Learning from a Bunch of Blockheads
Rev. Lee Yates
I love letting kids use paint. Too often, time limits us to markers or colored pencils, but whenever possible I like to see kids paint together. Sometimes we paint as part of a lesson. Sometimes we paint as a service project. We have painted lines for 4-square courts and painted a skeleton as a Halloween coat-drive prop. Besides it being a useful skill they can always use, there is a connection that comes from shared creativity.
Last Christmas I asked our Church’s youth to create their own version of the Nativity. We had looked at different versions from different cultures and explored what was (and was not) in each account in scripture. Now, it was their turn to create the scene as it lives in their own mind. To allow such a special vision to come to life, I offered paint. Not just water colors, but real acrylic paints! Unfortunately, I was the only one excited.
They looked at me, and glanced momentarily at the paint and brushes.
“Do we have to?”
“Can we just tell you about it?”
“I can’t draw.”
“That’s too messy!”
I was even more frustrated as they looked back to their phones and tablets, waiting on me to recover from my shock. Then I heard one say to another, “What version do you have on your phone?” I realized they were attempting to do something together, just not what I had planned. All but two of the group had Minecraft on their phone or tablet. Suddenly our creative endeavor got new life.
Shaking off the disappointment of unused paints, I asked the group if they could create a nativity scene on Minecraft. They quickly were aflutter with questions, wondering what parameters were involved.
“Is this 3-D or just pixel art?”
“Do you want a screen grab when we are done or will we explore them?”
“How much time can we have?”
“All people in my version look like melons. Is that ok?”
The two uninspired members of the group looked frustrated. They had their own technology, but no interest in becoming a “mine-crafter.” I offered a large box of Lego blocks and Lincoln Logs to see if it would appease them and was rewarded with huge smiles. They grabbed the blocks and started creating their own 3-D nativity sets. Others moved back and forth from working on their tablets to helping with the Lego build. Ideas were shared, questions were asked, and the story came to life.
Pictures were taken and quickly posted and shared as I put away the paints and brushes for another day.
Come Lent, the paint brushes stayed in the closet and we created our own modern images of the passion narrative. This time it was all Legos and everyone worked together.
Now, we have a new tradition and I’ve had my eyes opened to the potential of digital platforms. As technology continues to evolve and our worlds become more portable, the world of faith formation is offered countless new opportunities.
Online resources include labyrinths that can be walked by touch screen or with a mouse. Daily devotions can be accessed by phone or tablet. A downloaded Sunday School lesson can be shared by a family at halftime of a soccer game. Bible stories come alive through videos on YouTube and invite others to discuss or share their own creations.
While many are worried about youth sinking deeper into isolation with their technology, faith shapers must not ignore the potential for technology to bring us all together. There is still a time and place for paint, and maybe even a felt-board, there are growing opportunities for new media and mediums for telling the old, old story. We cannot ignore the new opportunities all around us, even if we are not sure it will work.
If you are not sure how or where to start applying technology in your faith formation programs, don’t worry. Just ask your youth. There will always be a bunch of young “block heads” to guide us to what comes next. We just have to have the courage to learn.
Rev. Lee Yates serves as Minister of Faith Formation with the Christian Church in Indiana and writes curriculum for Vibrant Faith Ministry and the United Methodist Church's Bible Lessons for Youth series. He also publishes his own Vacation Bible School resources on-line serves on the editorial board for Chalice Press's InsideOut Camp Resources. When Lee is not working, he likes to play soccer and basketball or spend time stealing new ideas from his family. Lee is married to Rev. Dr. Mandye Yates and they have two children, Ben and Callie, who are probably sitting in the youth room right now waiting for a Church meeting to end.