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Fellowship of the game: Kingsport pastor reaches out through board games

Matthew Lane • Jun 5, 2017 at 8:30 PM

KINGSPORT — Daniel Fisher is not your typical gamer. He’s probably not a typical pastor either.

He lives in Kingsport with his wife and two children, fills in at churches when a preacher is needed and likes to play Magic the Gathering and Warhammer in his spare time. Nearly a decade ago, Daniel surrended his life to Christ.

Today, he’s volunteering with an organization that promotes fellowship through gaming. But not the electronic variety. Oh, not at all. These gaming sessions are completely unplugged.

“What I try to do is contact churches. ... I have a ministry and friends all trained in board games and we come in, bring all the games. You just bring us the people,” Fisher said. “We mix the people up, we don’t let them sit with their buddies and we teach them to play the game in about 15 minutes.”

Fisher is a volunteer with InnRoads Ministries, a nonprofit organization founded by Luke Navarro of California and Mike Perna of New Jersey. The two men went to seminary together, were gaming friends and started the “Game Store Prophets” podcast in 2011.

According to the InnRoads Ministries website, as the two men continued to put out their biweekly podcast about games, geeky stuff and how those things reflect and inform their faith, they began to feel like God wanted them to expand what they were doing.

Luke and Mike wanted to create a ministry targeted to gamers, geeks, and cosplayers, and they wanted to encourage the faithful geeks as well as reach into these communities with the gospel.

“Our churches don’t fellowship anymore and they don’t spend time together,” Fisher said without hesitation. “I’ve always believed the church that doesn’t spend time together is not going to be effective in the community.”

Games you can expect to see on the table aren’t simply Bible versions of classic games, but rather games that encourage players to interact with one another. For the past 18 months, Fisher has been volunteering through InnRoads Ministries, hosting game days at a church or the library, bringing in games like Pandemic, Settlers of Catan, Carcassone, Castle Panic and Ticket to Ride.

Junior versions of some of these games are brought along if younger kids participate, and sometimes the group likes to keep the play light and not as hardcore as other gaming sessions. Fisher’s collection of games can easily accommodate everyone, from younger children to senior citizens.

“We have a no preaching rule,” Fisher said. “When we have these events, it is not a bait and switch. We get to know people and that’s what our mission is.”

The members and volunteers of InnRoads Ministries try to collaborate with each other and do conventions together while having local events in each of their respective communities. Fisher is looking to get his foot in the door with Kingsport churches. He’s sent out handwritten letters explaining what he does and what he hopes to accomplish.

“I do want to get in with games at Shades of Grace, to give them something to do,” Fisher said. “A lot of times people just want to be talked to and listened to. That’s what we try and do when go play games with them.”

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