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WHITE PAPER 2: SACRED PLAY TIME
27 March 2010 Descriptive Today many adolescents feel like their lives are over-programmed. They spend all day sitting in classes and then often come to church and feel like they are once again sitting through classes. Most of my youth cannot sit through our entire lesson without getting up to go to the bathroom or get a drink; this is in spite of the fact that I only give short lessons and try my best to mix up my teaching styles so that they don’t get bored. We often plan “retreats” but rather than letting our youth get a break from the stress of their lives, we try to fit in as much as possible to every moment of the retreat. Instead of coming home rested, our youth, as well as our leaders, come home even more tired. The more that we try to plan lessons into each moment that we are with our youth, the more that we are implicitly teaching our youth that we do not value rest. We are also inadvertently teaching our youth to look for God in our fast-paced lifestyles without recognizing that God also speaks to us in the normal rhythms of our lives and that often it is when we slow down and rest that we are most able to see God working in our lives.
Interpretive As youth directors we often feel like there is a long list of things that we need to teach our kids. Additionally, this is the only life that most of us know; we live our lives at full throttle, trying to fit more than humanly possible into each day. We are told that every youth ministry event should have a purpose so we always make sure there is an explicit lesson in everything that we do. For that reason, we are constantly trying to plan more and more things into our youth schedules. Rarely do we plan to do nothing;
STUDENT - 2 if we do give them a chance to just hang out and play it is usually because we are so tired from overworking that we haven’t taken the time to plan out a lesson for them.
Normative Theologically, it is easy to recognize the importance of rest;1 God created the earth in six days and rested on the seventh (Gen 2:1-2). It is important to note that this time of resting is called holy (Gen 2:3); it is not something superfluous, but rather something that is sacred. Unfortunately, rarely do we treat our “Sabbath” time as such. For those of us who work in churches, we recognize that Sunday is not a day of rest for us, but the reality is that Sundays aren’t a day of rest for most people. Whether they are teaching Sunday School, studying the Bible, counting the offering, getting the kids ready for church, cooking dinner or cleaning the house, most people are not treating Sundays as a time of holy rest and chances are they also aren’t finding that time of rest during any other part of the week. When God created the earth, He planned six days of work and one day of rest. In other words, He planned one day of rest. If our youth aren’t planning rest time,2 then we need to plan it into our time with them so that they learn that play time is holy time. While this may seem like wasted time from a teaching perspective, the lessons that we are inexplicitly teaching by planning in time to play are just as important as the lessons that we teach explicitly.3 Planned play time teaches our youth that we value rest enough
I am using rest and play interchangeably because the type of play that I am talking about is that
which gives us a break from the busyness of life and helps us feel rested when we return to work.
Chances are that they aren’t since most of us are not doing well in this area either. See Westerhoff, John H. III, Will Our Children Have Faith? New York: Morehouse Publishing,
STUDENT - 3 to plan for it. If done regularly, it can also teach our youth that there is a rhythm of work and rest in life.4 The benefits of spending time with our youth to play extend beyond teaching them to value rest. By intentionally spending time with our youth doing what they want to do instead of what we want to do, we are teaching them that we care enough to spend this time with them. Kenda Creasy Dean calls this fidelity and it is about encouraging our youth and caring for them as much as it is about being there for them.5 Andy Root calls this place-sharing and explains that because God became fully human in Jesus Christ and went all the way to the cross for humanity before being resurrected, we also must enter into the lives of our youth, including those parts that might cause suffering of our own,6 in order that we can walk with them through the transformation that comes from Christ’s resurrection. 7 One more reason to value play time with our youth that should not be overlooked is that it gives our youth a chance to see our behavior when we are not in worship or
For example, we can plan 6 weeks of lessons and one week for play time. You can also plan a bit of
play time into each youth gathering –i.e. having the first 15 minutes for play time. However, I find that having such a short play time only really teaches the youth how much they desire play time but doesn’t actually give them enough time to show them how important it is to have a dedicated play time. I could see this working well in a retreat setting, but only if the play time was treated as sacred. Instead of cutting play time short because the lesson ran over, we should cut the lesson short because it’s time to play. I wonder how our youth would react if we actually treated that time as sacred?
Kenda Creasy Dean, Practicing Passion. Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2004.
