The Hunger Games as Practical Youth Ministry

Yesterday my class concluded its weeklong look at The Hunger Games by asking the following question: “What do we do now?”  In other words, how can we practically integrate something like The Hunger Games into a local youth ministry?  To help address this question, I invited a friend of mine to join our conversation via Skype: Kevin Ireland.

Kevin is the Director of Youth and Young Adult Ministries at Kirkpatrick Memorial Presbyterian Church in Ringoes, NJ.  He’s been serving there for over seven years, and in that time has had a number of opportunities to bridge the gap between pop culture and the practice of adolescent ministry.

The following represents a small list of the main talking points of the day:

  • Kevin urged our class to strongly consider the “low hanging fruit” that our culture makes available.  Rather than reinventing the wheel, why not use the lingua franca already available to the teens under our care? My thought:  If this is where students are at, we’d be foolish to ignore it or pretend it didn’t exist.  Even if the material isn’t always 100% “kosher,” it can have great value.
  • One of the benefits, he said, about using analogies from or tying teachings to popular elements of culture is that students could often be reminded of what they’ve learned in their everyday worlds.  For instance, Kevin recently led a youth talk about the Kingdom of God as already/not yet by means of the candy “Now and Later.”  One of his students could never look at the candy the same way again!
  • Looking to the Scripture, Kevin mentioned how a main theme of The Hunger Games (i.e. being forced to maintain yourself and your vales in the midst of heavy societal pressure to do otherwise) has deep ties to the ideas in the book of Daniel.  Neither I nor my students had considered previously considered this, and were impressed by the insight.
  • Following from this, Kevin reaffirmed our discussion about Katniss presenting a helpful model of “third-way” resistance in the face of oppression: neither 1) violent resistance or 2) capitulation but rather 3) passive or non-violent resistance that silently and slowly subverted the whole system.
  • Kevin reminded us that the use of popular culture–even a book as exciting as The Hunger Games–is not something set in stone.  We should only hold onto it as long as it is useful.  There is always an “expiration date.”  If students aren’t talking about it anymore, we shouldn’t be either.  Youth ministries that still revolve around The Matrix, for instance, have clearly missed the point.
  • We were also reminded, yet again, that youth ministry is not about us.  Even though we might not like Harry Potter, Twilight, or The Hunger Games, we owe it to our students to know about them if that is the world in which they are living.

We concluded with a discussion of the practical use of such book/movie materials in youth ministry.  The top three points:

  1. Don’t dismiss parental concerns about the appropriateness of material, even if you completely disagree with them.  Know those parents ahead of time that might have concerns, and ask their opinions or invite them to view the material with you.  In the end, you may find that they’re OK with what you’re doing OR you might realize their words of caution have just saved you from making a big mistake.
  2. Trend young when it comes to age-appropriate material in film: PG with junior high, PG-13 with senior high, and R only with college-age or young adults.
  3. Book clubs, movie viewings, and the like are much more effective for high school students in the summer.

Thanks again to Kevin Ireland and my  “Foundations for Youth Ministry” class for some interesting conversation this week!  Let us know if you have any questions or comments…

P.S.  If you’d like more from the mind of Kevin Ireland, take a look at his online comic Ominous Knife.  Fun stuff!

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