Thursday, October 11, 2007

Sometimes, the Only Halo Related to the Youth Is a Game...

Well, I'm being a little fascetious there. But you can excuse me, I think--it was too fun to pass up.

This is a fun discussion, and I'm thankful for everyone who's chimed in. Very stimulating stuff. Essentially, I think that all who have commented essentially agree. No one really wants to slam a church youth group for playing Halo 3, while all are quick to affirm that the primary focus of the youth group and the church itself should be to ground students' lives in the Bible. On this point, Rick, Riley, Mary and Joseph (I didn't plan that, I swear) are in basic agreement. G. F., on the other hand, just wants to break it down.

In all seriousness, I concur with this consensus. If Halo 3 were horribly violent, then I would have a problem with a youth group playing it. But it's not Doom or Duke Nukem or--shudder--Postal 2. These games all have clearly sinful elements to them. Postal 2 apes the Columbine killers, for example, in certain gameplay elements. Youth groups should have no part of that. But with a game that is violent, yes, but is not horribly so, I think we can say that we're okay with youth playing such a game under supervision. We might not all use the game in the same way as the churches profiled in the NYT story, but I myself have nothing against a little combat-by-video-game. It can actually be pretty fun, though I prefer games in which the violence is not ultrarealistic. I feel better about "nuking" a funny little robot than I do a pixelated woman.

With all that said, we still haven't gotten to the heart of the matter. So here goes. If a church has a youth group, and that youth group is not a substitute for parental spiritual care of children but a supplement to it, I'm fine with youth groups. I'm especially okay with them when they don't major on silliness and hijinks but instead attempt to bring youth together in a fun and relaxed setting to communicate the eternal truths of God's Word. I know that Covenant Life Church in Maryland, for example, trains it students theologically using Wayne Grudem's book on systematic theology. Knowing CLC, I'm sure that they show their youth a good time, but the emphasis of their times together is the Triune God and the Word through which He has spoken. That sounds like a great operation to me, and I'm guessing that the youth benefit from their association as much as they enjoy it.

The primary resource for children, though, must be their parents. We must say that, highlight it, and live by it. Most churches do none of the three. We need a recovery of the role of the parents in the lives of their children. A dad and a mom are not advisors or buddies. They are a child's authority. Dad must be a strong, spiritual leader and mom must be a godly, gracious helpmeet, to use an old word. With this in place, we are poised to reach the youth who were not raised in Christian homes. It is great to invite an unsaved friend to a youth group meeting, yes. That may well have great effects and even lead youth to Christ. But it is far more important that our teenagers invite their lost friends to two other places: our churches and our homes. In the church, the youth will hear the gospel and see its effect as people of all different ages and types worship together in the name of Jesus Christ. In our homes, they will see the calculus of the gospel displayed, as husband and wife demonstrate and speak the gospel to their children. A great youth group is helpful to the witness of the Christian church. But a gospel-saturated church is calibrated to display the gospel in a way an age-segregated youth group cannot. In addition, a loving Christian home is foundational to our evangelism, as there youth will see the relationship of Christ and the church lived out between husband and wife. In our homes, the gospel is both spoken and demonstrated. When all of these parts work together, and the church is healthy and vibrant, then it is equipped to reach youth in a way that Halo 3 and its space combat cannot touch.

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Blogger Rich Clark said...

Ever since I've left youth ministry for seminary, I've been wondering, can we encourage parents to be the main resource in the child's life if we have a trained professional who's there for the expressed purpose of spiritually training their kids? Is that not sending the wrong message to both parents and children?

Are we not telling parents, "I am here if you have something spiritual you want your kid to deal with."

Are we not telling kids, "When it comes to the spiritual matters, listen to me, not your parents so much."

I'm just wondering about the very concept of a paid position we call "youth ministry." I'm not too dogmatic about this, and I'm still just wondering, but I am starting to think that youth ministry as we know it must change or else it will do more damage than it intends.

1:30 PM  
Blogger G. F. McDowell said...

Thanks for using "helpmeet" and not "helpmate". Just breaking things down, you know.

1:58 PM  
Blogger Dad said...

Rich raises a very interesting point. We noticed with our kids when we sent the older ones to public school. It was - "but dad, the teacher said to do it this way." Who has now become the authority figure for our child?

Not that it is wrong to delegate some of our responsibilities, but we do have to be careful to whom we ask to play this role in our child's life, and we do have to ask, are we farming out something that we ought to be doing.

We have home-schooled the younger two.

I to have some serious issues with 'youth groups', but I also don't think that we ought to out-right ban such a thing.

Oh, by the way Owen, thanks for posting this stuff.

Al (Not Owen's dad or that other "Al".)

4:13 PM  
Blogger Joseph Gould said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

4:19 PM  
Blogger Joseph Gould said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

4:21 PM  
Blogger Joseph Gould said...

Do we not have trained individuals in every church called "pastors" who are there for the expressed purpose of spiritually training all individuals in the church to be complete in Christ?

It seems the key to all of this is that most youth ministries are not led by pastors. If you are going to be a youth pastor, you must be a pastor. That means if you can't teach or aren't qualified to teach, you shouldn't be the youth pastor (or youth minister or youth director or whatever else).

And you must commit yourself to the same things all pastors are called to commit to. And part of that is seeing the role and responsibilities of the parents. Part of pastoring youth and their parents is 1) teaching parents to biblically raise their children, and 2) teaching youth to submit to the authority of their parents. And this can only be done in a church where all ministries of the church are grounded in Scripture.

The problem with most youth ministries is the same problem which plagues all aspects of the church. We have men in pastoral positions who are not called or qualified to be in those positions. To rephrase Owen's title, "Sometimes, the Only Halo Related to the Entire Church is a Game." A church not grounded in Scripture will always look like the culture. For youth, that means playing Halo at the church grounds every week. For adults, that means pragmatic "5 Ways to Live Your Best Life Now" sermons.

4:22 PM  
Anonymous drliz said...

While I think Christians should invite friends into their homes and churches (and not just "youth group" events), it is important to remember that an increasing number of youth are growing up in homes where the parents don't go to church. My parents don't go to church. I started going to church in the 6th grade, because a lot of the kids in school were involved in youth. One advantage of the youth group is that I didn't feel so much like I was weird because my family didn't go to the church.

Sure, it's best if parents and children, including teens, attend church together and function as a healthy unit. But we don't want to ignore legitimate evangelistic efforts toward those teens who don't have parents who are active in spiritually leading and training their children.

5:41 PM  

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