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Why Youth Ministry Should Be Fun

My latest middle school ministry column for YouthWorker journal is online. I wrote about the importance and value of fun. And while it’s a middle school ministry column, the application, I believe, is broader than that.

Because the theme of this issue of YouthWorker is Best Games, I thought I’d use this space to address the issue of fun. It’s pretty much impossible to stay in young teen ministry for more than a few weeks without having at least some willingness to have fun. The most serious and Bible focused middle school leader needs to add some fun as a value.

Fun is a God thing. God is the Inventor of fun, the One who designed the sensation of the tickle and created our mouths to turn up into smiles involuntarily. One might say, with some theological accuracy, God invented the “accidentally blowing Cherry Coke through your nostrils when caught off guard by something hilarious” response.

We often unintentionally teach a heresy about fun: that it’s all well and good, but isn’t actually spiritual. Fun is our nonformal curriculum when we say, “OK, we played that game, and it was fun; but now it’s time to get serious and turn to the Word of God.”

Fun is one of the last words most people would use to describe Christ followers. It’s probably fair to say fun would be a weak ministry value if it were your only one; but let’s all stop apologizing and add fun with theological conviction to the vibe we desire in our youth ministries.

I have to believe Jesus and His boys laughed their heads off at times, especially after Andrew snorted and shot goat’s milk out his nose.

Fun is a cultural value and youth culture value. There’s no question that having fun is a high value to teenagers. We’re called as missionaries to bring a contextualized gospel to the world of teens. Because fun isn’t a value that’s antithetical to the gospel, let’s at least start with the assumption that it’s morally neutral, effectively used for good or evil, and can be experienced in a way that aligns with or diminishes God’s intent for our lives.

Of course, there are plenty of ways fun can be destructive. All lesser funs are a bastardization of fun, resulting in the diminishment of a person God dearly loves.

When we don’t embrace fun as a value, middle schoolers subconsciously think, “This place doesn’t line up with what is normal and valuable to me; so this place isn’t a good fit for me.”

Fun engages teenagers. We can’t hope to play a role in connecting middle schoolers with the love of Jesus unless we first engage them. You don’t shape a young teen’s life simply by being in the same room.

Great engagement comes in lots of forms: offering genuine belonging, listening, asking questions, connecting with various senses. However, fun is at least one of those engagement tools in our kit. Attempted fun or forced fun can be lame; so there’s clearly a fine line to walk here. Fun can provide an avenue for engagement when the most proactive conversational approach falls flat in a pile of good intent.

Fun lowers defenses. You know you have middle schoolers who are naturally defensive to connecting with you or your middle school ministry program. That’s particularly true if they’re visitors, or for some other reason don’t feel a sense of connection and identification with the group.