Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Discipleship meets Video Games in Man UP 2.0

My friend Micah doesn't just play Angry Birds, he dominates. He will not proceed to the next stage until he achieves three stars and a high score. To call him compulsive would be an understatement: perfectionist hits the spot.

Other men from my church play Minecraft, Modern Warfare, Halo, Ticket to Ride, Bejeweled, Free Flow, Animal Farm, and twenty varieties of virtual sports. My guilty pleasure is the old-fashioned crossword puzzle and the occasional bout of Ninja Fruit. We live to play. We love the points. We fight to conquer. We level up.

Were the Christian life as voluntary, satisfying, and productive as video games, modern men would be spiritual tzars. Most of us, however, are still reaching for the teat (Hebrews 5:11-14) and coasting on the memory of Sunday school lessons or Bible college crib sheets. Our discipleship level has not risen beyond novice.

I can't figure out if the problem today is with Christian men or the church we've designed for them. (Probably both.) The Sunday service certainly does not rival the graphics or story line of the lastest Xbox release.* Nor does the hour of interaction comes close to the collaboration, collective movement, and partnership required of any Mass Multiplayer Online Game (MMOG). The gaming world has drawn something out of man--evident in the time, money, and emotion we pour into it--the church can learn something from.**

I can hear these lessons as bullet points.
  • Compared to virtual reality, church services are boring. We need to get more creative.
  • Compared to virtual reality, church relationships are isolated. We need to get more connected.
  • Compared to virtual reality, church ministry feels unproductive. We need to make more impact.
  • Compared to virtual reality, church growth is slow. We need better marks of progress.
So how do we engage our men? Again, bullet points:

  • Call them out -- we need to Man UP!
  • Create engaging environments -- late night battle zones; early morning boat rides
  • Celebrate growth and hold men accountable -- arbitrary awards and experience points for accomplishing spiritual tasks
Other churches have started Fight Clubs. This Friday we're launching Man UP 2.0.
Perhaps all of these efforts will prove unfaithful to the notion of "secret rewards" in the Sermon on the Mount. I fear misleading our men in my personal effort to be relevant.

The greater fear, though, is allowing our men to continue going the way of the game. Virtual worlds and Angry Birds will take captive our discretionary time. No energy, appetite, or devotion will remain for spiritual community and personal growth.

I cannot accept this fate. Game on.

* I would argue the storyline of the Bible--and its individual chapters--is riveting. How we package the biblical narrative into a three-point self-help talk surrounded by songs and announcements is not so compelling. Suggestions welcomed.
** For more from this watch the TED talk by Jane McGonigal or read her book, Reality is Broken

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