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Should youth groups play Halo?

Halo debateBy now most of you have seen the the New York Times article, Thou Shalt Not Kill, Except in a Popular Video Game at Church. I was actually contacted by the author for an interview on the subject, but none of my content was used in the article. Oh well. I’ve received several emails about it, so I thought I’d address it here for everyone, answering the various questions people have asked me privately.

First of all, please avoid making judgments about ministries who use video games like Halo as a part of their ministry. I know it’s easy to jump to conclusions, especially if it’s your first impression of them, but try not to judge them or anyone else too harshly based on their approach to this issue. In regards to Dare 2 Share’s recent Bible study lesson on Halo 3, I know Greg Stier and can vouch for his personal integrity as well as that of his ministry. They seek to reach kids for Christ, just like the rest of us, and are doing a fantastic job of reaching them and equipping the rest of us to do the same. Just because they write a Bible lesson about Halo 3 doesn’t make them kin with the enemy!

In my mind, this is a very gray issue. It’s the same issue that arose back when The Matrix hit theaters. Christians raved about the clear gospel message in it (which I disagree with, by the way) and wanted to use it as a ministry tool even though it was rated R. The argument went two ways. 1) “The kids are going to see it anyway, so let’s watch it with them and help them process what they’re seeing.” OR 2) “Even if they see it anyway, that doesn’t mean we should support it or promote it at church.” Both approaches have merit and an element of truth.

The video game situation now is no different. Can God redeem something that’s worldly and use it for His glory? Absolutely. Every believer is living proof of that. Does that mean that we should intentionally seek out worldly things and use them as tools? Probably not. But if the best way of connecting with an unbeliever is to play Halo, should you do it? In other words, does the end justify the means? That’s an area of personal conviction, not a black and white standard. Jesus went to sinners and participated in their parties and drank wine, but he did so as the person who was the influence, not the one being influenced. I trust this is true of youth groups who use Halo. But conversely, scripture tells us to refrain from the very appearance of evil (1 Thess. 5:22).

Whatever a youth group decides, though, let’s be consistent about it. If a group bans Halo but goes on paintball trips or even plays laser tag, that sounds like a double standard to me. Maybe some can justify a difference, but then again you come back to, “Where’s the line?” And that’s my point: the line is gray.

Personally, I’m not sure where I stand on this issue right now. In the past I’ve used Halo 1 and 2 as a ministry tool and have gained tremendous opportunities through it. At my current church, I’ve let youth play it at my house if their parents are OK with it, but if even one kid’s parent isn’t OK with it, then no one plays. Is that the right decision? I’m not sure. There’s certainly a lot of positives to it that I won’t bother to list because that’s really not the issue. If it’s sin and communicates a wrong message to our kids, it doesn’t matter how many positive excuses can be made.

No matter what happens, though, please don’t recommend Christian video games as a substitute. They’re so lame and poorly done that Christians and non-Christians alike laugh at it and loose all respect for Christian material. (The “Left Behind” video game of converting people? DDR to worship music? Please stop.) Maybe one day they’ll be worth recommending, but not yet. Fortunately, Christian music just started reaching par within the last couple years.

I don’t know if this helps or not. It’s a great issue to discuss, but let’s discuss it in love and graciousness toward each other. If you think it’s black and white, that’s great for you! Flaming someone who has a different viewpoint doesn’t help anyone. I appreciate your passion, but harsh criticism and unfounded assumptions don’t help people think through the issue, it just turns them off to your message. Please and thank you.

[tags]Halo 3, Dare 2 Share, Greg Stier, New York Times, youth group[/tags]


Posted on October 9, 2007

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  • Jerry Schmoyer

    One way to see where you stand on a gray area is to ask yourself, “Would Jesus do this.” answers will vary, of course, but your honest answer to that question can go a long way to showing how you feel about the issue. Still, there are lots of things Jesus felt OK doing but didn’t always do our of consideration of how it would affect others. So we can adapt the question to “What would Jesus do if He were me in this situation?” Then we do it.

  • Tim

    @ Dad: Yeah, but the WWJD? thing is so subjective. It might be helpful in determining one’s own personal conviction in the matter, though.

  • Well thought out article. I would add that you must evaluate the audience you are ministering to in making a wisdom decision and that does not show a double standard at all. What is right for a H.S. student or College Student might not be right for a M.S. student. Our ministry carries that rule that we will not have Rated M games at any officially sponsored event. (Halo is rated M) With that said, we have in the past allowed older small groups to play the game if all of the parents of the students are ok with it.

