At one time or another, I have played every kind of youth ministry game, from gross food to trust falls, from shaving cream to marshmallow wars. I have always and will always incorporate games into my ministry. I know folks are swearing off games for good ole’ Bible study, but I believe games have an important place in ministry and the church. I have a developed a theology of games that guides my understanding of why they are important. Have you?
Ann Saylor and Susan Ragsdale from the Asset Edge taught a session on games a few years back for CYMT about “playing with purpose.” They have not only a solid theology of games, but also believe games provide developmental benefits. For children and youth, play is essential for healthy social, emotional, and physical development. Youth (and adults) benefit from games as they provide tension breakers from life. Godly play invigorates the spirit, renews creativity and energy for problem solving, and opens youth up to new insights.
In addition to these personal benefits that come from Godly Play, the community benefits as well by

  • Creating group interaction,
  • Easing social anxieties, and
  • Forming relationships.

PlayingWithPurpose_1Games also enhance teaching and learning opportunities for children, youth, and adults by engaging the whole body, providing opportunities to practice new behaviors, and creating space for problem solving.
Games provide many social and developmental benefits to teenagers which are parts of youth ministry, but what about spiritually? What is a theology of games and how does God fit into a water baloon war?
My theology of games is rooted in my belief that the following three items are essential for humanity and are gifts from God. These three beliefs guide the games I choose and why I play them.

1. Re-Creation

Re-Creation is an important biblical theme. God is making all things new. Like Ann and Susan, I believe that games can provide a break from the stresses of life. Games can give you an opportunity to focus on something right in front of you. They can challenge you both mentally and/or physically. Re-Creation–Godly play–is essential to our health. I believe the church has a responsibility to create safe places where we can play and be re-created in the image of Christ.

2. Community

Community is essential to the church and youth ministry. Christian community cannot be formed solely through games, but games provide a great space for community to form. Games can help to form relationships, teach teamwork, breakdown social barriers, and create shared memories. Look at the community that develops around soccer teams or cheering for your favorite sports team.

3. Holy Laughter

Holy laughter brings joy to the soul. God desires for us to know joy. Games bring opportunities for laughter. Can your youth still laugh at themselves? They will live happier lives if they can. Can they take themselves less seriously? Laughter brings unity and makes memories.
As I choose games to play with youth, I keep all three of these theological underpinnings in mind. I play games with purpose and that makes them worth playing.
My wife lead recreation for the Kindergarteners at VBS recently, and she made an observation about two different groups’ ability to laugh and enjoy the game. One group didn’t want to play: “The game was stupid.” The other group played and laughed saying, “It’s funny trying to run with pants that are too big for you.” One of our jobs as youth ministers and the church is to help youth experience Godly play, and if oversized pants can help, then I’m all for it.
PlayingWithPurpose_2You can learn more about the developmental asests of games and playing with purpose in Great Group Games by Susan and Ann. You will also gather some great community-building games for all ages that help a group move from getting to know each other to deep trust.
I am also a fan of Youth Group Trust Builders which is out of print but is great resource. Trust Builders provides games at various levels of trust and provides helpful discussion questions for processing the experiences together.
What is your theology of games? What types of games do you choose and why? Comment below and keep the conversation going and remember to play with purpose.