5 ways that Grand Theft Auto 5 is making youth ministry easier

A few weeks ago Grand Theft Auto 5 landed on multiple platforms in the gaming community. Well, every community. In its first 3 days of sales, Rockstar Games allegedly hit 1.5 billion dollars in sales. Billlllion. That’s a good open. For a GDP. GTA5 represents a massive leap forward in gameplay. It’s incredible. Really. It’s also one of the most profane, soulless things you might encounter. There appears to have been some sort of penalty system in play for the script writers where they lost points for using regular words in between curses.

I bought it, of course. When I was a wee lad of 20-something without kids of my own, I was waaaayyy into whatever Tony Hawk game was out and GTA San Andreas. I’d while away the hours murdering and building my street cred, etc. Important things. So this was a sort of homecoming. Back to the hard streets. The game really is amazing. And awful. But amazing.

So one night at youth we’re talking about what being passionate looks like. Among the answers we found things like “talk about it all the time,” “practices it,” “invests in it,” etc. At some point gaming was mentioned as a passion. Which lead to a discussion of video games. …to GTA 5, and how 90% of our middle school boys had the game at home.


I try to not be one of those this generation/kids these days/when I was your age people, even after recently flipping over the guardrail at the brink of middle age. I wasn’t even particularly surprised that they had/were enjoying the game. What’s better than careening around a city in a stolen sports car when you’re not old enough to drive in real life? Not much.

Where my brain ran out of wrap-itself-around was that their parents were totally down with them having the game. What the hell? How is that a thing? It’s not a media mystery that the game is violent, vulgar, and designed to cross every line of appropriateness for people that bother with such lines. I was fascinated. “Do your parents know what goes on in the game?” I asked. “Yeah,” they more or less agreed. “We just stay away from the bad parts of the game.”

Oh, it’s a discipleship tool.iStock_000016069625XSmall

I went home with my mind spinning a bit. For months we’ve been talking about the struggle our families face in presenting a Christian worldview to their kids at home. Some are afraid their kids will ask questions they can’t answer. Some have a difficult time modeling prayer and reading scripture in the limited time their schedules allow everyone to be in the same room during a week. Oh, and some bought their kids GTA 5, and just can’t seem to hold their attention anymore.

How the heck am I supposed to budge them toward anything that looks like Christian living if what goes on in that game is considered totally cool for their age level at home?

Then it occurred to me–if this is the new expectation for teenage discipleship, I’ve been working way too hard. Time to adjust to the new world order. So in case you’re just coming to the same realization in your youth room, I’ve come up with a handful of helpful ways to help your kids process the new way of being a Christian teen:

You can use the f-bomb during youth announcements.

In fact, you need to. Otherwise what you’re saying will go right over their little heads. Face it: your program is just a cut-scene that transitions to their next life mission. If your sentences aren’t 50% profanity, they might as well use your part of their storyline to go to the bathroom while the next scene loads.

Porn is no longer a problem.

They’ve made it clear to you and their parents that they “stay away from that part of the game,” so you can be assured that when the storyline makes them take photographs of celebrities having sex or murder a strip club owner to take control of said strip club they’ll do so with eyes averted. In the world but not of it, as it were. Best of all, thanks to their terrific attitudes about personal boundaries in GTA 5, you know for certain that all of your Internet pornography concerns for your kids are over! All you have to do now is ask if they’re “staying away from that part of the Internet.” They’ll tell you.

Morality is subject to the storyline provided. In life.

You would never do in real life the things that you do in the game, obviously. Murder is bad, as an example. And the kids totally get that murdering to get to the next stage of the game is different than actually killing someone with your own hands. Or with one of the 9 weapons you carry. Being able to make that mental distinction between fantasy & reality really helps you keep from becoming numb to all of that violence. Clearly there’s no concern that an attitude of, “I’ll just do this unsavory thing to get to the thing that I want” will be impressed into their malleable worldviews.

“Quick Save” feature easily translates to kids’ understanding of grace.

A useful feature of the game is the ability of any of your 3 characters to pull a phone from their pocket and “quick save” the game. The game auto-saves along the way, but the quick save feature lets you preserve a certain set of circumstances just in case whatever happens next goes horribly wrong. Here is a fantastic tie-in to their general understanding of grace: it’s a like magical safe zone, immune to consequence. In your faith, just like in real li… err, GTA 5, grace is right there to save you, no matter what you just did or are about to do. Really, all you’ve got to do is remember that grace is there. If something goes wrong, you can always reload on some forgiveness before going on about your business. Don’t change a thing you’re doing in life–just remember to check in with grace from time to time to make sure it’s still saving for you.

I doubt I’ve ever had more thoughtful conversations about a video game with my wife. She more or less watched me play through the storyline. The quality of gameplay is truly like watching a movie. Depending upon where we were in the storyline, we went back and forth about how we felt about it for us; would we watch this in a movie? Does it make it any different that I’m committing the violent act that I’ve witnessed dozens of times in movies as an adult?

The fact that the spectacle was painted on the canvas of three separate characters at the same time eased and complicated the morality play. One night the answer to my wife’s question, “What’s going on tonight?” was answered with, “I’m torturing this guy for information so that ‘other me’ can murder the right people.” Nothing I hadn’t seen in a Die Hard movie. But it felt different. And there was palpable relief when I was finally offered the opportunity to kill the meth-head tweaker version of me (oh, um… spoiler alert), reducing my mental baggage to that of a dime-bag dealing street hood and, separately, a semi-retired career criminal who’d sold out the lives of his last crew to save his own.

I’d probably be able to make better sense of it all if I was still in middle school.



  1. Brilliant! Loved this writing. So full of truth. Where does the line get drawn? Sadly, “Blurred Lines” was not just the name of a raunchy song and video…it is more a commentary on society and Christianity these days.

  2. I loved your article. REALLY, ALL OF THEM. You’re a lot like the Youth Pastor at my Church. My video games were done, around 1990. I’ve never played any of the GTA, or similar games. I have seen some of them in action, though. Forgive my naivete, but I still have hope that parents will finally realize what’s really happening to their child.

    I wonder if it would make any difference in parents’ permissiveness if they actually watched a “movie” type recording of what some of their kids just did during the game. Maybe it would take a split screen view. The video game action on one side and a view of their sweet little child’s face as their character plunges a knife into the body of multiple victims . . . maybe it will be the expression on that sweet face as their character triumphantly stands over yet another victim. Maybe the full realization of the impact on their child would be apparent if they saw the brain scan image at various intervals while playing the game. In most individuals, I am convinced that the physical effects of such video games are nearly identical to that of early psychopaths and sociopaths as they commit similar acts of violence in real life. There is a huge difference between a child and someone over 25 playing these games. The truest measure of the full impact on the child would be in finding an adult with zero or minimal previous exposure to such games. I wonder if an ex-Amish type of person would submit to participating in such an investigation. Thank you!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *