[Note: I posted this a while back, but thought it'd be appropriate to post again in light of our youth retreat this weekend.]
In case you’ve never read my bio under our ‘Who We Are’ tab, I am a youth pastor at Pear Orchard Presbyterian Church. One defining characteristic of the ministry I have attempted to establish is solid teaching/doctrine/theology being primary to, more fun. I know these students need the saving power of the gospel, not whip cream on their face. I know the Word of God is the only thing that can change their heart, not more entertainment that makes the church ‘fun’.
That being said, we still have a lot of fun in this youth group. We still have time for fun and games, but we don’t sacrifice the teaching of the gospel to do so. And, one of those common events we regularly do as a youth group is hosting a movie night.
Whether we go to the movie theater or rent a movie off Apple TV and watch it in the youth room, a night like this fits straight into our philosophy of ministry. A movie night provides a unique context for fellowship that can deepen relationships with students, the church, the staff, and, ultimately, Jesus Christ. We know God uses, seemingly, fun events to accomplish eternal purposes.
The biggest difficulty with youth movie nights? Picking a movie.
G-rated is always the safe way to go, because those films were created pre-fall and have been preserved for moments with the family. However, we know G-rated doesn’t fly too well for teens. If you announce a youth movie night and state that the movie is rated ‘G’ you can go ahead and plan on ordering one pizza (medium size/thin crust), because it’s going to be a small turnout.
On the other hand, you announce that you’re hosting a movie night with an R-rated film and the room is probably going to be just as empty. Parents won’t allow their teens to watch an R-rated film, your phone will be ringing off the hook with concern, and the Session will probably be scheduling a meeting with you soon.
That leaves you with three choices: PG, PG-13, or canceling the movie night. The thing about PG movies is that most of them are cartoons. But, if you announce you are watching a cartoon to the youth group, most students won’t come to that either. Especially if they’re junior high. They typically aren’t secure enough to admit that they like cartoons. Somewhere in high school, you realize that you can like cartoons again, but in junior high you’re fighting to be older and a cartoon doesn’t seem to support that. Therefore, PG is pretty much out because that leaves you with only cartoons or cheesy films that no one typically watches (Pixar is an exception here).
Which brings us to PG-13. These are appealing to teens, because they typically have enough sin in them to entice their rebellious heart, however, the parents are on alert. If it’s an action movie you typically have to worry about violence. If it’s a comedy you pretty much have to worry about everything you do in an R-rated movie, the only exception is the content is now implied. If it’s a rom-com, you just have to worry about idolatrous thoughts of love and marriage being fed to your teens.
Therefore, it’s easy to see that it is almost impossible to pick a movie for a youth group. What the parents like the students hate, and what the students like the parents hate. It’s a challenge. However, here are some thoughts for parents, teenagers, and youth workers:
- We live in a sinful world, so our movies won’t be sinless.
- Try to not place too much emphasis on the movies’ rating (I’ve written a lot on that here.)
- Consider the manner in which the content is being communicated.
- Take time to communicate which film is being viewed and why.
- Train students to think during the film and not just consume it.
- See film as a form of general revelation [Ps. 19; Rom. 1].
- Know that corruption comes from within [Mark 7:14-23].
- See the fellowship that is fostered through a movie night.
- See the church as a safe place to view questionable content and discuss it.
- See the Creator behind the creation and thank him for the gift of film.