... It drives me crazy! There are so many things a youth ministry budget can go towards... some examples, scholarships for teens to go to camp/missions trips/retreats, outreach projects that the teens can do in the community, buying food for the youth ministry, using it to purchase something that outlasts you in the church (new carpeting in the youth room, a new dry erase board), or maybe use it to buy support packs for your parents, set up a scholarship fund for your high school grads.... I could go on. Granted, some people have budgets they have to use for something, but trust me, there are other ways to use it than buying 48 cans of shaving cream to spray all over each other in 10 minutes of soapy fury on the front yard of the church... maybe you could buy plants for the front lawn and plant them together instead. I also do not understand why we insist on forcing students to participate in something they don't want to do. Theologically, I think this is a horrible way to connect students with God. What does that say to them about a relationship with Christ, if their relationship with the youth ministry is one where they are forced to do things they hate? That may seem silly, but last time I checked, God gives us free will to follow or not, yet we get all bent out of shape when a student doesn't want to play a silly game. Granted, there are rules that need to be followed (don't jump off the church roof, don't play in the baptismal...) and the rules are important for them to learn and understand, but let's be honest, if the Senior Pastor got up on Sunday morning and asked us to play freeze tag for 15 minutes before the message, most of us would refuse to do so as well, and I think you would be justified in doing so. That's a completely different situation than running across the pews. I also think that students days are scheduled enough for them. They have to go to gym class and play stupid games, and be told what to do... they hear it all the time. Maybe what they need instead of a game is 15 minutes, where they can just talk with friends and adults, without someone telling them "Don't talk, we are doing this now." Finally, being a disciple of Jesus isn't about a competition. It isn't about who is the fastest, who is the strongest, or who can eat the most gross stuff without throwing up. It's about being radically sold out to Jesus, and loving him and those around you. I think we might see more disciples if we did things together the disciples did actually do with Jesus. 1) Eat together. Instead of having game time, we have dinner together. It gives all of us a chance to talk about what happened that week, and gives us time just to fellowship without feeling obligated to participate. We laugh, we talk, and some kids even play games (go figure!). Nothing is forced, nothing is mandatory, it's just a way for us to live life together. 2) Pray together. Take time to pray for one another's needs. Take time to pray about things that affect the whole church. Take time to teach students to pray out loud. It's important that the youth pastor, or senior pastor isn't the only one they hear pray... that they are given opportunities to pray, and learn that they can do it. 3) Read scripture together. Don't just do a quick devotional, but actually open up Bibles. Teach students how to find things in the Bible. Don't just put the verse on a screen for them, but give them a bible and have them learn to find things. Ask them questions about what things mean, ask them how those verses affect them now. This should be an opportunity for them to learn and grow. 4) Lastly, live life with them. DOn't just ask about what is going on in your life, tell them what is going on in yours. When we make dinner, we make it at the church and the kids help us... they cut up fruit, they stir soup, they take things out of the oven. We do normal every day things with them. We tutor kids before youth group. We hang out with kids, and do dishes with them after youth group. These all seem like mundane things, but they are every day things. Things we do as adults. Things that aren't optional, and we have to learn to be disciples in the midst of our every day things. Games are fun, and they are great at the right time and the right place, but I fear that we have forgotten why we do what we do in the first place, when they are a part of our every week youth ministry life. Are we here to create kids who view christianity as fun and games, or are we here to make disciples?

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