The following post was written by Ben Trueblood, Director of Lifeway Student Ministry
Video games are a big deal in our culture today. Your students are playing them and chances are many of you are playing them as well. This year, for the first time, a college has given scholarship money to students because of their video game skill, and leagues of professional gamers are making more money than ever before with their events even being shown live on ESPN.
If you are in student ministry, and you’re not familiar with this part of the culture that your students engage in, I want to challenge you to do some research into what your students are playing. That knowledge might help you see some gaps in your current ministry and lead you to implement some things that will help you reach students and build disciples in a new way.
Specifically with the guys in your ministry, there are reasons why they play these games beyond just the fun factor. There are experiences that these games are offering that they don’t believe they are receiving from their normal life, including your student ministry and their relationship with Jesus. That’s why it would appear that the guys in your ministry love video games more than they love Jesus.
So, what are the experiences that keep the young men in your ministry hooked and constantly coming back for more? There are many, but for the purpose of our discussion here I want to highlight three:
They can be the hero – There’s something within each man that wants to be the hero. We want to ride in on the shining white horse and save the day. We want to slay the dragon and win the battles. There can be a lot of good in that desire as it fuels us to be providers and defenders of the ones we love. There is also a danger here as our flesh brings an imbalance to this view.
In 2 Corinthians 2:14-17 when Paul uses the Roman Triumph parade as an illustration of Jesus as the returning victorious general, and us as the aroma announcing His victory, the hero of the moment is Jesus. He is the one who has claimed victory over sin. We aren’t the heroes. Instead we are an evidence of the hero’s victory and a trophy of that victory. The guys in your ministry need to learn more about what it means to live a life of freedom in submission to THE hero and how being fueled by Jesus as the hero empowers them to live the kind of life they are called to as a man of God.
They experience challenge and adventure – A challenge and an adventure awaits your students each time they login or pick up the controller. As it is with the built in desire to be the hero, there is something within each young man that wants to experience challenge and adventure. Sadly, many feel that these aren’t things that they will experience in the church or through a relationship with Jesus.
We need to do a better job at raising the bar for our young men. We need to put them into leadership and expect them to accomplish great things. We need to put them in experiences where they encounter challenge (physical, mental and spiritual) and adventure and connect it to their relationship with Jesus. This kind of ministry takes intentionality, training, and planning but it is worth it. It is worth it to disciple a group of young men who love Jesus and find their adventure in living for Him. It is worth it to disciple a group of young men who are courageous for the gospel. We are losing a generation of this kind of young man.
They have real community – Some of you will hesitate at this statement. How can someone experience community through a video game? It’s actually pretty easy. For many, playing games is just as much about this aspect than the game itself. Over time, relationships are built with people who consistently play the game together, many of which have never met in “real life” and these relationships are considered just as real and valid as the ones that you have in your life. In this setting your students feel like they are accepted for who they are. They feel like they are welcomed into a community and valued as a person without judgment. Here is the reality: the guys in your ministry would rather spend time with their community online through a video game than engage in student ministry because we don’t do a good enough job at showing them what real community through Christ looks like, or at helping them engage in it.
My hope is that you don’t click away from this article thinking, “Wow, video games are bad.” For the most part, I don’t think they are. What I do hope that you see is the very real need that exists within the church to disciple young men. I hope that you see a snapshot of the desires that exist within the heart of a young man for heroism, challenge, adventure and community, and realize that they will fulfill these desires anywhere they can find them. The great news is that each one of these things exists through a relationship with Jesus, and as student pastors and youth workers you have the opportunity to help them see that and to help them become the men of God they are called to be.