When I was in the eighth grade, my English teacher made us read The Hobbit. I remember seeing the size of the book, the size of the font, and absolutely dreading it! However, within the first couple of pages I became completely captivated by the story. It was the tale of an unsuspecting, unlikely nobody becoming a brave hero in an unforgettable adventure. A timid “hobbit,” named Bilbo, leaving his comfortable home to overcome tremendous obstacles to reclaim a grand treasure.
At the beginning of the story, when Bilbo was debating with himself whether to even go on this journey, the book states, “Then something Tookish woke up inside him, and he wished to go and see the great mountains, and hear the pine trees and the waterfalls, and explore the caves, and wear a sword instead of a walking stick.”
The concept of adventure is everywhere. We have all seen the quote, “Adventure is out there!” from the movie Up! used and reused hundreds of times. Why? Because the human heart longs for adventure.
More specifically, men were wired to seek adventure. We want to be a part of a story bigger than ourselves. We want to explore and discover. We want to compete and win. We want to make an impact in the lives of those around us. We want to make a difference in this world. We want our lives to matter.
Just like Bilbo’s need for adventure, the craving for adventure is seen in boys at an early age. They don’t just want to ride their bikes; they want to ride their bikes with no hands. They don’t just want to play with their Nerf gun; they want to fight an entire war. They don’t just want to play ball; they want to see who can throw the ball the hardest.
Unfortunately, this hunt for exploration and competition is often corrupted and distorted as boys mature. Somewhere along the way, the desire for adventure that was once fulfilled through imaginative games is traded for addiction to a screen. And all too often, teenage boys find themselves preoccupied with pornography and video games.
As student pastors, we know the struggles our teenagers face concerning pornography. We’ve all had countless conversations with students and families. We know the dangers of pornography. We know the advice to give: genuine heart change, Internet monitoring, accountability and mentorship.
However, even with all the guardrails and parental controls, it still seems we are fighting a losing battle. Did you know that 86 percent of young men self-report an interaction with porn within the last month?[i] The average first exposure to porn is 11 years old.[ii] Sixty-two percent of teens have received a sexually explicit image sent to their mobile device.[iii] These statistics show pornography is not just a problem, it’s an epidemic.
Former missionary Brooks Buser explains in a recent article that single men are rare on the mission field. He writes, “When I was overseas, there was an oft-quoted one-liner that went something like this: ‘Single men who love Jesus, have normal social skills, and are seriously committed to long-term missions are unicorns. If you find one, trap it so we can study it and find out where they come from.’ Another common remark was, ‘Two-thirds of missionaries are married couples, the other third are single women, the rest are single men.’”[iv]
How can young men, who were designed for adventure, stay on the sidelines? Former IMB president David Platt believes that porn is to blame for this disparity. He stated, “I believe one of the main reasons why so many men aren’t taking hard assignments for Christ around the world is because pornography has a grip on their minds and their souls.”[v]
In addition to pornography, video games have captured the attention of many teenage guys. Technology is advancing, graphics are improving and video games have never been more popular. Rocket League, Fortnite and Madden consume a majority of their free time.
It’s common to hear guys in my student ministry talk about spending hours each night playing these games. It is estimated 56 percent of teens play video games for an average of 2.5 hours per day.[vi] Every day they are trapped in a land of make-believe, fighting a fake war or battling a fake opponent as they stare mindlessly and endlessly into a screen.
Why are teenage guys addicted to pornography and video games? Why can’t they get away from their screens? The scientific answer, in short, is dopamine. Dopamine is often referred to as a pleasure chemical. “Dopamine release fuels the tension and craving for meeting a need.”[vii] Both pornography and video games release dopamine, which makes the teenager think like he is meeting his needs. At the same time, it makes him addicted to these activities because of the rewarding feeling.
However, I believe the underlying issue is the longing for adventure. Men are wired for adventure but often find themselves watching pornography or playing video games as a result of boredom. This reality has created a generation of men looking to satisfy their desire for excitement in fake women, fake romance, fake games and fake battles. They seek to fill their craving for exploration with computer screens and computer-generated images.
In the digital age, and in a world of virtual school, virtual church and virtual reality, the solution to two of the main problems for teenage guys is the opposite: Put down the phone, turn off the screen and seek to be a part of a bigger story.
Instead of suppressing masculinity, may they redirect it to something noble. Instead of mastering things of little value or no importance, may they master spiritual disciplines. Instead of seeking adventure in fantasy land, may they seek it in godly ambitions. Instead of occupying themselves with fake people and fake fights, may they invest themselves into a real battle – a cosmic battle waging for the souls of real people.
Let’s open our church doors, equip them, and send them out to announce the Gospel boldly and live for the Gospel courageously. Let’s encourage them to stop wasting time staring at a screen, but instead, chase worthy, meaningful, eternal pursuits. Give them more responsibility. Challenge them. Stretch them.
Pastor Matt Chandler says, “God designed men to go to bed tired…exhausted and wrung out for the Kingdom of God, but that’s not how many men are going to bed. We have tons of energy, and that’s why many of you are getting so jammed up because God has not designed you for a bunch of free time. He created you to make war. And a bored man is a dangerous man.”[viii] Men were created for adventure. Invite them to be a part of the greatest adventure.
As Bilbo put down his walking stick for a sword, may young men put down their PlayStation controllers to pick up their sword – the sword of the Spirit. May they throw aside the dopamine from the artificial and embrace the adrenaline from taking bold risks for the gospel. Because, as Tolkien writes in The Hobbit, “The world is not in your books and maps, it’s out there.”
v Sermon titled, “The Cross and Christian Sexuality (Part 2).” https://radical-net-assets.s3.amazonaws.com/images/20171129095431/1Corinthians_TS12_Web-2.pdf
vii William Struthers, “Wired for Intimacy.”
viii Sermon titled, “The Second Wave.” https://www.tvcresources.net/resource-library/sermons/the-second-wave/