What I’ve Learned About the Church From Board Games

UnknownMy friend Jake hooked me into board games all the way. We’d always played games growing up. I can remember snow days when I laid out all the games we owned and plowed through them. Risk was the college go to game. We’d play almost every night of Finals each semester. Ryan bought sodas and we’d buy them from him for a quarter apiece. We’d yell and argue and roll and take over the world.

I don’t remember playing in seminary, but it wasn’t too long after I started at RUF at OU, that Jake convinced me to start learning new games. New as in complicated. As in European. As in a ton of rules. With a million wooden pieces and chits and cards and – I was hooked.

For awhile there we played all the time. I played a nightly Dominion game with my kids. We’d play weekly Puerto Rico games with my RUF leadership team. We had at least one Board Game night each semester.

And Jake started taking me to the Board Game Geek Convention each year in Dallas. I think I was his excuse to go the first time, and we’ve made it a tradition ever since. There are over 1000 people who meet up to play games all week. These happen all over the US (and world), so this is only one of them. I know – it sounds super nerdy. Maybe it is. Okay, it is. But so what?

  • Winning and losing – Both are a part of every game. You cannot expect to always win, and if you do nobody likes you. It’s better to plan on some losing and enjoy the experience. There is a lot of losing going on in the church. You’ve got to show up and lose sometimes.
  • Forgiveness – You may say something you regret in the heat of the moment. You may get angry or crazy when you get shafted each turn. So that will provide you with ample opportunities to both give and receive forgiveness and grace. You’ll have to say you’re sorry. You’ll have to laugh later.
  • Meeting people – I’ve made friends from across the country by attending this conference. Any shared experience over a common interest forms friendships. We make friendships by showing up repeatedly at the common table to interact with each other. That’s how we get to know each other.
  • Rules for relationships- Every game has a set of rules. We can debate the rules or even if there should be rules at all. The designer includes them and the game is only fun if we play by the rules. This is how we determine the way we interact and what’s just, legal, fair and fun.
  • Different interests – Games can fall into categories. There are worker placement games and machine building games, dexterity party games, American games, Czech games, tile games and area control games. We start to develop preferences to help us sort out what we like and don’t like. That’s fine, as long as you’re willing to try something new, teach someone something you like and remember that we don’t all have to agree on what is best. My friend Paul loves to pull out old games no one has heard of and teach them to someone new. I always try to find him to play a few just like that. They’re great and it also makes him happy.
  • Uniqueness – While there are categories for games, every game is unique. It’s amazing to see all the games (hundreds and hundreds) produced every year (here’s a link for a ranked list). Every one of them has a different theme, different rules, different art. There are games for just about anything you can think of. Some of them are duds and some of them are fantastic. But there certainly is something for everyone, and you can guess someone’s working on whatever you can think of that you haven’t seen yet. This year I played games about: A bloody inn, spies, Japanese warriors, new super heroes getting old super heroes’ stuff after they’ve died, and energy power plants). There are different interests in the church and different interesting churches. Not everything has to be the same for everyone.
  • Passion – People are fired up about playing games. You can make fun of it, but why? They’re into it. They love games and invest time and money into it, and I can think of so many worse things to care about. It’s okay to weirdly love the church, its theology, its liturgy.
  • Community – You get to know someone. You have a reason to talk to each other. We were playing a new game called Codenames that involved giving clues. I was matched against someone I didn’t know and we were working together as a group to solve the puzzle. Some of the clues had words on them like Rome, Grace, and Temple. The man’s wife told the group that her husband grew up an athiest and outside of the group so he didn’t know many religious terms so not to guess that way. I looked at him. He looked at me. He shrugged his shoulders and good-naturedly said, “I didn’t know it was going to get so personal!” We laughed together. Focusing on the game was a context to learn about each other in a non-threatening way. I’ve seen moments like that over and over in work projects, service days and unexpected conversations.

Board games and conferences don’t have Jesus, so in that respect they’re not the church at all.

Doug in library