When Jacob Toman started Gospel & Gaming back in 2013, he brought with it a ministry philosophy that he summarized with a simple acronym: EPIC.
This philosophy sits at the core of how we approach gamers and gamer culture, and is a good foundation for Christians looking to engage in any number of subcultures in our world.
E - Engage Reality
In Matthew 28, Jesus instructs his followers to “go and make disciples of all nations.” This means that we as Christians are called to engage the world, with all of the sin and struggles within it and within ourselves, in order to spread the good news of salvation. Throughout Scripture we can find numerous examples showing the importance of engaging reality. When the prophet Nathan learned of King David’s infidelity and murder, he made the hard decision to engage the reality of the situation, confronting David and laying bare the king’s wickedness (2 Samuel 12). When Jesus sat down with the woman at the well, he engaged the woman in conversation, and didn’t ignore her, the depth of her sin, or her need for a savior (John 4). And when the prophet Jonah ignored God’s call to preach the truth to Nineveh, choosing instead to run away from God, he wound up cast into the sea and completely helpless.
In our culture today, we are surrounded by news, entertainment, and all manner of cultures and subcultures that are in need of Christ’s transformative power. Unfortunately, it’s all too easy for us to isolate ourselves from culture rather than doing the hard work of engaging it. Building walls between yourself and a certain aspect of culture won’t make that aspect of culture go away, and it won’t inspire anyone else to bring the gospel to it either. Of course, we are finite creatures, and no one person is capable of handling everything going on in the world. But that’s OK! God has gifted each individual with his or her own talents, and placed them into specific areas of culture where they can make a difference. It may be through a hobby, through work, or even through involvement and interaction with others on the internet! Our membership in culture provides an opportunity to engage rather than ignore, and as the body of Christ, we are also able to encourage our brothers and sisters who are engaged in some other part of culture than we normally are. As we live in culture and in relationship with others, it is good to remember that Christ’s kingdom is prevailing against the gates of hell (Matthew 16:18), and through our engagement with this reality we get to participate in Christ’s awesome work in the world. What a privilege that the King of the universe delights in our engagement in his work!
P - Prayerful Planning
As we shift from the recognition that we need to engage with the reality around us to the first stages of the planning process, we quickly find that the next step for us in ministry is prayer. This is something that can be seen in many places throughout the Bible, but particularly in the story of Nehemiah. Cupbearer to the king of Persia, Nehemiah sought the glory of the Lord by the reunification of his nation Israel with its native land. After deciding to engage the reality of Israel’s exile, Nehemiah prayed to the Lord. In Nehemiah 1:5-11, this man of God is praying a “big picture” prayer asking for the Lord to grant success to his upcoming opportunity to impact culture for God’s glory. Then in Nehemiah 2:4, he once again prays to God before he explains his desire to the king. This is paradigmatic behavior of the faithful children of God, seeking God’s wisdom and aid before taking action. Engaging reality is the first step, but the next step isn’t jumping with two feet into the great ocean of culture, family, work, and play in an effort to be the Lone Ranger who will change the world. Rather, the next step is humbly submitting to the creator God himself, in an effort to discern his will.
For some people, this step can be a very difficult one, especially in our results-driven society. We often feel an urge to see tangible progress quickly, but prayer and planning require patience and perseverance as we wait on God’s guidance, continuing to serve to the best of our ability in the meantime. Prayerful planning isn’t an easy thing to do, but it is essential to engaging in God’s redeeming work in culture, society, and the broken world we live in.
I - Intentional Participation
Now it sounds all very nice and grand, to live life in a manner that changes the world, but how is that even possible for any one person? What exactly does it look like to intentionally participate in God’s work, for the purpose of impacting culture for his glory?
You are a unique person, believe it or not, and God has made you the ONLY person in the history of the world who is you. You have unique gifts and talents, and a unique story that meshes with them, which have prepared you for exactly the good purposes God has called you to. Intentional participation in God’s big plan, then, requires you to take note of your personal history and take stock of your talents and gifts. Combining these two aspects of who you are gives a picture of how God made you incredibly unique and has equipped you for many good works.
To answer our question, then, intentional participation in God’s work looks like divinely equipped living. God has placed you in a position to impact a people group around you for his glory. This applies to you no matter who you are: parent, child, spouse, lawyer, school teacher, game designer, missionary, etc. The aspects of our lives that we live in, work in, play in, and have family in, are the immediate circles in which God has placed us to intentionally participate. Our lives are not accidents or coincidences; they are uniquely shaped stories created by God for us to play our part in his grand narrative.
For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.
C - Cultivating Relationship
There are three different types of relationships that you must cultivate when seeking to impact culture for Christ: Horizontal relationships, self-relationship, and vertical relationship.
1. Horizontal relationships
Our relationships with other people have a variety of names, depending on the context: in the business world they call it a “network”, in the church we call it a “family”, and in gaming culture we call it a “clan” or a “guild”. Regardless of what we call it, the reality that there are other people around us who have their own unique talents and stories, and their own place in God’s plan, is a hugely important aspect of our own working within God’s plan. King David had friends who were loyal to him and helped him fight off the Philistines; Daniel had friends who prayed for him and supported him; Jesus had disciples who played a vital role in his earthly ministry. In whatever area of culture you are called to live, work, and play, God has also called you into a social circle for the purpose of establishing, growing, and maintaining relationships. None of us are superheroes, and we need large coalitions and networks to effectively participate in God’s work of change in the world.
You have a relationship with yourself, and it’s very similar to your relationships with other people. What does self-relationship look like? Well, there are times when you are disappointed with yourself, periods when you might enjoy some alone time, moments when you hate yourself and others when you make yourself laugh. The way how you think about who you are is what we call self-relationship. This is actually incredibly important to impacting culture for God’s glory and living out our faith daily. If a person sees themselves as less important than God sees them, they are denying their identity and special uniqueness given by God; if, on the other hand, a person sees themselves as more important than God sees them, they are projecting themselves in place of God. Proper self-perception is vital. Yes, you are important to the King and his plans, because you are a child of God and Christ came to save you; at the same time, you yourself are not the King. Keeping both of those things in the forefront of our hearts and minds is an essential part of serving God.
3. Vertical relationship
The most important relationship to maintain and cultivate as a servant of the Most High, is the personal and intimate relationship between God and yourself. You can have the best networking skills, a good understanding of who God made you to be, and yet lack the fundamental relationship which you were created to have. At the beginning of human history we were made as relational beings, in perfect relationship with our creator. As we seek to live out our faith in our families, workplaces, and play spaces, it is essential to keep relationship with the Lord at the center of it. Jacob was once asked, “how does someone take head knowledge of their faith, and begin the process of owning that faith in daily life?” It’s a fantastic question, and the answer can be found nowhere else but in relationship with God himself. Relationships are hard; they require mercy, forgiveness, and apologies. Mistakes are made and old habits don’t quickly fade away. We are no longer in the state of perfect relationship with our Creator Lord, but for those in Christ, we are in a deep, intimate, saving relationship, in which we need to run to him daily with our troubles, hopes, dreams, desires, and fears.