I have fond memories of my church youth group from when I was a teenager. My mom would drop me off every Wednesday evening at church for two hours of games, laughter, and Bible study. To be honest, I looked forward to the games as much as the Bible study. We’d kick off our time together with ultimate frisbee or charades, dodgeball or a card game. No matter what we did, there were always two rules: 1) everyone had to participate, and 2) the game had to be fun. By the time we got around to reading and studying the Bible, our cheeks would be aching from laughing, and our hearts and minds were primed to go deeper.
The games we played at youth group were the gateway for developing deeper bonds of trust and respect with one another.
I look at adult Christians now, myself included, and often wonder: Why don’t we play together more often as a church? Where did all the laughter and the fun go?
Somewhere between growing up, having jobs, and starting families, church became far more serious. For many of us, the games and jovialty of life together became replaced with a mundane checklist of teaching, preaching, discipleship, and evangelism. Now, everything from Sunday mornings to mid-week small groups and outreach initiatives are all work and no fun.
I don’t want to sound reductive. I know that the life of a church is complex. But part of me wonders if one of the reasons why we have so much fighting and divisions in the church today is because we’ve lost our ability to play together.
Our God is a playful God, and in shaping us in His image, He created us to be playful too. In the book of Ecclesiastes, it states, “So I commend the enjoyment of life, because there is nothing better for a person under the sun than to eat and drink and be glad. Then joy will accompany them in their toil all the days of the life God has given them under the sun” (Ecclesiastes 8:15). God intended for us to take time to eat good food and drink together and just laugh until our bellies ache. God designed life to be full of joy. We were created to take intentional breaks from our work to be together, play, and have fun.
The Christian life, and by extension Church life, was always meant to be surprising, funny, and even, dare I say, at times silly. As Pastor Ondrej Szturc from Evangelical Christian Fellowship in the Czech Republic once said, “One of the signs of a healthy community is laughter and the ability to have fun together.”
Many of us feel burnt out these days. We’re tired and weary of each other and even the church at large at times.
What is the way forward?
Yes, we need the fellowship of Sunday morning services. Yes, we need to be taught and nourished by God’s Word through sermons and Bible studies. But what if the path forward for healing and deeper bonds also included a commitment to playing together more?
Perhaps you could invite a family from church over to play a board game. Maybe you could organize a weekly movie night or nature walk and offer an open invitation for folks to come as they can. You could also invite church families into your own personal celebrations. Birthday parties and cultural holidays are simple, easy ways to get to know folks better, while just kicking it over a delicious cold drink and some cake.
When we grow distant from one another, the remedy just might be food, games, and laughter. When a church is hurting (or when you personally are hurting), perhaps the best step forward is to cancel the regular program or meeting and just find someone to go out for coffee with. In the spirit of Ecclesiastes, we can pray for God to use that warm cup of coffee and perhaps a funny story (or maybe even a card game!) to be the medium to reconnect with a fellow brother or sister in the Lord.
Who knows if God might use that Saturday afternoon grill out to begin healing ethnic divides in your community. Who knows how God might use a game night to begin the work of reconciliation between two individuals or families who have grown apart. God can use a bowling match or a pool hang out or a cooking class to help fellow co-laborers in the gospel to also become friends.
Play is essential for us as human beings and as fellow believers on mission to live life together. The more ways we can find to laugh together, the healthier and happier we will be as we seek to advance God’s kingdom together.