By Jacob Toman
Earlier this week, Allison Barron wrote a piece for Relevant Magazine's website titled “What the Church can learn from ‘Geek Culture’. We’ve had some great discussions here at Gospel & Gaming thanks to this piece, and we decided in our weekly staff meeting to share some of our discussion here.
My thanks to Michael, Gospel & Gaming’s Content Director, and Stuart, a volunteer in the Content Department, for our discussion time.
If you haven’t had a chance to read Allison’s article I highly recommend you do so prior to reading our reaction piece here.
Alison wastes no time in her narrative-based argument offering the thesis that “Geeks Do Acts 2 Better Than Many Churches”. She began her argument by comparing the experience of her local church context to a national annual convention. Much of her argument flows like a frustrated story. There are definitely some legitimate concerns that Allison raises in her frustration. This reaction piece is going to simply walk through a couple of Allison’s points, building off of her suggestions, and also offering some counter points for all of us involved in both ministry, and members of geek & gaming culture.
There are three points we here at Gospel & Gaming want to echo and affirm from Allison’s piece:
Allison’s piece does a great job pointing to problems in the church surrounding community involvement, activity, and demographic segregation.
Allison’s piece triumphs the best aspects of Geek & Gamer culture.
Allison’s piece encourages the church to take seriously the cultures its members are involved in, both for outreach and in-reach purposes.
There are also three points that we’d like to offer as critique of her article:
Allison’s piece is primarily based on her experience at Gen Con, a once-a-year event, and compared with the regularly daily, weekly, and monthly interactions of her local church body.
Allison’s piece completely neglects the negative experiences within gaming communities while trumpeting her problems of the church.
Allison’s piece misses the chance to point out the unique gifting and calling of the body of Christ.
Here's our 2 cents...
(1) Allison's piece is primarily based on her experience at Gen Con, a once-a-year event, and compared with the regularly daily, weekly, and monthly interactions of her local church body.
When Allison wrote about sharing her enthusiasm for Firefly with another "flan", she compared that moment to her experience at her local church. Depending on your tradition of worship, there may in fact be people greeting one another with just as much excitement during a worship service or gathering of believers.
The giddiness of Fandom is something Allison describes beautifully...
Yet it is in the context of an annual celebration at one of the 3 largest gatherings of geeks & gamers in the country. I wonder if Allison might be due for a similar convention experience dealing with her faith! Might the same phenomenon of giddiness, enthusiasm, and excitement be a feature of rare celebrations that are looked forward to for months, or even years?
I have a friend whom I regularly interact with who occasionally attends gamer and geek conventions. They are disappointed when they have to miss an annual event, but immediately look forward to the next year. The gathering’s rarity adds novelty to the event, something that really shouldn't be compared with the regular events held on a weekly or daily basis within the church. The annual high holy days of geekdom and gamer culture in the US are worthy of study and comment in their own right, and Dragon Con, Gen Con, and Comic Con would all be included as 3 of the most anticipated events of the year.
The more appropriate comparison between community interactions of the church and geek & gamer culture would be that of major holy days and celebrations of the faith. Christmas, Good Friday, Easter, and Epiphany are more much more comparable events to judge church community health than a Sunday worship service, a time of teaching, Sunday school, a weekly gathering, an outreach event, small group, or prayer time.
Individuals walking away from major events often bemoan "why couldn't more days be like this". This desire and longing for more intimacy in community is a great thing, but it's also a rather common complaint. The highs and lows of life include both massive celebratory events, and the descent of emotion and excitement after the anticipation and event passes.
(2) Allison's piece completely neglects the negative experiences within gaming communities while trumpeting her problems of the church.
Allison points out the positive experiences she’s had in both an online environment and face-to-face environment. She gives a couple of great examples as was mentioned above about how generous, welcoming, and easygoing gaming & geek culture can both be. But both of these cultures have problems. One unfortunate hallmark of these cultures is ruthless competition and gossip. To say she’s only putting forward the most positive aspects of her experiences would be the understatement of this piece.