    As for the double standard of playing HALO and paintball… I think that is a big stretch. The reason to use extreme caution on playing Halo is it is a Rated M game that carries content that would be unacceptable to many parents… to compare that with a friendly game of paintball and say it is a double standard is not fair in my opinion.

    And as for the Christian Video games, our students LOVE “dance Praise” the Christian DDR. it is very well done and has some of the most current Christian artists.

    Again, good article and very balanced opinion.

  • Joe

    This is a very tough argument. I’ve faced a similar situation in my youth group. We bought the game Guitar Hero 2 and it was a controversy in our church. I struggled with buying it at first then convinced myself that it was a good outreach. All the teenagers loved and a lot of adults (including myself). But God convicted me one day…After service one night, I was meeting the parents of a visiting teenager. They were talking about how they’ve been looking for a church that loved God and taught the Word; they were very impressed with our church. Next thing I know, I here “Sweet Cherry Pie” coming out of the game room. And my spirit yelled, ‘OUCH!’ What kind of witness is that? After this God and I had a long talk about the youth ministry, and now I’m taking most of the game systems out of our youth ministry. Not that all video games are bad, but most of them do not promote fellowship and interaction among the teenagers. The main goal in youth ministry, in my opinion, should be about building relationships- with God and with other Christians. –That’s my 2 cents worth.

  • Question? Isn’t it partially our job to find a way to connect youth to ministry? I struggle with this…because, in its primative nature youth wont come unless its something they can enjoy and connect with, but where do we draw the line between what is “good” or “bad” If the argument is that kids don’t connect to one another…. try playing. The conversation that ensues after is just as cool somtimes as any discussion you could have in other contexts.

    This is an intersting debate because on one hand I want kids to be elated about coming to church to have fun and connect to God. But, the flip side is that that cannot and shouldn’t be the only reason they come.

    I would love to hear more thoughts!

  • Very excellent post. Well balanced.

    We currently have Guitar Hero and DDR at the youth ministry I’m pastor of. We’ll probably be adding the original Halo to that come January. I’ve used Halo in the past to great effect in ministry, though I do sometimes go back and revisit why I’ve used it and how wise it is.

    Although I’m not sure that Halo and Paintball can be correlated (not least of which because, as some have already mentioned, Halo is rated “M” – though, I’ve yet, in playing through the first Halo, found a reason for the M rating (considering plenty of other FPS games are rated T)…maybe I’m just not remembering correctly though), it is important to remember to be consistent.

    I’d also say that I’ve found games like Guitar Hero tend to decrease discussion and community whereas games like Halo, DDR or Worms tend to increase discussion among the students. I think it’s partially because of the type of game, partially because some games are fun to observe and others aren’t, and partially because when you can have four plays on a game (as opposed to two) there is natural conversation that ensues.

  • Mike

    Great post. I especially appreciate your clarifying the issue rather than making one side right and the other wrong.

    I work with Junior Highers exclusively, and I’ve had to make a blanket descicion regarding M games. We no longer allow them at church functions and I ask small group leaders to not bring them out if the kids are in their house. Like you said in the article, if one kid can’t play then no one plays.

    At the same time we’ve found huge success with Wii Sports and with Super Smash Bros. These games have draqwn boys and girls and allow for the kids to compete with the adults in our ministry. I think video games ca serve as a wonderful tool in ministry, and where you draw the line is up to you.

  • It is nice to see this addressed. I have not made an opinion as of yet. But I will pose a question, with “Christian Music” as an example. What is the intent of said music? Is it to: praise, honor and worship God the creator; tell your life struggles; create fellowship; outreach to the world? I agree that most “Christian” content is designed for the churched, and anyone who is outside the “club” finds it hokey, but when one can not find clear difference between world and church, are we really effective? Ultimately the question is this: Does it point to God? Does it increase the kingdom? Or is it just a sales pitch for the next best thing? As of now, I sit here on the fence. I am just not sure. Halo 3 is just one factor in a greater concept.

  • The funny thing for me about this whole argument is that I have a line, and it is above Halo but below Gears of War. Gears is such a more violent game in multi-player that I don’t think I could justify it if a senior adult walked in on us playing it. But Halo doesn’t even come close. You are shooting at people, but it is clearly a video game world.

    Somewhere too, we have to have a discussion about how to educate teenagers to make appropriate decisions about what forms of entertainment they enjoy. A little wisdom can go a long way for adults and for teenagers. I think it is more beneficial to discuss how we should evaluate entertainment than simply labeling some of it as bad.

