Let's Play Ball! The Value of Games in Church Life
It was a crisp, clear November morning but the anticipation was as thick as butter. Steam rolled out of helmets while the dancing players rubbed their hands together and gazed over the frosty field, “Let’s play ball” finally rang out from the Saint Louis Cardinal. “Rocky and Jim you’re on my side. We’ll take on the rest of you.” It was going to be a good day. Mickey had picked me to be on his team. I ran to his side sporting my Kansas City Chiefs uniform, complete with shoulder pads and knickers, along with partner and Green Bay Packer Jimmy Garret. I do not remember much from 3rd and 4th grade but these football games I will never forget. It was a day of interceptions, diving catches, hard tackles, hurt feelings, touchdown dances, arguments, fumbles, tumbles, and memories. It was a day that bonded young souls together.
It seems that the idea of playing games often never gets any further than just “having fun” or “filling time.” Is that really all that playing games is about? Do we play games with the kids and together as adults at Eden Baptist just to have fun or burn energy so we can sit still later? Is it merely a self-indulgent pastime that gets the wink because of our humanity? What happened on the football field some forty years ago stirs up a host of thoughts that energize my passion to go beyond this shallow consideration of games. As young lads, we thought we were just having fun, but there was much more happening on that football field. An old man with a silly game of football from his childhood lodged in his head certainly tells us something about our humanity. It’s something we need to consider—it will change the way we play the game.
Games are a powerful tool in bonding souls, influencing the next generation and reaching the lost. Games build bridges that otherwise would be very hard to build. The Bible clearly teaches us to be bound together in love (Col 3:14), to influence the next generation for God (Deut 6:6-25) and to reach the lost (Matt 28:19-20.). It is our job to make these things happen and games can be one of the most effective tools to help accomplish these ends.
In our culture, we move quickly from one responsibility to another, then tuck away to the safety of our homes between trips. Our interaction with the assembly can easily follow this harmful pattern. A healthy church must be joined in soul by worshipping, eating, talking, laughing, crying, working and, yes, playing together. The comfort and openness of a healthy family are developed by the dynamic exchange of activities. Although I would not say that games are the most important element here, I do say that a good game tears down barriers and opens the soul in unique ways. So as we contemplate involvement in church activities we must realize a broomball activity is not really about broomball.
Influencing the Next Generation
Probably one of the most important aspects of playing together is the bridge it creates between generations. As a young person, I was surprised to find out that my Pastor was really a down-to-earth, interesting guy. On a road trip, I saw a side of him that laughed and played. He was real! This revelation gave me a deeper appreciation of him and his teachings. I have since realized that those I remember best from my childhood and those who influenced me most were the adults that played with me. I am sure that in all my school years I had several outstanding school principals, but the only one that I knew existed was the one that punted us the football during recess. It is very unlikely that you will influence the next generation unless you play with them.
As a church body, we must do what we can to break down generational barriers. Whether it is the men of the church building a rope swing and launching the kids into the river or the ladies ripping “lifety” bands off fleeing young potato bandits, the eternal payback is overwhelming. The true person is often exposed and genuine holiness is lived and taught in ways that are otherwise virtually impossible. Not only do these games create a wholesome memory that will moor a young soul; they open the door to the heart of the next generation.
Reaching the Lost
Games also open doors and build bridges to the lost. Any visitor from a foreign country would struggle with language and cultural differences. A good game provides a unique avenue of interaction and communication that could never be reached in conversation. As we bring lost and un-churched friends into our assembly, we have a significant cultural barrier in much the same way. Games are probably one of the most effective ways of overcoming this. Exciting and interesting games may be the only thing that brings a kid back to YWAP or Teen Group a second time thus allowing God’s Word another door of opportunity. This should not be an excuse for lackluster teaching but neither should we apologize for the effectiveness of a good game.
One of my early wrestling coaches always asked me after a match “Well, what did you learn?” This insightful coach helped me see beyond winning and losing to realize that every match was an opportunity to develop. When it comes to games, we must ask these questions to move us beyond our natural shallow perceptions toward ginormous opportunities to serve one another.