Let’s talk about fun. It’s pretty much impossible to stay in youth ministry for more than a few weeks without at least some willingness to have fun. Even the most serious and Bible-focused youth leader needs to add fun as a value.
Fun is a God thing
God is the inventor of fun. God is the one who designed the sensation of the tickle. God thought up laughter. God created our mouths to involuntarily turn up into a smile when we’re pleased or find something humorous.
We often unintentionally teach a heresy about fun, that it’s all good and well, but isn’t actually spiritual. It’s our non-formal curriculum when we say things like: “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 that fun would be a weak ministry value if it were your only ministry value, but let’s all stop apologising and add fun, with theological conviction, to the description of the vibe we desire in our youth ministries.
I just have to believe that Jesus and his boys laughed their heads off at times, especially after Peter said something funny and Andrew responded by snorting and shooting goat’s milk out of 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 contextualised gospel to the world of teens.
And since fun isn’t a value that’s in any way antithetical to the gospel, let’s at least start with the assumption that it’s morally neutral, effectively used for good or evil, capable of being experienced in a way that aligns with or diminishes God’s intent for our lives.
Of course, there are plenty of ways that fun can be destructive. All of those lesser funs are a bastardisation of fun, resulting in the diminishment of a human who God so desperately loves.
But when we don’t embrace fun as a value, teenagers 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 teenagers with the love of Jesus unless we first engage them. You don’t shape a teen’s life simply by being in the same room.
Great engagement comes in lots of forms: offering genuine belonging, listening, asking questions, serving together, connecting with various senses.
But fun is at the least one of those engagement tools in our kit. Attempted fun or forced fun can be massively lame, so there’s clearly a fine line to walk here. But fun can provide an avenue for engagement when even the most proactive conversational approach simply falls flat in a pile of good intent.
“The best fun is usually a shared experience”
Fun lowers defences
You know you have teenagers who are naturally defensive to connecting with you or your programme. 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.
But fun – particularly laughter – unfolds the arms, relaxes tensed muscles and helps a defensive posture melt away (even if only momentarily). This really is a physical issue – defensiveness is a mindset with an accompanying muscle tightening.
Fun, even when it’s only observed, can cause a mindset change that naturally results in forgetting to hold the previously clenched muscle state.
Fun can foster community
One person can certainly have fun when they’re alone. But the best fun is usually a shared experience. That sort of concurrent fun amplifies the fun for all involved and plants seeds of community.
Because, really, when you boil it down, community begins and is sustained by shared experiences. Allow fun to be a regular aspect of that communal life. A word of caution (and the reason for the italic ‘can’ in the subhead): community building fun must be inclusive; carefully guard against exclusive fun that leaves some out.
Fun creates memories
A major part of any community (and the identity formation that comes with it) is shared memories. Those communal remembrances are major fodder for sustained ‘life together’.
Of course, it’s great if some of those memories are of tender times, or times of overcoming adversity, or of an intense shared experience of God. But shared memories of fun can fill in the gaps to create a full portfolio of stories worth retelling, stories that say something about who we are together.
Fun decreases differences
I suppose this reality is complementary to the ‘fun can foster community’ point previously discussed. But here’s an important reality: in our current context, youth culture has splintered into hundreds or thousands of cultures (this is new in the last couple of decades, by the way).
That means that every youth ministry is a multicultural youth ministry (unless, maybe, your youth group is two home-schoolers from the same family).
One of our greatest goals in youth ministry should be the creation of a new kingdom culture that supersedes the many cultures represented in the population of your youth ministry.
I’ve found three things that act as kerosene on the fire of decreasing cultural differences: serving together, worshipping together and having fun together. We tend to elevate the first two over the latter, as they seem ‘more spiritual’. But remember where we began this exploration: fun is a God thing.