I'm noticing a continuum in the language of the youth I disciple. It's subtle, but it comes up often. Students talk about how much they love and want the fun events, the places where they can hang out, the dodgeball tournaments and movie nights and trips to the waterpark. Students also share about how God changed their life through a discipleship retreat or a missions trip, how they heard His voice through prayer or finally saw something amazing in Scripture. But they rarely describe the two together.
It's the fun-spiritual dichotomy.
It's how many youth and parents describe events, programs, and youth group gatherings. They fall into one of these two categories. It's either fun, or it's spiritual. And never the two shall meet.
It's deep or it's wide. It's relevant or it's religious. It's games or it's Bible study. It's ice cream or it's vegetables. And we can't possibly do both.
Or can we?
What does the fun-spiritual dichotomy reveal?
When merriment and the mystical, cheerfulness and church, joy and Jesus, are divorced from one another, we have a deficient view of the abundant life Christ promised. If a youth ministry fosters this dichotomy by creating ONLY spiritual events/programs and ONLY fun events/programs, then we further this dichotomy even more in the minds of youth and parents. This paradigm ignores the reality that God is the creator of humour, laughter, friendship, singing, dancing, and joy. It turns ministry and worship and Scripture into an overly-serious duty rather than life-giving and joy-inducing practices.
We need a better theology of play and games and fun:
What if games were used to create an environment of laughter that occurred not at the expense of others (laughing at) but as a community of people experiencing joy (laughing with)? What if games were used to break down social barriers that prohibit deep relationships to grow? What if we created shared experiences and memories of simply having fun together, with no other agenda?How do we break down the dichotomy in youth ministry? Here are a few suggestions:
- Environments of belonging. The "fun" of an environment directly correlates to how much a person feels like they belong. If they feel like an outsider and are unsure of where to go, who to talk to, where to sit, etc, people will disconnect. Be intentional about youth and adult leaders making relational connections and have plenty of active things for people to do together (board games, video games, sports, etc.)
- Clear programmatic transitions. Having an intentional and smooth schedule in a program helps break down the fun-spiritual barriers. When our games and hang out times don't transition well into a time of worship and contemplation, or we try to move from a serious talk to a silly video, it unintentionally makes a program feel disjointed and furthers the disconnection.
- Laughter. Whether it's a silly video, a goofy game, or just giving announcements in a random accent, find creative ways to make people laugh. I'm against doing pranks that make people laugh at others; find humourous ways to help people laugh with each other.
- Food. There's something about eating together that is both enjoyable and spiritual. Have good food at everything. I think this is why communion is a beautiful practice; we remember the atoning work of Christ while also having snack time.
The fun-spiritual dichotomy is false. Let's foster environments of belonging and joy and laughter that create memories and live into the abundant life Jesus offers.
Where does your heart or your ministry lie on the fun-spiritual dichotomy? Are you all fun-and-games, or serious-and-somber?