Games, humor, dance, singing, and unadulterated silliness are basic human needs.
Peekaboo! Ready or not, here I come! Row, row, row, your boat… How did reading these words make you feel? Perhaps they made you feel nostalgic or excited. Maybe you felt a longing for a simpler time. Whatever it was, hopefully it reminded you of childhood. For me, it reminds me that human beings are wired to play. Play is so important to child development that the United Nations designated it as a human right for every child. Games, humor, dance, singing, and unadulterated silliness are basic human needs. Therefore, it is interesting that Jesus, the ultimate human being, is rarely portrayed as fun or playful when presented to children.
It is understandable if “fun” is not the first word that comes to mind when thinking about Jesus. In the Gospels, while we don’t have stories of Jesus playing games, we do have instances when it is likely that Jesus is employing humor and word play. For example, notice this story in Luke:
Then Jesus told his disciples a parable to show them that they should always pray and not give up. He said: “In a certain town there was a judge who neither feared God nor cared what people thought. And there was a widow in that town who kept coming to him with the plea, ‘Grant me justice against my adversary.’ For some time he refused. But finally he said to himself, ‘Even though I don’t fear God or care what people think, yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will see that she gets justice, so that she won’t eventually come and attack me!’” (Luke 18:1-5)
The crowd likely found this story funny, and, in general, they saw Jesus as a very compelling personality. Why else would people walk for miles and forego eating just to hear what he had to say? Jesus knew how to teach, and passages like this show that Jesus knew how to have fun as he taught. Why is this important? Too often, we send the dangerous message that if children and youth want to be spiritually healthy they should turn to Jesus, but if they want to have fun, they should turn somewhere else. God is seen as boring and limited in his ability to provide for our needs, not responding to our need to play. We send this message by not incorporating play into our discipleship of children and youth. Play is one of the best ways children learn (think of the lasting impact of Sesame Street, School House Rock, etc.). To minimize the presence of play in children and youth ministry can imply that God is not the God of children.
Grace Communion International has a rich history in youth camps. Our camps have done an excellent job of showing that God is fun. That tradition will continue in a more profound way with our neighborhood camps that are springing up around the country. We will now reach out to children in the one square mile around our church. But, what about our congregations? Are our churches places where a young person can encounter the playful God? If your congregation does not presently have young people, what can you do to help young people encounter the playful God? How can you show that the kingdom of God is here and it includes children? Do we understand how children play or do we present them with what adults believe is fun? Perhaps if we intentionally embrace play as part of youth ministry, children can teach us something about the playful God. It could be that children and youth may better understand the God who made us to play. Let me leave you with this quote from G.K. Chesterton in Orthodoxy:
Because children have abounding vitality, because they are in spirit fierce and free, therefore they want things repeated and unchanged. They always say, “Do it again”; and the grown-up person does it again until he is nearly dead. For grown-up people are not strong enough to exult in monotony. But perhaps God is strong enough to exult in monotony. It is possible that God says every morning, “Do it again” to the sun; and every evening, “Do it again” to the moon. It may not be automatic necessity that makes all daisies alike; it may be that God makes every daisy separately, but has never got tired of making them. It may be that He has the eternal appetite of infancy; for we have sinned and grown old, and our Father is younger than we.
May we teach our children that as the perfect Abba Father, God is loving and playful. May we help our children see that a relationship with God is good and it is fun.
Dishon Mills, US Generations Ministry Coordinator