It’s a fairly common criticism that churches face. “They’re just ‘playing church.’” I suppose that means the church isn’t serious enough, has lost its purpose or is just going through the motions. Perhaps that’s a worthwhile discussion, but I’m not talking about that here.
I’m talking about play. You know, the kind of play you did as a kid, when time melted away and even a meal on the dinner table didn’t tempt you inside willingly. During those times, imaginations ran freely and life was learned along the way. When we think of “church” we don’t think of play. No, we’re watching the clock, distracted by our preferred activities, and locked into scripted expressions whose timelessness has worn off. What if we thought of church more like children at play? What if we could be even more faithful by doing so?
Stuart Brown studied the play of humans and animals. In his book, Play (pg 17-18) he lists different properties of play. When I see these, I can’t help but to see a reflection of the perfect intent of God’s creation where we find interdependency, joy, beauty and… fun! That’s what God wants his church to be like! So, take a look and let’s see if we can learn a thing or two about church from the joy of play.
INHERENT ATTRACTION “It’s fun. It makes you feel good…”
We get to be together in a way that mimics God’s original interdependent intent for the world. Everyone is valued and has something to contribute. We love each other and share ourselves. Being together like that is so unique and awesome. So much laughter! It’s fun!
VOLUNTARY “it is not obligatory or required by duty.”
Jesus didn’t have to give his life to save us. He got to, so he did. In the same way, we get to love the unlovable, seeking reconciliation and peace. We get to hang out with other redeemed sinners, working together and worshipping together, not because we have to. We get to.
APPARENT PURPOSELESSNESS “Play activities don’t seem to have any survival value. …Play is done for its own sake. That’s why some people think of it as a waste of time.”
Play is important to children! If you doubt me, just ask one. We may just shake our heads, but to them, their play is intentional and purposeful. In the same way, we are children of God, and the world can’t see the value of church from the outside. So we should invite them to play!
FREEDOM FROM TIME AND CONTINUATION DESIRE “We lose a sense of the passage of time. We desire to keep doing it, and when it is over, we want to do it again.”
I will admit, other cultures do this much better than we do in America. Yet, there have been so many times when the church has gathered together and the rest of the world vanished. When it was time to depart, we just couldn’t wait for the next time. It was awesome!
DIMINISHED CONSCIOUSNESS OF SELF “We stop worrying about whether we look good or awkward, smart or stupid. We are fully in the moment, in the zone…”
Have you ever lost yourself in the significance of something? It feels great. It stops being about you and it becomes about us. Jesus encourages us to see each person is a unique and valuable creation of God who is also a sinner in need of forgiveness! No worries. We’re friends here.
IMPROVISATIONAL POTENTIAL “We aren’t locked into a rigid way of doing things… …we stumble upon new behaviors, thoughts, strategies, movements or ways of being…. You never really know what’s going to happen when you play.”
Following Jesus is an adventure. You never know where Jesus will take you or what the moment will bring. If church were more like play, we could take it as it comes and be creative about how the Gospel of Jesus could be shared. It’s like ministry at the improv!
So, what do you think? Has the church come to the place where we take ourselves too seriously? How might we be even more faithful to Jesus with a spirit of play? How could we incorporate play into the serious mission of God to redeem the world from sin? Drop a comment below or let’s have a discussion over coffee some time. Meet you on the playground!
Photo by PROLoren Kerns via Flickr, Creative Commons