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Nerds of Pray: Crossfire Faith+Gaming Leader Russ Dornisch (1.2)

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NATHAN: Welcome to the Nerds of Pray. We are bridging the gap between faith and fandom by introducing you to the leading folks on the front lines of nerd ministry, these are the people I have met as I plant a church for nerds, geeks and gamers. I found them. So you don't have to... I am nerd pastor Nate, and this is a check point church podcast that wasn't gonna be dropping twice each month, but as you've seen, this is taking longer than that, so I don't know yet, maybe every three weeks. We'll try again, be sure to subscribe to the podcast that you know when the next episode actually drops or go subscribe to our YouTube channel, it's also gonna be posted it full there, or follow our Twitch community where we're gonna be watching it live. There's a lot of options here. Each episode of the podcast will feature someone at the intersection of faith and fandom, will then sit down with them and learn their story, how did they first discover that God is in pop culture? And where do you see things going from here? Folks, our guest today is a real treat. We are gonna be hearing from Russell or Russ Dornisch from Crossfire: Faith+ gaming. Russ was the first person to reach out to me from the gaming nerd ministry, I mentioned it in the show, but I remember when I first learned there were other people out there doing this thing and they felt so untouchable, then barely a month into things one of those people reached out to me, it was a big deal, and has shaped my openness in this community in some awesome ways, that doesn't begin to mention that crossfire is also innately tied with the United Methodist church, so this kind of felt like a fated encounter, I still haven't gotten a chance to sit down with David petty, Russ's partner in ministry and the founder of Crossfire, given the busy summer schedule of a UMC pastor, but we definitely plan to have him on the show before too long. This episode surprisingly gets more into the nuts and bolts of church planting and how to do ministry practically in a digital space than I was expecting, but I'm here for it, and thankful for Russ's insight into this world of nerd ministry, Russ has been getting officially back into streaming recently on Wednesdays, playing some AAA titles on his stream, and we host them over on the Checkpoint Church Twitch channel, so we'd love for you to check them out. With that, let's get into the show. Here is our second Nerd of Pray Russ Dornisch from Crossfire: Faith+Gaming.

Well, welcome Russ, we are so glad that you're here for joining us in this podcast and talking to us a little bit about the wonderful things going on over at Crossfire: Faith+Gaming. And so to get started, the way we usually do, I just wanna know who are you, for those of you out there, there are listeners out here that don't know who you are, who are you, and then where are you both physically and on social media, where are you normally found.

RUSS: My name is Russ Dornisch, I'm from the wonderful state of Montana. I am one of the co-hosts and I guess co-runners of Crossfire: Faith+Gaming. We are located all over the internet, we have a website, crossfire cast dot com, or big community outreach is through Facebook. We also do discord twitch, you name it, you can find us at Crossfire: Faith+Gaming, if you search it, you'll find us on whatever platform you're on.

NATHAN: Absolutely. So the next question typically gets answered in pretty much the same way most people describe themselves as like a melting pot of nerd-dom where they kind of have little touches of nerd-dom here and there, but as best as you can... If you can find the true essence of your nerd-dom, What flavor of nerd would you describe yourself as? What nerd are you?

RUSS: I definitely start off with gamer gaming is my big thing, you can see in my background, on the other side, I've got my old school gaming collection, so that's kind of where it all starts and begins, but I'd also say I'm a big movie person, so any type of movies, I don't know what you call that. Necessarily a cinophile, I guess you would say, would be a nice way to put it, so it doesn't have to be nerdy movies or anything like that. Pretty much anything, absolutely love watching and talking and discussing movies, and then of course, the gaming, but I think that's where I'm at. I've tried to get into comics. Haven't succeeded very well at that. It's just very hard if you haven't been a part of that community and ecosystem to know where to even begin.

NATHAN: Yeah, I think there's two work pretty well together, especially for a lot of modern AAA games, you see a lot of games that look pretty much like movies... Right.

RUSS: Yeah, that's probably where my gaming interests are at, too, I play a lot of single player story-driven games, not a big online game or not a big multi-player game, for me, I enjoy the story aspect of it, so definitely an intersect of my love for games and movies.

