As a father of two kids, a former youth pastor and a writer, I’m constantly asking myself the same question: “How can I introduce my kids to the Bible in a way that will keep them engaged whilst so much other ‘stuff’ battles for their attention?”
Don’t worry, obviously I’ve introduced them to it already, and every night they encounter a new biblical story and on Sunday they join in kid’s church community. However, after the Bible story, they want to read Star Wars, or something else. After church it’s Transformers: Rescue Bots. The biblical stories struggle to have the “stickability” of some of these other media. Then, just yesterday, it happened. My four-year old-son says, “Dad, I don’t want to go to church, I want to watch Paw Patrol!” Tears flowed down his chubby cheeks, and his lips went into a wonderful and compelling pout.
I felt like a terrible parent! I want him to think church is the greatest.
As so, because I am a young hip sensitive dad, tears flow down my chubby cheeks, too.
I get it; their budget wasn’t big in the 1st century! But this is the Holy Bible – it’s a story worth telling, sharing, shouting from the rooftops. Isn’t it?
What if we could invite young people into a narrative that’s immensely compelling and calls them into the biblical story whether they know it or not?
Four years ago I was invited into a story only God could have written, a roller coaster ride that no human mind could have engineered! A 75-year old trust in Auckland, New Zealand, whose sole mission was to use the postal system to engage young people with the Word of God, asked me—over a big slice of Chicago pizza, “If you were to be part of making a game of the Bible for tweens, how would you do it?”
My answer: “Easy.” I might have lied. “I’d balance theology with theatrics.”
With that, the rollercoaster pulled out from the station and began flying through the air!
THEOLOGY AND THEATRICS
When you think about it, isn’t this how Jesus worked? He unpacked phenomenal theology—deep theology—not for the Pharisees in words only they could comprehend, but for the people – in stories they could own. Stories they could take home. Stories they would remember forever.
“The kingdom of God is like…”
“I tell you today it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle…”
Jesus himself, God with skin on, delivered content in a way people could digest. He talked in the language of farmers, of fisherman. He became man, so the world could approach him and so His sacrifice could stand for humanity. God came close.
GAMES AND GOD
Cat Stevens (yes, I’m old enough to remember when his name was Cat Stevens) once asked, “Where do the children play?” And it sounds just like me, most times I take my kids to the park. I have two and I can multitask, but I struggle to watch both at once.
“Where do the children play?” It’s a question we have to ask ourselves as parents in the 21st century, and not only do we have to be careful about what the answer is, we need to be there with them.
If you are the parent of a tween, you know what I know. You know they are playing games. They are creating worlds in Minecraft – LEGO for kids on screens, or maybe they are saving the world on CS: GO or dare I say it, Call of Duty.
Wherever they are, we need to take the story of God there. And we need to go, in some way, ourselves.
The Aetherlight: Chronicles of the Resistance was our way of connecting these worlds; connecting young people with the story of God and their parents to that journey as well. We set about creating a game, in a fantastical steampunk world, like the World of Narnia (without the steampunk!), that would allow young people to become immersed in a parallel telling of the biblical narrative. It would allow them not only to connect with the biblical narrative but also to ‘feel’ the story within it.
GETTING KIDS TO CHURCH
Now, when I tell my kids the stories of Scripture, I’m careful to give them the drama, the theatrics they deserve. I’m careful to tie the stories to the great (and not so critically acclaimed) cultural narratives my kids enjoy. As parents, we are curators of what our children learn, hear and interact with – and especially what they learn.
I want to teach my kids that when we gather together as the church, it is about sharing these stories, anecdotes, allegories and examples in the best ways we know how. And when I tell them that’s what church is, they get excited. Suddenly they have a voice, they have an opportunity, and they even have a platform to bring friends, family and neighbors to. Church becomes a living organism, not simply an organization. One big family!
I can’t wait for my son and daughter to grow a little older to experience The Aetherlight and by extension begin to understand (and experience) in a deeper way the drama, excitement, and truth of the Scriptures. To have a digital playground they can invite their friends into as both an evangelistic and a biblical engagement experience.
However, nothing changes for me. Collectively, my wife and I are still the primary cheerleader, speaker, evangelist, apologist, preacher and pastor for our kids. And for most of their lives, we will be. That means we need to continue to champion, translate and make relevant the Scriptures to the lives of our children.
Oh, that one day tears might roll down their chubby cheeks as their imaginations are quickened to the grand narrative, the discovery of salvation and their place within that very story.