Bass boats, television series, politics, the local food scene. For God’s people it’d be easy to see these things as temporal, fleeting, worldly, distractions. Who has time to read a book, play a sport, or shop for a used motorcycle? We want to invest in these things matter!
Pastimes, hobbies, and entertainment may seem trivial, but to the people around us, they can be sources of influence, community, and even identity. Our friends and neighbors spend inordinate amounts of time (and money!) participating in things that occupy their time and energy. These are the things people enjoy doing, and they are opportunities for you to connect and make disciples of Jesus.
You may notice that for an increasing number of people, hobbies are becoming more than just hobbies. People often find community around their favorite activities. See, for example, the Talking Dead community around the popular AMC show “The Walking Dead.” What started as a forum for discussion about the show has grown into a full-fledged community with meetups, conferences, and viewing parties. Similar communities have formed around many other hobbies, comic book culture gathers around events such as ComiCon, diy home renovators and decorator now routinely make pilgrimages to Chip and Joanna Gaines’s Magnolia farm in TX, and the Good Guys car shows are basically family reunions of classic car enthusiasts.
Maybe it’s because we have more free time than ever. Maybe our connectivity enables it. But people increasingly find their identity in their hobbies. Our chosen areas of interest have somehow come to shape who we are (or, at least, how we see ourselves). You’re not a guy who rides a Harley-Davidson, you’re a biker. Star Trek fans are Trekkers (not “Trekkies!”). Political policy fans are wonks. It isn’t enough to do a hobby, you have to become a fan.
Unfortunately, the sense of belonging and identity people get from their hobbies can compete with the Creator for our affections. For many, hobbies have become socially-acceptable idols–the thing people orient their lives around. It’s important that God’s people maintain God-centered as they engage in hobbies so that these free-time activities stay just that!
Despite their potential for misuse, participating in a hobby is a key missionary skill. A hobby can provide connection, understanding, and communication assistance while helping God’s people be subculturally present with the people to whom we’ve been sent. Here are some things to keep in mind as you take up a hobby in your pursuit of God’s mission among all people:
Be a learner. As disciples of Jesus, we maintain the posture of a learner. When it comes to culture, we are careful to avoid the posture of consumer and instead study culture for the benefits of connecting and communicating with people. As learners, we should ask lots of questions and allow our assumptions to be challenged while we measure everything against the teachings of Jesus.
Choose wisely. All hobbies are not created equal. Some require great financial investments. Others take lots and lots of time. Some push you into isolation, while others may facilitate interaction. Hobbies that fuel pride or envy (some social media, ), arouse lusts (adult discussions, some arts), or glorify evil or violence are dead ends for Christians. Book and movie discussion groups, outdoor/sports activities, music-making, cooking/dining, and local community service are great places to start.
Join where you’re interested. God made you unique! What appeals to you may not appeal to everyone around you, but may certainly appeal to someone out there. As you consider all the things you might spend time doing, look for something that appeals to you. If you’re interested in the hobby, you’re likely to have more in common with others who share that interest. Your interest may also help you bring the gospel to bear on the perspective of fellow enthusiasts!
Be on your guard. Culture is not neutral, it actively tries to pull you into human-centered thinking and behavior. Songs and stories are powerful things that can have even subliminal effects on how we see ourselves and the world around us. As you deliberately allow yourself to be exposed to cultural influences, be on your guard: prayed up, informed, filled with God’s spirit, and ready to combat the lies of the world with the truth of God’s Word.
Don’t go alone. The Christian life was never meant to be lived alone. This means that our orientation is toward community. As you wade into the pastimes of those to whom you’ve been sent, take someone with you. This will provide an opportunity for discipleship, as you model how God’s people should relate to cultural influences, but it will also provide a certain level of accountability. God’s people on mission never go alone–not to the ends of the earth, not to the multiplex, and not to neighborhood association meetings.
Find bridges. Most cultural influences involve some level of narrative– books, movies, television, podcasts, etc. all include agendas of some sort. As you study the messaging, evaluate it compared to the truth according to scripture. Oftentimes, a neighbor’s commitment to fishing is less about the fish and more about getting away from the daily grind and being alone in the calm of nature. Movies can be an escape from reality or illustrations to help us understand real-world problems in new ways. Investigate what it is about these hobbies that attracts people, and there you’ll find a gospel application to the human condition.
As God’s people on mission to make disciples, we must look for ways to connect with the people to whom we’ve been sent. We actively seek out opportunities to join people where they are and call them to repentance and faith. As we take up hobbies, we can proclaim the gospel clearly and model it personally for others to see and respond to.