Play Like You Mean It

Play Like You Mean It



By Mark Angleton, Director of Youth

Last semester during Ignite, our weekly youth group meetings, 
I would step into different small groups to see how the discussions were going. Most of the time I would see kids staring at each other 
in that ever so awkward wait time after a question has been posed.

The wait time would extend longer and longer until someone would
 do something silly to break the tension in the group or the silence would be filled by the adult leader answering the question.

At first, I couldn’t tell if it was the fact that I walked into the room, disrupted the group dynamic, and no one wanted to say anything in front of me. It turned out that was not the case and our not-so-discussion groups was a problem expressed to me from students and the adults. It was time to rethink how to structure this time for students to think through ideas instead of just being told what to think.

We had been breaking the students up by age group, so they meet with the same folks every week to build trust and deeper relationships. Clearly, it wasn’t working.
I began to explore what helps people get out of their own awkwardness to discuss a topic without feeling so self-conscious. Two images popped into my head. The first was in seminary while thinking through ideas for paper and sermons, I would pace the hall and juggle. It helped me to distract my body so that I could think more clearly. Obviously, I wasn’t going to teach everyone to juggle.

The other image was a little more helpful. I thought of my wife’s preschool classroom. These preschoolers have amazing conversations while painting or playing in different ways.
That’s when it struck me.


I ran this by some people on staff and various adult leaders, and we thought at least it is worth the experiment.

Now, we set out different invitations for the students. The students choose which invitation sounds best for them, and they do things like draw with markers and paper while discussing the night’s topic. Or they will shoot free-throws and discuss the topics. And the favorite seems to be playing in trays of sand. These students are in self-selected mixed-aged groups, and the discussions have been much more interesting and fruitful. They needed to break out of the awkward, and play in order to discuss and think more clearly about faith and life and where those two intersect. Playing made all the difference in these groups. Now younger kids learn from older as they participate in the ever important means of grace…play!

So what works for you? How can you use play as way to go deeper in your discipleship? What helps you distract from stresses and self-consciousness so that you can think more deeply and intentionally? How can you play with your faith?