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