The following was originally posted April 1, 2017 on recon419a's personal blog, Of Games and God. It is reposted here with permission from the author.
Let me start out by saying that ministry happens at human speeds, whether it’s online or offline. We went into our covenant as MDS with the expectation that we would enact radical change in the span of a few months, and have been realizing more and more how drastically unrealistic that expectation is. In a world where a Twitter mob can get someone fired within twenty-four hours, we thought we might make an impact on people’s lives in the same time frame. We could not have been more wrong.
I’m not saying it’s impossible for someone’s life to be changed in twenty-four hours, or even in the span of a single hour. The Lord works in great and mysterious ways, and we are privileged to watch him do that. What I am saying is that we can’t always expect to make a friend or build a relationship in the span of a couple hours. Those things take time, and moreover, they take connection.
In building our online impact, we first started out with the expectation that we could meet random people on the Internet and get to know them within the span of a few games, or at least a few gaming sessions spent playing together. That expectation led us down some exploratory ventures in questing, and none of them came up with much result. Over time, we came to realize that people need more than one form of connection in their lives to become friends. For instance, many of my good friends will text me or call me to ask me to play with them. If you only have each other as in-game friends, that kind of communication is impossible, and it leads to you playing less together. Likewise, my on-campus friends will stop me in the dining hall and talk to me about recent patches and competitive events. That’s something I enjoy discussing, but it’s also something that rarely happens in the game itself. The game is central to our interactions, but it can’t be the only thing. That bridge won’t hold.
The decision moving forward, then, has been to build upon the networks we already have. For us, online ministry is less about evangelism or proselytizing and more about outreach – helping people where they’re at, the same way a marriage counselor helps a struggling couple or a youth leader helps kids figure out who they are. Our gaming community is a space for people to gather together in fellowship both Christian and secular, and feel that they have a home. In that sense, it’s like a sports team or a group of college friends. We celebrate together, we grieve together, and we build relationships that are meant to last a lifetime. That’s something we’ve decided is best done in close community, reaching out to the friends we already have both inside and outside of MDS, rather than by trying to reach members of the community with whom we have no connection.
A further realization we have come to is that different mediums, somewhat predictably, serve different purposes. For instance, an hour of Overwatch might go by with nothing but game-related call-outs, while an hour of Minecraft or Civ V is unlikely to go for even ten or fifteen minutes without an inside joke or a story from someone’s childhood. That doesn’t make the latter better, it just makes it different. Sometimes what people need is a game where no one is going to talk to them; other times people really need to talk. And crucially, it’s important to remember that not everybody plays every game. To truly meet people where they’re at, we have to play a variety ourselves.
As we’ve come to some of these conclusions in the past two weeks, we’ve realized we’re in it for the long haul. Friendships take time, and more than that, they take sustained commitment. The Internet enables that in a way that nothing ever has before, but it still doesn’t make it happen faster. It just makes it easier to find people and hang out with them in digital spaces. I’ve also personally seen God doing some amazing things, bringing the team together in a way we haven’t been brought together before this. From the time we founded MDS until now, never has the group of us who do missional gaming been more closely tied than we are. That, in and of itself, says we’re doing something right.
The last, but no less important decision we’ve reached is to alter the format of quest nights. We’ve always known these were in beta, and now we have a better idea of how to do them – a next instance of the beta, if you will. We’re going to move the structure around a bit, and right now that looks like people are going to be doing the quest throughout the week and gathering for a less formal but still organized time at the end of it. We’ve had issues with people being unable to make the chosen bracket and we don’t want to exclude anybody from doing the quest because of their personal schedule.
As we move forward with questing, and with building community both in and out of the team, I ask you to pray for us if you’re a believer. We can feel the Lord doing great things here, and we’re responding as best we can, although our numbers are still small for the amount of work we’d like to accomplish. Pray for growth – and sustainable growth – as we reach out to campus chapters for more recruits.
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