In this same part of her argument Allison neglects to speak up about the experiences she’s had within her local body of believers. She poses the problem that the body only cares for one another in some rather demographic specific ways. While targeted demographic service are a part of any community I would counter Allison’s point by reminding her that there is great diversity within the body. There are times throughout the week, and during a worship service different services, teaching periods, and opportunities are offered, the body gathers together in much the same way as her description of Gen Con. The older teach the younger, the younger mix together regardless of race, and there is a community built on faith, rather than fandom.
The body of Christ has it’s share of problems, but these problems arise because of the diversity in the church. The early church struggled with divisions between those of long-standing jewish tradition, and gentiles who were entering the community of faith. Geek & Gamer culture both are in their infancy as people groups. This isn’t to say their experiences or sense of community should be discounted, but rather that critiques of the church should be couched in the historical and global reality that Christ’s body has a different war to fight and has been waging that war for thousands of years. Gen Con is a long standing event, but to compare the problems of the church (a growing part of an eternal Kingdom) to a weekend of fans sharing excitement and passion is short-sighted. Good comparative study requires time and a displaying of both the positives and negatives about the things being compared. In this way I’d like to recommend for Allison to spend more time thinking and experiencing the body of Christ and the positive ways the body of Christ serves the community of faith.
(3) Allison's piece misses the chance to point out the unique gifting and calling of the body of Christ.
The church absolutely needs to observe the cultures its community members are involved in. Inside your local church there are (most likely) dozens of cultures and subcultures represented. Even in what could appear to be the most homogeneous iteration of the church, there are many distinctives in tradition, race, sex, beliefs, hobbies, ages, and backgrounds. The church as a whole doesn’t just need to recognize geek culture, gaming culture, or any other culture because “that other culture does community better”, but because Christ instructs the church to go to the ends of the earth!
“you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”
Multicultural ministry doesn’t simply mean multiracial ministry. Multicultural ministry means serving across borders and boundaries of multiple distinct cultures. Allison’s particular passion, affection and affinity for geeks and gamers is a gift from God. The Kingdom of God is HUGE! And it's filled with people whom God is pleased to give talents and love for particular sets of people. God can use us in so many ways for his glory. In our work, our play, our families, and our friends, God uses our loves, passions and sometimes even our prejudices (see the book of Jonah as a reference point for God using someone to impact people outside of his comfort zone) for the good of his Kingdom.
I echo Allison’s sentiment in desiring for more within the church to join the mission of God, especially for unreached and emerging people groups like gamers and geeks. But to ask the whole church community to jump on board and attend conventions isn't just wishful thinking, it would be ineffective and actually backfire on Allison’s (and more importantly God's) desire to love gamers & geeks!
Education about the various people groups that the body of Christ is reaching is incredibly important, and something that we try to model here at Gospel & Gaming through equipping local churches to reach gamers. Individually, each of us are also a part of local church bodies that receive education about other people groups whom we don’t regularly work with, serve, or minister to.
Even when we lead, we follow
The apostle Paul led the early church as a servant serving both those inside the (at that time) traditional community of faith, and gentiles outside of it. Yet even as a leader, pushing for sharing the gospel with all sorts of people groups, he recognized that he had a specific call from God, a specific purpose in his call, and a specific set of gifts to a accomplished the purpose God called him to. Paul’s ability to lead came directly from his ability to follow Christ Jesus.
Leading requires vision, consistency, and also, followers. If you’re anything like Allison, maybe you’ve noticed some problems in your church, and you’ve also noticed some opportunities in the people groups whom God has put you in. Maybe you’re a gamer, a geek, or neither! If you’re a believer then you have gifts, talents, and abilities that are for God’s glory and purposes. As you seek to inspire, enact, and pursue community with the people groups God placed you in, let’s follow Christ in loving and sharing God’s kingdom with those around us, geeks gamers, & gentiles alike.