We all know the reputation of youth ministry – its all fun and games (and even better if someone loses an eye!). At times, its a well deserved rep. Many youth ministries even today are based around fun, entertainment, and play with a little bit of God thrown in. On the other extreme, you have youth groups that spend hours in prayer, bible study, and devotion and no time in those “sinful games.”
I want to lay out an alternative to those extremes – The youth ministry that values play as a part of its ministry. This comes from a youth minister that for the longest time shunned games except in extreme circumstances. I hated playing games in our youth ministry, and thought they were pointless. The problem wasn’t in the games – it was me. I thought I had to crusade against the perceived (in my own head) view that youth ministry was just a bunch of games and pizza parties. I neglected to see how valuable games could be, in the right context.
1. Play is a natural part of life– those are all indications that our God values play and enjoyment in life. To remove play from our ministry is to remove a part of something that God values.
2. Games build relationships – Relationships are an integral part of an youth ministry. I can’t remember many lessons from my youth group days, but I sure do remember that one game where we ate Oreo Cookies filled with toothpaste instead of the cream filling (To be honest, I thought they tasted great, and were a new “Winter Green” flavor). That doesn’t mean I wasn’t taught anything, but those relationships built during game playing were invaluable to me and my spiritual growth.
3. Games lower a student’s defenses – A student walks into church, thinks, “All we’re going to do is sing and pray and read the Bible, this is going to be awful!” Soon you have them running around with their hands full of shaving cream and they’re…having fun…in church! And these Christians seem pretty cool. Suddenly, they’re more open to listening to what you have to say, and maybe, just maybe, life change could start to take place.
4. Games force students to participate – We all have those students that sit with their arms crossed and don’t want to do anything other than survive our meeting. Games “force” students to get involved and get active. Once a student is involved, its a whole lot harder to go back to sitting with your arms crossed and not talking.
5. Play is good for us – Laughter increases blood flow, boosts our immune system, lowers blood sugar levels, improves your memory, and helps you relax. Endorphins are released when you smile. Fun is physically good for us!
Please don’t misunderstand – I don’t think our youth ministries should be 24/7 games. Students want depth. Students need Jesus. Games are simply a tool to build relationships and to open students’ hearts and minds for what we need to teach them. When we use them as a part of our ministry, a vital part to be sure but not a focal point, they play a valuable role in helping bring our students to a relationship with Jesus.
Do you play games in your ministry? Why or why not? Let me know in the comments below!