Pastor, Your Congregation Plays Video Games (and That’s OK)

by Matthew Millsap March 5, 2019

It’s a familiar scene: the Saturday sermon review. However, after reviewing your notes or manuscript on this particular Saturday, you begin to browse the Internet, and you come across something that seems to stick in your craw: yet another article about the massive popularity of Fortnite, the video game that seems to have taken the world by storm.

“Not another one,” you think. “Won’t this ever go away?”

But then, what you believe to be a flash of brilliance dawns. It just so happens there’s a perfect place in your sermon tomorrow where you might take a little liberty in application. You quickly throw together a few notes, and before you know it, you have something ready to go tomorrow morning, in which you plan to make a snide comment about Fortnite that you intend to communicate to your congregation that video games are childish and inconsequential wastes of time. Perhaps you’ll even cursorily eisegete 1 Corinthians 13:11 for good measure.

But there’s a problem here, pastor: Over two-thirds of your congregation plays video games regularly.[1] And that’s not just Fortnite, but rather video games, period. Your people see no problem with playing video games because it is something they enjoy doing and have enjoyed for a long time. It’s fun. It’s recreational. Yet you just needlessly offended and potentially isolated around two-thirds of them. You don’t need an expert in ecclesiology to tell you that isn’t the road to a healthy congregation.

What should the pastor’s response to video games be? Where do they fit within the lives of the congregation?

Setting aside the matter of playing video games to the glory of God (1 Cor. 10:31) for another article in which the topic can be explored in greater detail (along with concerns Christians commonly have), here are a few suggestions for how a pastor might constructively view video games as a normal part of the lives of the people he shepherds.

1. Recreation Is a Gift from God

First and foremost, the pastor should recognize that the ability to enjoy recreational activities of all kinds is a gift that God has given humanity. While this article is not the place for a detailed exegesis of the creation narrative, it is worth observing that the divine example God gives us in his rest on the seventh day of creation communicates the importance of the cessation of labor for a time. God establishes order in every one of his creative acts in the narrative, and his seventh-day rest is no exception: There is an order to what we are created to do as humans. We work. We cease to work. We work. We cease to work. The fact that this pattern is established by divine creation demonstrates that God has woven it into the very fabric of the universe itself. It is his intended order, and we, as his creation, follow it.

When we cease to work for a time, we typically spend that time doing things that are, well, not work. This is where recreation rightly fits within the life of the believer. Recreational activities rejuvenate us by allowing us to experience other joys of creation that God has provided us: those that have come to us directly through his initial creative acts and those that have come indirectly through human ingenuity resulting from the creative impulse that is part of the imago Dei. We enjoy recreational activities that both take place in and use creation, and we should not feel any guilt enjoying them when they are rightly exercised within the divinely instituted order to our existence.

2. Recreation Entails Freedom

Pastor, do you enjoy the exact same activities as your wife? Do you enjoy the exact same activities as all of your friends? Do you enjoy the exact same activities your father does or once did? At the risk of stating the obvious, humans are individuals with individual tastes, interests, likes, and dislikes—to expect uniformity in preference for recreational activities is illogical. For someone not to like playing video games is just as normal for someone else to like playing video games. We humans, as individuals, have been given the freedom to enjoy activities that others might not also enjoy.

In each semester I teach the “Christianity and the Arts” course at Spurgeon College, I explain to students that the “waste of time” argument, when applied to any artistic work contra another, is itself a “waste of time” because anything can be a waste of time, given certain context or preference. For example, whereas reading a new theology text can be a good and enjoyable use of my time when read over structured sessions across my overall schedule, ignoring my responsibilities at home with my family and reading from 5:00 PM to 2:00 AM one night would be a waste of time, in that I should have been devoting much of that time elsewhere. Likewise, if I spend time doing a recreational activity I do not enjoy, I am wasting my time because instead I could be spending that time doing a recreational activity I do enjoy.

The “waste of time” argument, then, when applied to one recreational activity contra another, is effectively useless—it carries no meaningful weight whatsoever. Playing a video game can be a waste of time in respect to both context and preference, but so can any other recreational activity. Pastor, would you disdain a deacon who spent roughly three hours on Saturday watching a college football game? No? Then why would you disdain a deacon who spent roughly three hours on a Saturday playing a video game?

3. Video Games Are Inherently Recreational

The previous two points are foundational to a correct understanding of video games because they flow from a Christian worldview in which work and recreation are seen in light of how they are ordered and in which an implied freedom to enjoy is part and parcel of a temporary cessation of work. Once these are acknowledged, one is equipped to see where video games then fit into such an understanding. Video games, by their very nature, are inherently recreational, and thus included within a work/rest paradigm.

It honestly doesn’t take much beyond casual observation to reach the conclusion that video games are recreational. Chances are, pastor, that not only have you witnessed others playing video games, but that you also have played a video game or two in the past. Perhaps you tried playing a video game and did not find it enjoyable, but saw that others did. Perhaps you used to play video games regularly but have since developed other interests or tastes. You know, whether by observation or by playing, what video games generally are and why someone would want to play one. Whatever the level of your experience, you instinctively recognize their recreational nature. 

How is that the case? Simply put, it is because you experience recreation regularly or semi-regularly yourself. You engage in activities you enjoy that are not work. In fact, not only do you engage in such activities, but your enjoyment of them is built upon the two observations above, even though you may not have consciously recognized these points in the moment of watching a football game, fishing, playing pick-up basketball, reading a good book, hiking, watching a movie, or whatever. Just as you were made to enjoy recreation, you were made to recognize recreation and rightly desire it. The former presupposes the latter.

So pastor, don’t look down on those in your congregation who enjoy playing video games. These men, women, boys, and girls were created to enjoy them. You were created to enjoy whatever recreational activities might be your preference. It is the commonality you possess—that each of you was created in the image of God—that makes participating in these good gifts possible

Notes

  1. ^ The Nielsen Company. “U.S. Games 360 Report: 2018.” https://www.nielsen.com/us/en/insights/reports/2018/us-games-360-report-2018.html. This assumes that statistics for the overall American population would not significantly differ from the congregation and that the demographics of the congregation are not heavily skewed toward advanced age.