Welcome to March! This year’s theme is “The Story/The Stories.” Each week our blog will focus on a story from a youth minister. We hope these stories help inspire you in the great work you are doing, as well as let you know you aren’t alone in the crazy, sweet, often hard to fathom world of youth ministry. This week we are hearing……

The Story of Table Air Hockey

Josh Beeler

Josh Beeler is the Associate Pastor for Youth and College at Central Baptist Church of Fountain City in Knoxville, TN. He is a graduate of Old Dominion University and of the Baptist Theological Seminary at Richmond. Josh is married to his wonderful wife, Sherry, who he enjoys sharing conversation, adventures, and life with. He is ridiculously playful and works daily to maintain his mischievousness. Josh enjoys playing, singing, hiking, reading, questioning and laughing with friends.

My brother-in-law and his wife always seem to find a small, yet really cool gift to give me for Christmas. I learned that the very first year we spent together as family when one of the things that they got me was a small table version of air hockey.
In a regular scenario, that might seem like a pretty strange—even useless—gift. But I know my audience: youth ministers can find an exciting way to use anything! And this particular case was no different. I knew right away what I would do with this game: I’d display it prominently on the table in my office between my couch and two chairs. It sits smack dab in the middle of my conversation table. And there’s a good reason why.
My office is filled with books—books about stuff that a non-minister might never care to read about. It’s filled with books that are in different languages: Spanish, Greek, Hebrew, etc. It’s got diplomas/awards hanging on the walls, and fancy furniture that a teenager would never choose to decorate their rooms with. All of this stuff can be pretty intimidating and heavy—not to mention the weight of the problems that you brought into this office to discuss! So it seems pretty significant to have things in your office to disarm nervous students. And for me, that thing is toys.
Pop! Figures, Pez dispensers, creepy looking baby dolls (long story…), Nerf guns, random nick-nacks, etc.—suffice it to say that there are plenty of things in my office that make it so I hardly look as though I act my age! And while this is partly to be fun, it also has a purpose: these toys almost always serve as the conversation starters that students need to dive into the really deep stuff that they came to talk about in the first place. And it doesn’t have to be toys: it can be fun photos, t-shirts, funny sayings, or whatever. But I have found that having something to break down walls is incredibly important; and having something to guide conversation and help students forget that there were ever walls in the first place is just as much so—hence the role of table air hockey.
Table air hockey gives me an activity to play with a student while meaningful conversations happen. It helps to lighten what would otherwise be a tense discussion if it were just the student and me. It has served as a tool for significant conversations with a student about depression. It has lightened the awkwardness a student has in telling me about the thoughts they’ve had about sex, and what they do or don’t understand about it. It has helped students to open up about how they just don’t fit in, and they don’t feel like they ever will.
In it’s own significant way, table air hockey has been the tool by which I shared God’s love and the gospel. I’ve told my brother and sister-in-law thank you multiple times, though they probably don’t know just how thankful I am. So when you get one of those silly games or toys in the future, don’t be so quick to lose track of it. Because even the smallest, goofiest things can become the tools by which God advances the kingdom.