There is something about playing and games that bring people together. As I reflect upon my life, I clearly remember my childhood and adolescent years being a time when I was consistently creating activities for friends to participate in cooperative fun. I organized play and created games. When I was younger, I was creating scenarios in which my playmates could pretend that we were on great adventures while accomplishing important tasks. From late childhood into adolescence my organizing play mostly involved sports related activity. As I got older, I enjoyed playing board games and cards with my family and friends. I often wonder if I organized and led play because leadership DNA was a part of my personality or if these activities helped shape my desire to lead.
Play is important because play is something human beings were created to do. The Bible is mostly silent concerning the issue of play. However, the Scriptures mention play, dance, creativity, and celebration often. The issue of play in youth ministry has come up a lot in conversations about programs, events, and activities and their roles in youth ministry praxis. It is an important critique to insist that youth ministry should be more than fun, games, and activities in order to engage meaningfully in the Christian formation of our youth. At the same time, though, to hold a position that doesn’t include a theology of play is a big mistake. And by theology of play, I don’t mean making a cheesy spiritual application to a game of Capture the Flag or describing how our life is like a volleyball that sometimes gets hit out of bounds.
All this to say, I'm really excited about our Youthworker Training Day this week. When Youthfront offers training to youth workers we tend to lean toward substance and theology. We will be focusing on play and gaming. However, don’t make the mistake that we will be giving you the top ten games to try out on your youth group. In fact, this training day could be one of the most important we've hosted in a long time.
Dr. Mark Hayse is the Director of the Center for Games and Learning at MidAmerica Nazarene University. He holds an undergraduate degree in religion, a Masters in religious education, and a PhD in educational studies. His dissertation topic was “Religious Architecture in Videogames: Perspectives from Curriculum Theory and Religious Education.” He is director of the Honors Program at MNU and was awarded the Alpha Chi Donald Metz Award – Faculty Member of the Year for Distinctive Academic Contributions in 2007. Mark has written numerous scholarly publications on games and gaming and regularly presents on these topics. His 20 years spent in youth work, with an ongoing emphasis on games and recreation as well as his research into how games can be used in education will continue to further the mission of the Center for Games & Learning. In addition to conducting research on the use of tabletop games in educational settings, Mark has helped the Center build a collection of over 50 tabletop games that have been identified for their ability to foster students’ development of “21 Century” skills.
Matt Saunders, is the Program Director at Youthfront Camp West. Not only does he make sure that more than 3,000 middle school have an awesome time at camp but he recently became a published game designer. His first title, “Mow Money” will be released this fall. During his years in church youth ministry, Matt used meaningful play as part of spiritual formation.
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