NATHAN: Yeah, I think we're discovering more and more of that nowadays that people that love movies are gonna find a place to love games because they really do interact in such an interesting way. So as we go back to kind of the Russell Dornisch origin story, where did you first kind of realize - where'd it click, and you just realized, Oh, I'm a nerd... I'm a nerd for these things.

RUSS: As far as I can remember, our household had a gaming system in it, my dad had a Super Nintendo was probably the first gaming system we had in the house, and that was back... Gosh, when I was really, really young and that kinda got started, I kinda took it over and started playing my own games as I grew up, and then my first console that was my own... That was gifted to me. And that was mine in my room solely, it was a PlayStation One, but I've kind of gone down the path of being a big PlayStation gamer, it started very young and it kind of... It was difficult. My group of friends, I was really the only gamer, my other friends would kind of join in here and there, and we'd have fun times where I remember having a gaming session one week and with four friends where we stayed the night at one house and we played a to Tekken, I got them into Tekken and we were doing the whole fighting games, and none of us were very good at it, so it kind of made it work out well. Another big gaming history moment that I remember with my friends was I was able to secure an Xbox 360, I think a couple of days after launch, and I took it over to my friend's house 'cause he had broadband internet, I did not... First thing we did was we hooked that up and we played Call of Duty all night, the launch Call of Duty, I think it was Call of Duty 2, was the launch game, and we played and that was our first intro into online gaming, and that was a huge deal, getting to introduce my friends to that. Overall, what I loved about gaming up and kind of what really got me going and my nerd journey was gaming for me really became an outlet, it became an outlet for my boredom. I grew up in a really small town, there wasn't a lot to do when I had nobody to hang out with and people were busy, and I was a nerd aspect in school as well, 'cause I did pretty well in school and I could get my homework done really quick, so I had a lot of free time compared to some of my friends, so gaming kind of filled that void and was always my go-to to fill that time and to fill what I had going on, and it just became a really big and important hobby in my life to be that outlet and a place that I could go to do escape from everything going on.

NATHAN: A lot of us treat games in that way as kind of a place for us to be, a place that's kind of a place of respite, but that's definitely something that a lot of people be able to relate to and understand and find that kind of home in as well, we evolve... We continue to grow. Maybe you found this intersection early, but typically, we have these two different worlds where we have our faith, we have our Christian walk, whatever that looks like, whether it's church growing up or whether we might find our way to church later, or whether we may never end up in church until way later in life, whatever that may be, faith and fandom these two things, typically, they still stay separate, but somewhere along the way, even if it was very recently, you found this intersection in Crossfire, was that kind of the origin or you find this intersection before then.

RUSS: You know, it was definitely a lot further along. Growing up, I did grow up in the church, I grew up in a conservative non-denominational, my best friend, and honestly, my second family, they were the pastor in the church, they didn't allow my friend to participate in a lot of fandom stuff, he did not get into Harry Potter, he wasn't allowed to... When the Pokemon craze went, I was head over heels in it, my Game Boy and my Pokemon trading cards back then, he was not allowed to be a part of it either. So a lot of that stuff I was told was not really a part of Christianity, but I also always question it and was like, Well, I'm not hurting myself with it, it's not making me a violent person, it's not making me think terrible thoughts, in fact, gaming is a great outlet for me that just allows me to be myself and enjoy myself, and from that I always question, I'm like, well, why don't these two things like intersect more... Why is it seen Sometimes as the red-headed stepchild to everything, I ask questions more. And honestly, what happened was, as I grew up, I went to a Christian college, that actually led me to really deconstructing my faith, which I think a lot of people do when they go to seminary or a Christian school is you finally are given the tools to actually think for yourself, is what I like to say, and what we see out of that a lot is a lot of people start to question the way they were raised, the way that some churches operate and the way that they believe. And so I got to the point where I was like, Okay, I'm really changing the way that I look at this and changing my definition of what is really harmful as a Christian, and gaming is definitely not part of that, I definitely don't think it's a harmful practice for a lot of people, mind you, there are some caveats to that because of that, I kinda wondered, okay, well, can these two things co-exist... I've kind of known some people that play games, but I really never had a community of just gamers or people that I can discuss games with that play them as much as I do. I met my wife, she's a Methodist pastor. She met Dave, who was the founder of Crossfire at a Methodist event here in the Rocky Mountain conference. My wife mentioned that, Oh, my husband plays games, he immediately gave her my car, his card, David and I kinda hooked up that way, and I saw very quickly that there was definitely a space to really intersect these two things, there is a very large population and group of Christians out there that also game, there's a lot of people who game and have questions about it, and the big thing I've gotten in my conversations with a lot of people is there kind of the way the Church has hurt them, games are still kind of this outlet, and so being able to just say, Hey, let's just talk games, let's just be together in games and realize that there are people out there that are more normal, more accepting, more understanding, they're not just there to evangelize to people and try and push them one direction, we can enjoy something together, and it just so happens that I'm a Christian, and that kind of opens up the gates and slowly opens up the people to maybe hear a different message, maybe here, a different understanding of what Christianity can be and what gaming can be together I found that in Crossfire and started to really connect with the community, and then we kinda went from there, so...