    Of course then you can get into a whole “cause my brother to stumble” argument and whether or not I feel it is appropriate should I use my freedom so much that it hurts you. But then we are off on a whole other debate.

  • Tim,

    Great article! I have been having the same thoughts and would probably agree down the line with you. We have 13 guys come every Thursday to play Halo3. They all play at home and love coming to play with their friends. Only two of these guys go to church at all.

    One thing I think should be said about the Halo3/paintball issue. It is true that all the Halo games are M rated, although, it isn’t exactly clear to many why. There are many games out there that are more violent and use way more profanity or sexual connotation (Splinter Cell, Grand Theft Auto). We don’t play the campaign at our church. There are things in it that I just don’t want in our church. Other than that, I don’t think there is a difference between Halo and paintball or lasertag. Especially if you turn the blood off.

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  • Tim I agree wholeheartedly. I love the game. Obviously right. Most of my high school guys play it and play it with me at home. I have the same standard. If their parents say they can I let them play….AFTER a phone call from the parents telling me it’s alright. Otherwise no one plays while they are there. I would kill (pun intended) to use it somehow in our student ministry. I’m thinking like a large scale local tournament as an outreach. WE used to run a paint ball course and own our own equipment so it may be easier for us to use it. Still I haven’t pushed the issue becuase it is such a hot-button topic in families. It seems to me that paint ball is more realistic since it’s a real life simulation where a video game isn’t. Heck in most places paint ball markers are considered firearms and you have to be 18 or above to buy them.

    So you’re right. Where is the line? It may vary for each independent group.

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  • The game is “M” in campaign and multi-player (xbox live) mode only. Granted, there is blood and gore in multi-player mode, but the only bad language there comes from those using it. I too see the double standard in “no” to halo, but “yes” to paintball.

    Our ministry team is going on retreat this weekend, and this has ow made it to the topic list. Thanks for being on the ball, Tim!

  • This does bring up an interesting discussion that goes a lot further than Halo alone. I struggle with this in regards to Myspace. Do I take a site that is a potential minefield for young men and condone it by having a youth group website? I have chosen to do that for now, because it provides an opportunity to connect with my students, but it’s been difficult. We do a monthly hangout with laser tag and video games, but we’ve limited the games to “T” ratings. We end up playing 007 shooter games instead of Halo, and I can’t really tell the difference.

    All that said we don’t need to become exactly like the world to win it for Jesus.

    -Jeff-

  • Good thought Jeff.
    Now this really makes me struggle because it becomes an issue about where does that line really get drawn. What becomes the lesser of two evils.

    I really am wondering now about what we do..because we do have paintball and video game nights. I allow these things simply because they draw students to the church that we don’t usually see.

    But, our paintball outings don’t happen without a devotion and our video game nights don’t happen without a time of prayer and conversation. Does this justify it??? Probably not… But I wonder if that in other peoples minds creates a positive spin on an otherwise “negative” concept.

    I am at a loss for how I feel on this now…ahhhh… thanks for the input..it will help wage this battle.

  • Greg

    Thanks for the great article Tim! I’ve never played Halo 3 but I definitely plan on bringing it up with the gamers in my sphere of influence and try to use it to share the gospel!!!

  • Aaron

    Why is this an issue? Seriously? I read the NY Times article, and I can understand for those who take the view that all killing is wrong – the people who conscientiously object to going to war, Quakers, real pacifists. Most of us aren’t that. Most Christians aren’t that.

    Are we just panicking because a newspaper had a story? Is the quandry because the game is rated M? Just like I would hope (but know better) kids’ parents would do, I will approve or not approve a game based on the content, not just a blanket label. The Passion of the Christ was rated R for violence, after all.

    To me, there simply is no gray area – the world is doing something fun and harmless, they’d love to do it with Christians, even come to the church if it gives them a chance to play with the guys – why do we shrink away from a chance to build relationships with the world, or even with our Halo-loving Christian boys? I even tend a bit toward legalism – have never had a drink in my life, for example – but I can’t see at all where the issue is with the multiplayer mode of Halo 3. It certainly doesn’t even match CSI (which I don’t watch) for violent content. I’ll stop being long-winded, but can someone explain it to me?

  • “Aaron
    Why is this an issue? … but can someone explain it to me?”

    Aaron… Wait till you have your first parent or elder corner you for a poor wisdom decision and you will know what the issue is!

