Wednesday, February 01, 2012

    Can A Super Bowl Party Be "Missional?"

    Rick, a fellow youth leader, contacted me a with a great question:

    I am trying to merge most of what we do into a more missional approach.  I have a question which is probably really stupid but you seem like the guy to ask.  How would you do a missional Superbowl party?  I really don't like the Superbowl party idea but I let the students vote and they wanted to do one.  I hate the idea of giving a message at half time and all.  So, I was checking out your blog to see if there was anything. I didn't see anything and maybe there is a reason for that.  Anyway, any thoughts on this?

    Rick's observation that I haven't posted on this topic was right on target for one simple reason: I'm not a fan of youth group Super Bowl parties. For one thing, I wouldn't know a Patriot from a Giant unless one is carrying a musket and the other is really, really tall!  For another thing, I think it's a stretch to claim that sitting around watching competitive football and TV commercials is a good use of precious youth group time.  All that a missional Super Bowl event possible? 

    In our book Missional Youth Ministry: Moving from Gathering Teenagers to Scattering Disciples, I write: "When we dare to think about youth ministry holistically and to incorporate the spirit of the Way of Christ into everything we do -- from lock-ins to mission trips, from game nights to campfire worship-- we're inviting young people to experience a missional way of life in which God's Spirit is evident in all they say and do." (p. 149) It is my firm belief that we shouldn't be leading any activities in youth ministry that don't clearly connect to our understanding of the wider mission of the church. For me, being "missional" means measuring all that we do against the degree to which it helps us participate in God's mission of peace, community, love, grace, forgiveness, and justice. Can a Super Bowl party really do this, or is it just an excuse to set aside youth ministry for one night and submerge ourselves in popular culture?  What might a more missional approach to a Super Bowl party look like? Here's a few ideas:

    1) Participate in the Souper Bowl of Caring: It's simple. Just encourage your youth to bring canned goods or monetary donations to your gathering and make a plan to deliver them to a local food outreach ministry or organization. Even better, challenge your congregation on Superbowl Sunday morning to drop their donations off at the youth gathering later that evening. Feeling really intrepid? Skip the half-time show and go out into your local neighborhood and solicit canned food donations door-to-door. Download the "Tackle Hunger" sign from the Souper Bowl website, invite your teens to write their own messages about food inequality on the signs, photograph them, and upload the shots to the Souper Bowl website, Facebook, or wherever else you might be able to raise the awareness of others.

    2) Send Greetings: Watching the game together can simply be seen as a means to a different end.  With everybody in one place at one time, take advantage of the opportunity to set out a table of blank greeting cards and invite all of your youth to help you fill out greetings to your home bound elderly, anyone who is in the hospital, church members in the military, college students away from home, teens who haven't been to youth group in awhile, and so on.

    3) Promote Community:  Sometimes the most "missional" thing you can do is offer ways to help your youth strengthen their bonds of fellowship and their identity as one body in Christ.  Promoting fellowship can be tough if everyone is just sitting around staring at a TV.  Why not provide a variety of activities besides watching the game?  Set out board games, art supplies, or even create a quiet space where youth can sit comfortably and chat with each other.  Speak with your adult mentors in advance of the evening and ask them to take advantage of the unstructured time to talk with as many of the youth as they can, catching up on their lives and needs. 

    4) Share the Gospel:  I'll admit one problem I have with elevating the Super Bowl to the center of attention for a youth ministry gathering is the fact that it celebrates competition and for me competition is antithetical to the gospel.  We don't compete to be #1 in the Kingdom of God yet the Super Bowl puts a great deal of emphasis on winners and losers (including the competition to present the best commercial!).  Why not take some time during the event to ask your group: "This game is being watched by millions of people.  What sort of messages do you think are being presented to all of them during this broadcast?  If our group could afford to  buy commercial time in the Super Bowl and send one simple message about the gospel to all those millions of people, what might it be?" As an extension of this conversation, perhaps encourage your teens to make a large banner with that message that can be posted in front of the church or challenge them all to text that message to their friends right then and there or add it as their status update on Facebook. 

