Even though I did not consider myself a Christian and follower of Christ until I was almost nineteen, I grew up in the church. Sunday school, youth group, pitch-ins, and junior church were the back drops of my adolescence. For better or worse the United Methodist Church has a lot of responsibility for my upbringing. I think it is mostly for better, but one of the deficiencies of growing up in the church is that I naturally cannot understand the perspective of non-Christians or the un-churched. The language and culture of church is the water I have always same in and the air I breathe. It informed and shaped my reality. When it comes to discussing matters of faith and spirituality, this gives me an automatic disconnect in trying to relate to people who did not grow up in a church. I had an experience last week that helps me better understand that different perspective. I also think this experience can help me and other long time Christians better relate to their non-Christian friends.
Last week I attended Gen Con. This gaming convention in Indianapolis bills itself as the best four days in gaming. If you like games, then there is something there for you. I live locally so I drove into town every morning. I also transported some college students from my town each day. I was going to mostly play board games and roleplaying games, but these college students were mostly going to play League of Legends. League of Legends is a multiplayer video game that requires a high level of strategy, quick reflexes, and a deep knowledge about how the game mechanisms interlock together. For many people League of Legends is a lifestyle game. Like commitment to a faith, League of Legends requires a lot of personal investment, has a culture of its own, and the deeper the level of commitment the higher the level of personal satisfaction. As I listened to them talk, I found myself the outsider. I was interested in what was going on, but I did not have the insider knowledge to really understand. While not quite the same, I began to get an idea what it might be like to be a non-Christian approaching the Christian faith. I began to see more similarities between this game and the faith experience.
Like church, League of Legends is almost impenetrable to someone who is outside of it. I play a lot of games, but it was really hard to follow their conversation. They would mention terms like their team’s ADC. They would talk about who would farm and who would jungle. In church we have a lot of words and terms that are not understood. Grace, mercy, and hope are key concepts to experiencing the Christian faith. However, my understanding of the world jungle is different from that of a League player. In the same way, the Christian understanding of hope, specifically of the hope found in Christ, might be different than the understanding outside of the church.
These college students modeled for me the way to bridge this language gap. They started explaining what they were saying for my benefit. They did not belittle me, they just gave a quick definition of what the ADC was before telling me more about the game they played. Even though I did not share their experience, they began including me in it. I think this is a powerful model for sharing our faith.
Another similarity I noticed between League of Legends and Christianity has to do with how it is perceived from the outside. I have never played League of Legends, and I only knew the most basic details of how the game is played. However, what I did know about the game is that the community around the game has a reputation of being mean-spirited and toxic. When I mentioned this to the guys I was transporting, they all laughed a bit nervously and a bit knowingly. Unfortunately, to outsiders Christianity has a bit of a reputation of being mean-spirited and toxic. This is not something we can just laugh off, but if that reputation is going to be changed it has to be named and actively resisted.
Finally, it was exciting to listen to these college students tell their stories about League of Legends. Even though I do not really play games on the PC, my curiosity was piqued. However, the thought of playing a high level game like League of Legends is still a bit daunting. There is no way I am going to just jump in. If one of these college students even gave me some sort of promo code to get better access, I would still be hesitant. This is the final similarity I noticed. The only way I would ever venture into a complex environment like League of Legends is if players I already knew and trusted walked along side me and took the time to teach me how to play. In the same way the most effective way that a non-Christian is going to come to know the saving love of Jesus Christ is if someone they know and trust walks alongside them and models that love regularly. Too often in churches we just start a program or at best invite someone and consider our job done. We do not spend enough time investing in them and caring about their wellbeing. I sincerely believe if we did that more, then more churches would have more first time professions of faith.
I never thought that League of Legends would be a teaching point for me, but as I traveled back and forth to Gen Con I found myself learning quite a bit. I still do not understand how one jungles, but I do have a broader perspective than I did at first.