5/31/12

Gaming, Internet, Pornography, and Youth Ministry: The Need for the New

Parents: Do you monitor every single moment of your student's internet activity? If you're like most parents, you probably monitor some, but not all. Also, how much time do your students spend playing games?

Students: Would you show your mom (or even your grandma) every single website you visited this last week? Have you ever played video games or played on your phone or surfed Facebook/Twitter until you felt Dorito'ed out (you know, like you've eaten a whole bag of Dorito's just because you were bored but you're still a little hungry but you're tired of Dorito's)?

Youth Workers: If you had to pick out names of people in youth group, which ones would you guess have viewed pornography in the previous week? Statistically, somebody (probably several somebodies) has viewed it, and the numbers of girls who have viewed it are climbing. Have you ever felt like your youth ministry cannot be the least bit boring, because you might lose too many youth? Ever started drooling as you dreamed of a huge setup of video games over in the corner of the youth room?

Doug Fields, a youth ministry veteran, interviewed last year Craig Gross, who founded x3church.com, a website dedicated to ministering to the spiritual needs of those who produce porn, those who star in porn, and those who consume (and are consumed by) porn. Read the interview here.

Click here for free x3church accountability software.
Craig commented on how much devastation porn brings to families and individuals -- their jobs, their marriages, their relationships, and their emotional and spiritual well-being. I applaud their ministry's efforts to reach out to help, and their free software program that tracks a user's internet activity and sends accountability report emails to their accountability partners is one of Christendom's best tools by far. I personally use it to stay pure in my internet activity.

But Psychologist Philip Zimbardo, in a TED talk, suggests that the current "demise of guys" (scoring lower than girls in many ways, especially in education) is linked to what he calls "arousal addiction": that is, an addiction to the new, not merely an addiction to more. He points to the excessive internet usage and excessive gaming and consumption of pornography among guys as a large part of the issue.

Zimbardo offers alarm without solutions, and is not interested in these implications for the church. But what an intriguing concept, and one that makes sense! This need for new (conquering new levels in games, consuming new levels of pornography) leads to difficulty with the normal.

Our young men need the skills to live in the routine and the normal. The speed of the world around them will not develop in them the skills necessary to find contentment and fulfillment in long-term relationships, in excelling in the same job for years, and in a long-term commitment to Christ.

God advises us through Paul's letter to Thessalonica that the "boring" and "routine" are in fact a goal as believers:
For you yourselves know how you ought to imitate us, because we were not idle when we were with you, nor did we eat anyone's bread without paying for it, but with toil and labor we worked night and day, that we might not be a burden to any of you. It was not because we do not have that right, but to give you in ourselves an example to imitate. For even when we were with you, we would give you this command: "If anyone is not willing to work, let him not eat." For we hear that some among you walk in idleness, not busy at work, but busybodies. Now such persons we command and encourage in the Lord Jesus Christ to do their work quietly and to earn their own living. As for you, brothers, do not grow weary in doing good. (2 Thessalonians 3:7-13)
In the world of youth ministry, the new is exciting and the old (even a few short months old) is boring. But our students NEED "boring" skills. We need to "not grow weary in doing good." Now I'm not necessarily against gaming and the internet. But too much of any good thing is a bad thing. I am against ALL pornography for its sinfulness and for its devastation on lives and on our society. But all of these things collectively will also will lead to a continuing need for the new. This need can easily and subtly become an addiction.

Questions for further reflection:

Parents / Students / Youth Workers:
How many hours a week does a student spend on a game (Xbox, PS3, Nintendo DS, PSP, Wii, or their favorite iPhone/iPad app)? Is it too much?

Does a student have chores and/or routines in their house?

How many students' internet activity is monitored? How many hours per week are they on the internet (iPad, computer, phone)? Is it too much?

In youth ministry, how can we balance the "boring" with the exciting, in such a way as to encourage a "long obedience in the same direction" (Eugene Peterson)?

Are students growing in the "boring" task of slowly following Christ day after day after day?