I love a great story, and the Toy Story series of movies are, well, the best word I can think of is “delightful.” They really are. And they touch us at a vulnerable point – our childhood memories of play. If you pointed to one time in life where we’re (usually) the most carefree, it’s when we played as kids. We felt the most alive, creative, and full of possibility. Even those of us with troubled childhoods, poor parents, or childhood tragedies still played. It was our escape, our world. And it’s why Toy Story connects with most of us. (On a side note, I find it interesting and potentially problematic that there are no “dad’s” in the Toy Story movies)
So, what do youth work leaders know about PLAY? Do we understand how it works, how to facilitate it in a youth ministry setting, and do we truly understand its serious teaching/development potential? If you aren’t changing your teaching styles and dynamics, you are not connecting with some of your kids – and that they don’t “get it” may not be only their fault.
In some areas of the youth ministry world, games and fun have been tossed aside. The worship music movement has created a renewal among youth ministry groups, an outcome that I like to see as teens put their trust and faith in Jesus Christ and develop an ability to follow Him and express that in corporate worship. But, in our run toward that, some have swung the programmatic pendulum pretty far and we don’t do much with youth, even very young youth, in a “play” setting. We’ve lost our ability to understand how “play” works, we even don’t have a good theology of play, and so we see it as pointless/not as important.
Where is see the conundrum most often is in what we do with those ages 11-13. They are not like high school kids. Not at all. Yet we often design programs for them that look just like the high school youth. I’m not sure why we do that. It’s easier that way? Maybe.
It is always a good thing to read widely, and I think it may be helpful for leaders to read a bit about play and games. I remember attending an Indiana Youth Institute seminar on running games and I came away understanding what was possible through good games. I could build community, break down barriers, draw people in, teach initiative, and develop openness among my youth group. And those are foundational to ministry success and to discipling students.
I’m not sure why some youth ministry leaders have lost their ability to use good games to develop their ability to created community and interdependence among their youth. Maybe they’re seeing games as crowdbreakers for the “real” stuff or they use bad games that pit students against each other, embarrass them in front of others, or do little to draw kids in. Do an Amazon search for books titled “Building Community in Youth Groups” “No Supplies Required” and “Quicksilver” and buy them. You’ll create an atmosphere of fun and community that will facilitate everything else you’re trying to accomplish.
So, play nice!
And use good games when appropriate.