Perhaps the suffering in this context is that of letting go of our own agendas and lessons that we want to
teach on a given youth night and instead letting our youth lead us where they want to go.
Andy Root, Revisiting Relational Youth Ministry. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2007. 88-98.
STUDENT - 4 leading a Bible study. For youth who don’t live in Christian families and sometimes even for those who do, they don’t necessarily know what it looks like to live a Christian life outside of the church. Pop culture teaches our youth that drinking, swearing and fighting are normal adult behavior. If our youth never see us in arenas outside of the church, they might assume that our lives are no different from the other adult influences around them. While it isn’t healthy for us to spend enough time with our youth that they get a full look at our lives, when we plan free time into our youth schedules, our youth get a chance to see a different side of us. Hopefully, this glimpse serves as an example of how to live a god-honoring life even when we aren’t in church or reading our bibles.8
Pragmatic As youth directors, the first step we must take in order to give our youth time to play is to give ourselves some time to play apart from our youth. For each person that “playtime” will look different, but it always involves taking a break from the stress and demands of life and doing something that we love. My senior year in college, even though I was working on my comps and in season for softball, I found a block of time every Tuesday where I didn’t have anywhere that I needed to be. I would go back to my room every on these afternoons and take a couple of hours to scrapbook. Scrapbooking is something that I love to do, but often don’t feel like I have enough time in my schedule to do it. Somehow taking that time out each week made it much easier to get through all of the other work I had to do.
And if we don’t know how to be “god-honoring” while participating in an intense game of flag
football, basketball, etc., we might need to reevaluate how we are living our own lives.
STUDENT - 5 Currently my play time is flag football. Even though I am working full-time, going to school full-time and I have to drive an hour and a half each week to play, I know that flag football is something I need in my life. When I am on the field, it is the one time during my week where I don’t even think about work or school; every time that I step on the field the only thing running through my mind is whether I am running a post, a hook or a slant and how I am going to rip that flag from the opposing team member. If we don’t have regular times in our lives when we are able to clear our mind of all the responsibilities of our job, we, ourselves, won’t understand the sacredness of play time. A couple of my girls asked me to give them softball lessons after church one Sunday and when their friends heard about it, they wanted to come also. Pretty soon we had record numbers of kids showing up for Sunday School so that they could stay after church and play softball. It requires no planning on my part to show up and play ball and I enjoy it as much as the youth do. Through the act of playing, I am implicitly teaching my youth that it is alright to relax and have fun, even if you are Christian. My youth also have the chance to see that there is a time to sit down and learn (i.e. Sunday School and our teaching time on Wednesday nights) and also a time to play. Even though I can easily get caught up in the competition of sports, my youth won’t ever see me cursing on the field, because that isn’t a practice of mine even when I am playing against adults who are letting loose a barrage of four letter words. Occasionally the topic of our Sunday School lesson might find its way into our conversation and sometimes it doesn’t. I let the kids organize the games and just play along with them. I see it as my job to find the time and place for our free time, but not to dictate what does or does not happen in that time.
STUDENT - 6 I do want to point out that, while I often use athletics as an example of how to spend free time, this is reflective of my own bias towards sports. By giving our youth free time we need to be open to whatever they choose to do, even if this means sitting on the couch and playing video games. Many youth also love to spend time in artistic endeavors. Even if you are like me and have no artistic ability, it is important to provide opportunities for your youth to play instruments, draw, or write during this free time. I know this is an area that I do not do well in because I would much rather buy a football for the youth group than art supplies, but I need to make a better effort to recognize other interests in our group. I have not yet worked out a regular schedule of rest within my youth ministry, but I hope to start to implement this into the youth schedule the next time I evaluate it. I know that the only way to actually make it happen is to plan it into the schedule because otherwise it will get skipped over the next time that we are trying to get through a unit.
Steph, This is hands down the best white paper I’ve read all semester. It’s excellent in every way. Your theological section provides guidance for your suggestions. Your interpretive section could use a little bit more beef, but it gets the job done. I hope you’ll explore a blueprint on this subject. Excellent! I want you to explore revising and publishing this in a magazine or journal (maybe along with some of your blueprint material).
STUDENT - 7
This action might not be possible to undo. Are you sure you want to continue?