by Rev. Kellen Roggenbuck
(CLICK HERE to support Rev. Kellen as he helps lead the NCJ delegation to the Global Young People's Convocation in South Africa this July!)
Youth ministries sometimes have cultures of interest groups. I've had youth groups heavily populated by athletes, drama students, musicians, artists, and even one time ukulele players. Recently, I met a youth leader that had a unique youth culture that's growing more and more common – Gamers. Perhaps this describes your ministry. Even if it doesn't, video games are a big part of teen popular culture, and have begun to be parts of youth meetings, after-school programs and overnights. So, when a cultural trend begins to infiltrate our ministry, it's important to give it a closer look and make sure we are making positive choices.
Your youth play video games. My youth play video games. Heck, I even play video games. Perhaps you do, too. All of this is okay so far. But sometimes we try to bridge our interests, their interests and the ministry in a way that isn’t completely appropriate. If you're not sure what exactly I mean, or why there may be an issue, here is an example in the classic style of Goofus and Gallant (BOOM! Highlights reference), a side by side comparison:
You have a thriving population of gamers in your ministry, so at an upcoming overnight, you set up a projector, surround sound and giant screen and have an all-out Mario Kart marathon battle royale.
Okay. Actually, even more than okay…I will give you a cool! Teens have fun, and you get a chance to show off those ever-so-useful Mario Kart skills you've developed over a lifetime of choosing Yoshi.
You have a thriving population of gamers in your ministry, so at an upcoming overnight, you set up a projector, surround sound and giant screen and have an all-out Call of Duty marathon battle royale.
Not Okay. There's nothing like a blood-crazed group of teens chanting “Head shot! Head shot!” to turn a youth group meeting into Lord of the Flies.
I get that your youth play Call of Duty or Halo or Grand Theft Auto on their own time. I get that you play Call of Duty or Halo or Grand Theft Auto on your own time. I get that occasionally, the youth probably even talk to you about COD, Halo or GTA, maybe even at youth events. For these particular youth, it may be the only point of connection you have. This doesn’t mean that our ministries should have events in which we play games involving killing people, killing aliens, stealing cars, drug use, or profanity. I understand they see it/hear it/say it/do it at home anyway. Today's television and media is anything but appropriate most of the time. But at our ministries, we should be projecting the best possible choices in all possible situations. Even if it's not at our ministries, even if it's just you playing online with youth, it's something you need to think through and probably avoid. Playing online as a group might seem on the surface as a great fellowship activity, but it's not always good to hear a youth telling friends how many Nazis her youth leader shot the previous night. But don't throw the baby out with the virtual bath water! You shouldn't dump video games all together, especially if that is a connection point for some of your youth. Games like Mario Kart, most Wii games, and almost anything with the Xbox Kinect are awesome for overnights or meetings. They are inclusive, active and fun without being gory, inappropriate or involve killing someone. Old school arcade games are making a comeback, too, so check out games like Pac Man, Asteroid and Space Invaders if you are looking for single or double player games for your youth space.
This idea may seem unpopular to you. Maybe having a COD marathon would make you super cool to your youth and their friends. It may even bring tons of new people to your ministry. But at what cost? We are called to be in this world but not of this world, and in this instance, that means no no-scope head shots, no kill counts, and no compromising the gospel for the wrong type of games at our ministry meetings, regardless of how many teens it may get in the door. Want to play these games at home? That’s your call and your leisure. Just don’t let them creep into ministry time. And I know there are some murky, middle-ground games. I play some Star Wars games that are pretty tame, but still involve a level of violence and killing. I understand that someone must protect the galaxy from the evil empire, I just make sure that I do so on my own time. If you find yourself unsure on whether a game is appropriate for a ministry context, it probably isn't. But if you are unsure, just use this great and otherwise impractical reference: How Would Jesus Game? If the big guy would play it, feel free to play it at youth group functions. If not, don’t. You can meet people where they are without giving up the integrity of your ministry, it just means being intentional and creative. And avoiding red shells in Mario Kart, probably.