I love video games.
One of my best friends from college did too. In fact, he didn’t just love video games – he loved all kinds of games. Board games. Video games. Tabletop games. Our local college town only had one tiny, cramped, sweaty-smelling shop that sold games and comic books, but he was there whenever the doors opened.
And what he noticed was that there were no Christians. Either believers weren’t out in the world reading comics and playing tabletop games, or they were doing so from the comfort and safety of home. In the gaming store, where college and high school guys lived on a steady stream of Mountain Dew and Cheetos, where they shared in-jokes and an elaborate vocabulary and an encyclopedic knowledge of gaming, he was the only believer hanging around.
It gave him an idea. And so, at the meeting of our Christian campus group – led by a local pastor and his wife – he announced it: “I want to start a gaming ministry.”
His idea, he claimed, was to have our group sponsor a game night at the school: one where anyone interested in a tabletop gaming session and some free food could show up and play all night long. Gaming, he knew, meant talking and bonding; what better place for believers to reach out to those guys he knew from the shop? It’d be easy to do – he had all the necessary games – and all the group would have to provide were a few bags of potato chips and some soda.
“That’s…interesting,” said the pastor’s wife. The pastor nodded. “We’ll definitely look into that,” she said. And I knew, from the tone of her voice, that she was most definitely not going to look into that, and never would. My friend’s face fell.
I’m sure the pastor and his wife had their reasons. They might not have properly understood what gaming was or that it was a thriving subculture or quite why it mattered; maybe they did know, and were terrified of the prospect of a Baptist-sponsored D&D night in the dorm room lobby. Maybe they simply had other priorities. What I do know is that my friend was crushed by their lack of response, and that he eventually ended up linking up with another church who very much backed the ministry, and his idea. It thrived.
I don’t always blame churches for being reticent about believers just up and starting ministries and activities willy-nilly. The church is not made of money, and some ministries can be expensive; some people are not qualified in the most fundamental ways to lead the ministries they say they want to lead; sometimes the church cannot support (with membership participation or other resources) yet another ministry. In certain cases, the church might feel uneasy sponsoring a ministry with which it is unfamiliar or over which it has little control.
But there are many, many people aching to start a ministry that requires little from their church beyond moral support and encouragement – yet when they reach out, they can’t seem to find it.
On the news recently I saw a story of a woman, once an addict, who had been sober for many years. Even after leaving her old lifestyle behind and becoming a Christian, she ached for the people she’d used to know – many of whom were homeless and helpless. She decided that God wanted her to do something for them, and eventually had the God-inspired idea to buy an RV. The idea was to outfit it with a washer and dryer, then drive it out to some of the areas where some of the local homeless and addicts congregated. For an hour or so, these people could have the chance to wash their clothes and get a hot meal – and more importantly, they’d have a brief time of feeling loved and served.
Though she only asked for prayer in her ministry, her church responded with great vigor. Some people in her church donated money to the cause. Some helped repair and renovate the RV after she purchased it. And others prayed as she requested, and continued to pray. Yet others have come to help serve in the RV. Currently she has a thriving ministry, and God is using this woman and her RV to reach a neglected segment of the community – all because of a church that was willing to encourage and open their hearts to what she wanted to do for God.
I’m not saying that the church needs to validate and support every single idea that rolls through the doors. Some ideas are unsound or badly-thought-out. Some are oppositional to the mission of the church. Some aren’t even full ideas, just half-formed hopes and dreams. In those cases it is certainly the responsibility of the church to be honest, to say that ministry doesn’t really fit with what we’re trying to accomplish or that probably needs more development or I’m not sure how that’s going to work.
But beyond that, we must not become dream-killers. If someone has a ministry idea and they ask for prayer, or even simple encouragement – why not offer that to them? Give freely to whoever asks of you. Sure, maybe it’s not your thing or you don’t really get it – but God might. And God has plans beyond what any of us can fathom.
Let people try. Yeah, they might fail. God teaches through failure too, you know. And He also uses it for His own purposes. As long as we’re open enough to let God work in all the ways He wants to work, there’s really no end to what we can accomplish.
Be an encourager, if you can.