    5) Invite Guests: You can turn an inwardly focused youth group party into an outwardly focused opportunity for mission by challenging your youth to bring guests to the event -- in particular, youth who do not have a church home but really need to belong to a community of care and nurture.  Hopefully, the teens in your group feel like it is a place where they are loved and accepted as children of God. Ask them to invite other teens who need to know that experience for themselves and make them the guests of honor at your event.

    6) Prepare and Eat a Meal Together: Sure, you could just order pizzas and sub sandwiches. But there is something about preparing a meal together that strengthens community (maybe this is why Jesus hangs around with so many people at mealtime!). So make pizzas or sandwiches together from scratch before the big game.  For an added challenge, connect the entire group by using yarn to tie their wrists to each other so that they have to practice give and take to both cook and eat.  I've done this before with youth with great success. I finish by sharing this favorite metaphor about the difference between heaven and "hell." (Here's video and photos to show you how one person approached this very idea!)

    Anyone else have ideas to share? How would you turn a youth group Super Bowl party into a "missional" experience for your teens?


    Adam Gonnerman said...

    At this point, I wish I'd thought of organizing a Super Bowl party, and am afraid I won't have time to do anything. The fellowship alone would be worthwhile, and your suggestions were great.

    Every time I think about youth and the Super Bowl, I remember when I was in my late teens and joined a Presbyterian church where the only other youth were the pastor's sons. Super Bowl came around and the associate pastor invited me to his house for a party, saying there would be other teens there. I took a friend, and the apartment was PACKED! I didn't recognize anyone apart from the pastor's kids. Apparently all the kids were grandkids of members and either were part of some other church or no church at all.

    It was a great night, but I never saw those kids again.

    Brian Kirk said...

    Adam, thanks for sharing. I'd suggest that these ideas could apply to just about any youth event where you need to take a not-so-youth-ministry related activity and make it more connected to the mission of the Church.

    JAK said...

    I agree with what was said about the competition factor. I also am wary of bowing down to cultural golden calfs and idols. I also usually try to promote games that encourage team building rather than competition and to turn our worship to Christ BUT with that said, there are a few themes that can be built on around football. I'll point out some of the broad strokes and leave the rest up to everyone else.

    These two teams are comprised of individuals. There can't be football without teams. Even the superstar MVP can't win games by himself - someone needs to pass him the ball and defend him. Someone needs to stop the other team. Every member has their job and if one member fails, it effects the whole team. (Body of Christ much?)

    These men train every day to perform at their highest capacity. They sweat, they bleed, they live football. Shouldn't we do this for spreading the Good News of Christ. We too need to train, to practice, to scrimmage, as Christ followers. Everything we do should be Christ oriented. These men review footage, watch the competition, learn from their mistakes. What if we applied this mentality to faith sharing?

    Also some great metaphors with the coach could be applied to the Christian life. Trust the coach. Obey the coach. Not your will be done but that of the coach's. Etc. Obedience.

    These men persevere despite immense pressure, pain, fatigue, etc. They carry on. Ultimately these men put themselves in harms way. You could talk about motivation. Why do they do what they do. Then talk about Christ enduring pressure, pain, fatigue, etc. Why did he do what he did?

    How could we use the millions and millions of dollars for commercials to last a lifetime rather than 30 seconds?

    Just some great opportunities for analogies.

    Amy H said...

    I understand the struggle to find or create missional events instead of "social" events for our youth, however, after 10 years of youth ministry, they have found a place in our program for one main reason: there are youth who don't have friends outside of youth group. (and heck, they struggle to keep the friends they have IN youth group)
    I have had several youth go through my program that would never have attended a superbowl party, a pool party, or a baseball game with their peers if it wasn't part of our program.

