Games Christians Play

No doubt, you too have played some of these games as you have met with other haloed saints.

 * Formerly on the editorial staff of Eternity Magazine. the author is now a minister's wife residing in Centereach, Long Island

ONCE upon a time there was a woman who wanted to go to church and teach a Sunday school class—only, her husband wouldn't let her. "If it weren't for you," she told him, "I could be a real Christian." "If it weren't for him," she told her Chris­tian friends, "I'd help out with Pioneer Girls."

Then one day, miracle of miracles, her husband became a Christian (in spite of her). And wanted her to work in the church. And she realized to her dismay that she didn't really want to spend all her time there, that the thought of getting up before everyone, to teach or sing, terrified her. So she found a new game to play: "I'd Love to, But . . ."

Dr. Eric Berne, the psychologist who in­troduced the theory of "games" in his best­seller, "Games People Play," describes a game as "a recurring set of transactions, often repetitious, superficially plausible, progressing to a well-defined, predictable outcome." In other words, a game is a kind of cover for the truth.

Everybody plays games; in this age of multiple and complex relationships it is im­possible not to, to some measure. The trou­ble is, Christians playing Church can seri­ously impair the work of Christ's mission. Many critics now say that the idea of a "church" is obsolete, that it is so tangled up in itself that it doesn't touch the world outside it at all. We'll not argue the point here.

Yet many of us want our church to be a real "fellowship of believers" as well as a citadel where people in a broken world can take refuge in the strength and comfort of Christ Himself. But to do so, it must as nearly as possible be game-free.

What, then, are some of the games Chris­tians play?

(1)  "Ain't It Awful." AIA is mostly played by women who gather after church or at social events to bemoan the evils now­adays of moral looseness, the worldliness of the young people and other church mem­bers and why Mrs. Johnson can't keep her children from misbehaving during church. They secretly believe that the golden days of real Christianity are gone forever and huddle together as the last true believers. By attacking everyone else, they are made secure within their own feelings and able to tackle any proposed "changes" in the church.

(2)  "I Didn't Get a Thing Out of It." Out of the Sunday sermon, the missionary speaker, the new Bible class. This game can be played several ways. "If I didn't get anything out of it, it's silly to spend the time going again tonight." Also, the person feels automatically absolved of responsibil­ity toward anything in the message; often the player is a self-styled Bible student and knows more anyway than the minister or teacher.

(3)  "Insult." Often played by a person who secretly wishes to leave a church or keep receiving reassurance of his worth. By irritable or unreasonable actions, or re­marks, he provokes someone else into "in­sulting" him. Then he can get the rest of the congregation to choose sides, or go run­ning to the minister. The minister can ei­ther smooth things out till the next time, or give him the excuse he has been looking for.

(4)  "Let's All Pray for Poor Mrs. Swen­son." This is usually a prayer meeting game, though it can also be played individ­ually as well. Someone gets up and an­nounces that Mr. Jones is out of work again or that the Brown's son is rebelling and starting to drink or that two unnamed ladies are fighting again—and would we please remember them in prayer. I don't think this game of pious gossip is quite what Jesus had in mind when He told us to pray for one another. A variation of this, that comes a little closer, is "True Confes­sions."

(5)      "I Don't Know Why They Don't Do Something About It." This is a slightly subtle . . . refusal to take any responsibil­ity. It sets up a ubiquitous "They" who should be doing something about the snow on the church steps, the noisy children in the vestibule before the service, the poor organization of the women's society. Since it's not "up to them" they can feel perfectly free to criticize it. When something con­structive is done, they can play "Well, No­body Asked Me About It."

(6)      "Prima Donna." Hopefully there is just one or two in a congregation who can say, in effect, "If you don't appreciate me I'll go somewhere else." And because there is often a shortage of capable personnel, be­cause the prima donna is usually one of the "best" people the church has, he or she most likely gets his way. A variation of this is "Coax Me."

(7)      "I Don't Mean to Criticize, But—" "Probably I Shouldn't Say This, But—" "It's None of My Business, But—" No comment necessary.

(8)      "Mary Martyr." Not confined to women, but they are a little better at it. This player will take all kinds of thankless jobs upon herself even if she is really too busy, seemingly without a word of com­plaint—except for her pale, drawn face, the circles under her eyes. Sooner or later the congregation will recognize her game and will either commiserate and continue to heap tasks on her, sometimes until she "col­lapses"; or, they will relieve her of her overload, which ruins everything.

(9)      "As I Was Saying to Billy (Graham) the Other Day . . ." This is a relatively harmless little game of name-dropping, ego-rewarding and somewhat impressive, ex­cept when it is used as a weapon of spiritual pride or to club other people with, e.g. When all the "in" people spend a week at Keswick or Winona Lake/ went to Whea­ton College,/ speak in tongues—and make everyone else in the congregation feel just a little beneath them because they haven't been to Mecca.

(10)   "I'm Doing the Best I Can." The Sunday school teacher who has been mum­bling the lesson in the manual for years and is approached tentatively by someone who suggests his taking the teacher train­ing course. "What's the matter with the way I teach? It may not be that great—but I'm doing the best I can." Laziness, plus the threatening aspects of something new, keep him bound. A variation of this game is "But This Is the Way We've Always Done It."

(11)   "I Was Only Trying to Help." This is the cover for most meddling, criticizing, and all other things done in a spirit devoid of love.

(12)   "I'd Love to, But—" The game mentioned in the opening. "I'd love to; help in the VBS/ go door-to-door canvass­ing/ attend the Wednesday prayer meeting but; I have little children/ my job keeps me too busy/ my invalid aunt lives with me. Most players though are able to find better stories than that. And half of them really believe them. A variation of this is "I Just Wish I Could Afford to Tithe."

(13)   "Be Quiet and Don't Bother Me, I've Got to Get to Church." The church is often used as a refuge—from family respon­sibilities and demands. It is much nicer to take "important" work and congenial peo­ple than squabbling kids and nagging spouses. And who can criticize a man or woman who is doing work for the church every night of the week? Who indeed?

(14)   "Being Honest." This can ,be made into a game, but it doesn't have to be. Be­ing honest is recognizing the subterfuges, the little vanities and "games" in ourselves —and discarding them. 'Being honest is helping the people around us by refusing to play their games with them. And when we are able to rid ourselves of these psychic crutches, attempt to live honestly as "Chris­tians," we will find that we have stopped merely "playing church."


Reprinted from Eternity Magazine. May. 1966. Used by permission.

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 * Formerly on the editorial staff of Eternity Magazine. the author is now a minister's wife residing in Centereach, Long Island

July 1967

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