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A Theology of Games

Leading games are a big part of what is youth ministry. By games, I include here icebreakers, learning tasks, and various activities of skill, chance, or endurance involving the young people in your ministry. Programs geared toward youth almost always include one or more of these types of activity and I have yet to encounter the youth leader who has not been expected to lead one. What could be so difficult about leading games, isn’t it just as easiest thing to do in youth group? Perhaps. There are those who take to games naturally, but I’ve also met many a youth leader who could do with some help. No matter what category you fall under though I hope you get a thing or two from this article.

Let me start with the perception of handling games. One mentality that could ruin games is that it isn’t important enough. A game could be placed into the program and considered only at the last minute or it is there as a transition to more important activities. The other perception would be that it is all-important to the exclusion of most everything else. The youth camp program or your youth ministry expense for example might reflect this. Just as with most other aspects balance must be achieved. The games and activities have their role but are also part of a bigger goal. For me, leading games is just as important as say, leading the worship songs. Leading games is after all also about demonstrating and participating in the Kingdom of Heaven. And a properly done game can do that in ways that other aspects of youth ministry can’t.

But how a youth group perceives the role of games falls upon the people who handle them. That would be you, youth leader.

So what’s your mentality with regard to games? As you plan, prepare and lead games, a good mentality is one that is less about self and more about others and most about God.

By self I mean that we tend toward the activities that we get the most fun out of or those that we like to do. But what makes the person handling the game laugh might make the participants of the game cry. And not everyone is a fan of your favorite dance game.  One way to combat our tendency to be about the self is to consider not just “What activity would I get the most fun out of?” but also “Would this bring gladness to those I intend it for?”

That it be more about others, try to put yourself in their shoes, would you love this activity if you were the one playing it and not running it? Good games bring laughter and joy. Even games that don’t end up so well because of disagreements, emotions or misunderstandings also show us areas that the individual or the group need to improve on in fellowship. And great games show how good it is when brothers and sisters interact and live together in harmony.

Finally, as you consider your game mentality, don’t leave God out of the equation. Again, the best games reflect or point to the Kingdom of God. How do your games do that? Consider some of these aspects:

Does it reflect the Kingdom of God in equality? Most professional games for example such as soccer and basketball will be naturally advantageous to teens who are natural athletes. But our group is not just composed of athletes.  Consider also the non-athletes and those disinclined toward sports. In the course of your ministry, consider games that cater to all kinds and where we reflect the heart of Jesus who cares for all peoples.

Does it reflect God’s concern to protect His children? Do we make safety a priority in what we do? In efforts to have the most entertaining game, some have neglected safety and brought a lot of harm. Consider how physical an activity is, whether people have allergies when using food, whether adequate safety measures have been put in place and steer away from games that are dangerous.

Does it reflect God’s character of excellence? And here, I go toward the more practical part of leading games.

Having a great game could start with having a great idea. But where can you get ideas for games? Be a reader, there are a whole slew of written down game ideas for youth ministry, many for free, on the internet (see some in the reference section). If you’re more into physical activity, expose yourself to other youth ministries. You can do this by visiting that youth ministry across the street to see what they are doing or ask a youth leader you know to share some ideas with you. If you are more visual, the world of popular media (television game shows, or search for “youth ministry games” on video hosting sites such as YouTube) can serve as an inspiration for games. As you consider these ideas, do make sure you modify your game idea to fit your youth group. This is especially true of adopting ideas from mainstream culture or even youth ministries outside your country. Would this be socially or culturally appropriate? If in doubt consult other leaders and those with authority over you before implementing ideas.

But even before you start thinking up game activities for your youth, it would actually be good to begin with your purpose. Yes, even with games it’s good to consider purpose and it will help you a lot as you plan since there really are so many great ideas out there. So what’s the main reason for your game? Is it to build fellowship, maximize learning, help people know one another, etc…? A game intended to help the main point of a lesson functions differently from one that introduces people to one another. Also consider context or your role in the bigger program. Where is your event taking place? Will this game be played indoors or outdoors? Will it involve 100+ people or just a few? How long do you have to play the game? It is usually easier to come up with the appropriate game when you have both purpose and context nailed down.

On handling the game proper, here are some more tips:

Prepare well ahead of time. If papers need to be cut, strings tied and chairs set-up it would be best to work on these long before you do the game. Don’t make it a habit to use the other parts of your event itself to start preparing things so you can also be involved with other parts of the youth program.

Less talk.  For me, the less time you spend explaining the better it will go. Try to be quick and concise with instructions and illustrate what you are to do through action. For example, instead of saying “the group will be in two lines” say “I want everyone to form two lines, boys on the right, girls on the left, go.” Then move on to the next instruction. Don’t worry if youth don’t seem to get it at first, the quickest way for them to understand would be to have them try out the actions for themselves.

Keep an eye on your watch and the enjoyment of the youth. The more the youth love the event the longer it can go on. It’s good though to transition to another activity long before the youth get bored or tired and to stay within the time allotted to you.

These are just a few things but through them I hope you do get the value of how even games being all about God. I believe the less-Kingdom minded we are about the games we play the less wonderful they will be and the more we consider God’s reign and rule in even these simple activities we do the more joy and the better our games will be.

 

Alvan Tauli

 

Below are some of the resources on the Internet I’ve found useful for games:
a.   The Source  – a very useful site for youth ministry games, arranged into categories if you need a game… right now.
b.   youthministry.com – gives you 2 free e-books of great youth group games
c.   Egad Ideas – A collection of games sent in by youth workers from all over the world.
d.   Ultimate Camp Resource – has a list of games and songs that are old favorites with many ideas for camps as well.

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