    We want to attend to our youth as spiritual beings who exist in community with others--we address mental, emotional and spiritual health. This has developed into a program where we focus on three things when planning--spiritual, service, and social. To be clear, we have a superbowl party this weekend--last weekend we had guest speakers from other Christian denominations, and next week we will be serving at a food bank. We are very intentional about maintaining a balance.

    It is our goal to help the youth develop appropriate and healthy social skills--and that translates into all kinds of situations. An antagonistic youth learns to make and keep friends through every day stuff like bowling or mini golf, and then has the skills to to welcome and connect with others at outreach events, mission trips and service projects.
    These events provide all kinds of opportunities for mentors and youth to get to know each other in a casual setting--to see more than just one side of each other, and build connections based on common interests. This has built a lot of trust and understanding between our youth and leader team. I've had youth reach out to me in times of need because of this connection--not because they connected with me over a bible study--but because I played lazer tag with them, and discussed super bowl commercials over pizza.

    Pastor Shawn said...

    I find the word missional so ridiculously overused. We do a super bowl party every year, and every year students bring friends who might not otherwise come to church. We do a Gospel message and teens come to Christ. The game offers a non-threathening atmosphere. We put out board games, have a pool table, ping pong etc. So no one is forced to watch. I've been doing student min for 18 years. Missional should be about reaching our culture in ways that they'll respond to. Not just create an anti-culture atmostphere. That's not missional. I don't buy the lame excuse of using precious time to watch competition. Please, stop over spiritualizing! I can be a great tool, if the leaders make it that way. I find it interesting that those claiming to be missional, and against this type of party, are also the ones making idiotic claims about finding Christ in Harry Potter, or claiming that Rob Bell isn't a heretic. If a super bowl party is just a party, shame on the youth pastor. He's the one with the wrong focus.

    Brian Kirk said...

    JAK and Amy, Thanks for commenting. To my way of thinking, you both articulate perfectly a missional approach to this issue. You both are thoughtful about the way that such an event fits into the overall focus of your ministry and connects with your wider mission. To me, that's what being missional is all about -- being intentional about how everything you do fits into the goals of your ministry in a thoughtful and faithful way. Thanks for sharing a different side of this discussion!

    Brian Kirk said...

    Shawn, don't hold back. Tell us what you really think! : )
    I appreciate your passion and your sense that the word missional is being overused. In fact, the word doesn't even have one clear definition. I'm certainly using it differently than the way many of my evangelical colleagues do. Clearly, from my perspective, you are taking a thoughtful, intentional, missional approach to this issue even though we don't see eye-to-eye on all of this. But, of course, we are each the experts of our own ministries and ultimately do what we know is best for the youth in our care. Thanks for commenting!

    Brian Kirk said...

    JAK and Amy, Thanks for commenting. To my way of thinking, you both articulate perfectly a missional approach to this issue. You both are thoughtful about the way that such an event fits into the overall focus of your ministry and connects with your wider mission. To me, that's what being missional is all about -- being intentional about how everything you do fits into the goals of your ministry in a thoughtful and faithful way. Thanks for sharing a different side of this discussion!

    Jeremy Smith said...

    Love the first and third comment. I disagree with the comment from Shawn and thing that we need to have a missional mindset, as you have said, in everything that we do. If we are just here for a good time, we are no different than non-religious clubs. Thanks for the great share!

    Ben said...

    I love your points, but with point 3, I think watching the game can be a good community builder. If everyone is just sitting there watching, not talking, sure. But I think theres a reason Sports have been called "A Religious experience." (NOT that I am calling them that) I think great community can and does happen while watching sports.

    I'd also add, Im fully on board and wish Church took more of a priority rather than a stupid football game that doesn't matter. But at the same time, I could have been stubborn and still had Youth Group last night. I would have had some annoyed volunteers and zero kids show up. Im glad I got to open our house and have every square inch occupied by adults and teens cheering and yelling together.