    All things are lawful, but not all things are profitable. All things are lawful, but not all things edify. 2 Cor. 10:23

    1Cr 8:9 But take care that this liberty of yours does not somehow become a stumbling block to the weak.
    1Cr 8:10 For if someone sees you, who have knowledge, dining in an idol’s temple, will not his conscience, if he is weak, be strengthened to eat things sacrificed to idols?
    1Cr 8:11 For through your knowledge he who is weak is ruined, the brother for whose sake Christ died.
    1Cr 8:12 And so, by sinning against the brethren and wounding their conscience when it is weak, you sin against Christ.
    1Cr 8:13 Therefore, if food causes my brother to stumble, I will never eat meat again, so that I will not cause my brother to stumble.

    Using something like a Rated M game in a youth group setting is bound to come back at you sometime… Guaranteed! It is not a sin issue, it is a wisdom issue and deciding what hills you want to die on or be killed over :)

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  • Joe

    Well said, Phil.

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  • Aaron

    I just don’t see it. I don’t see how Halo 3 is going to cause someone to stumble. Well, here’s a possibility – someone might assume, because you don’t explain your decision, that all M-rated games are ok. That would be a problem. And, you might want to err on the safe side, depending on what that powerful elder thinks, or how long you’ve been on the job, etc., but aside from circumstances like that, if you know that having Halo 3 lan parties could bring kids to your church, start some relationships, and possibly be the first step in them coming to Christ, why not have a Halo night once a month? Worst case scenario, they never come to a service or youth meeting, but they’ve learned the church is not all about judgment and hatred (especially of their favorite hobby).

    Some Christians (they usually seem to be the more theologically liberal ones, or from Europe, or maybe just from the blue states?) think that violence is categorically a bad thing, and that we can’t expose our children to it. If your parents or elders teach that, walk them through the process, with those 1 Corinthians verses, of learning how to decide unclear issues. Take them through Galatians 5, or Colossians 2, and talk about the freedom we have in Christ and why it’s wrong to impose your gray-area convictions on someone else. Ask them if they want to ban the history books of the O.T., or world history, which is far more violent than Halo 3.

    If we’re going to talk about violence, just like the Master Chief, we need to aim for and hit the right targets. Many new movies are coming out that amount, quite simply, to murder-porn. Not anything sexual, perhaps (depending on the movie), but killing just for the sake of killing in new, gross, and painful ways. We need to be denouncing things like that, that scar your sense of compassion and pity for man made in God’s image. Halo 3 doesn’t do that, it’s good wholesome fun. Let’s teach people *what* makes violence wrong, rather than just telling them they must never ever see it.

  • Great article Tim,
    Fab wisdom really stressing the Biblical principle that while all things are permissable not all are beneficial.
    We do use various games consoles in our YM, I gotta say I was disappointed at the use of occultic imagery in the guitar hero 2 game for the xbox 360. The kids (both guys and girls) love to play it though, but we make a point of choosing options that avoid questionable imagery.
    By far the most effective console (as a relationship building tool) is the Wii, its fun, interactive and a great catalyst for connecting with kids, especially those who are not into the gaming scene.
    I’ve not played Halo 3 (I loved the Dare to Share Bible study on it btw) yet, we tend to not have as much time devoted to long time game play, but rather use shorter games (usually sports based or games like guitar hero, singstar or another really fun game Buzz)

  • I hold the belief that Women should primarily minister to girls and Men primarily minister to boys. So I don’t usually get into deep conversations with the guys in our youth group or have many things to bond over, so I enjoy playing Halo with the guys, it’s something safe I feel I can do to earn a right into their world.

  • Adam

    We had a retreat where I was planning to play Halo, but did have a parent call me out on it before the retreat. Her reasoning was that her son had made a personal choice to not play the game because of the effects it was having on him. She was wondering why he was being tempted with it at church.
    So I decided to not allow shooting games and instead did the safe games like DDR and Wii. It ended up being a whole lot better, and our students look forward to Wii and whole lot more than Halo.

  • Hi guys, first of all………..This is coming from lots of love from my heart to all of yours….John 15:9,12,17 that should be held for the end of this comment, but i feel the need to say where I am speaking from first. Speak the truth in love the Word says. Be Holy in all manner of conversation/conduct says the Lord, Be Holy for I am Holy says the Lord. That doesnt mean God did not make us to laugh & have fun. He made this world for us to enjoy also. Sport & play should never be related to killing & its that simple!!!! Lets keep the simplicity of Christ Jesus in the body of Christ. Let us continue to beable to play games & sports that exclude killing. We can still have fun & thats clean fun that protects a living consience alive to Christ & dead to this world!!!!

  • John

    Wow there's an advertisement for evony on here.

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