NATHAN: And so, steps down the road, you led to kind of partnering up, teaming up and working alongside David a little bit closer, more so than just a consumer of this... You became a leader of the group. So tell us more about how that process might have taken...

RUSS: You know, I came to the group, I saw what it was, David had mentioned to me that he wanted to grow the group, and so I brought my background... My undergrad degree is in marketing and social media and all that. I originally wanted to work in radio, I told David, I was like, If you wanna grow this group, here are a couple of ways, I think we could do it, creating some content for the group, rather it just be a free standing community that just exists. Why don't we create something to go alongside of it, so that's where we brought the idea of the podcast, and then from there it was like, Well, we're a gaming group, and everybody who games streams, so we might as well join into that group. We started that in August of last year, and it kinda took off pretty quickly when we started doing that, and we made it a point of, we wanna extend the message of the church and the mission of the church, which is to give back to others in need, most of our streaming is completely catered towards fundraising and charity and just giving back to our community, but yeah, just started with the conversation of, Dave, here's how I think we can grow this, here's how I think we can make this something bigger than it is, and then slowly throughout the year, we've just talked about different ways that make it bigger, we can make it more mainstream within the church, what that looks like, so we're just continuing slowly and slowly, it becomes almost like a church plant in a way similar to what you're doing very quickly, there's a lot of time and effort and energy that goes into it, just those conversations of trying to figure out, Okay, how can we reach other people and show that there are more groups and communities out there that would accept them and welcome them with open arms. I think that's the biggest thing. Gamers have been shown for the longest time, and I think it's been more in the last five, six, seven years that we've seen gaming become, I think more mainstream. I think there's a lot of gamers out there that have grown up that are similar ages to us that are obviously the big gamers now, that also grew up being told constantly that gaming creates violent people... Gaming is not something that a Christian should play. For us, kind of the goal of this is to bring people together and show them that these two things do intersect and you can feel comfortable in who you are, you could be accepted for who you are, that was another thing as I started going through this journey, I started researching and going into other similar groups that are out there, 'cause there are a ton... The one thing I did notice in a lot of those groups was just how ultra conservative they were, and so while we were still gaming, it was, Oh, certain games are still not okay, certain types of gamers are still not okay, certain people not allowed in our group so we really wanted to say, We're gonna make a completely open, inclusive group that is open to any gamer, no matter your religion, no matter your background, no matter your race, anything like that. We're just looking to continue to grow and expand and see where God takes us in the future.

NATHAN: First off, I have a feeling if there are any leaders out there listening to this, they're probably like, Man, where is my Russ? Where are the people who are messaging me with all these ideas about We can grow for this thing and take it forward, so I think that's awesome. Kudos to you for taking the step up, I think that's really great, but you touched on some really interesting points of doubt of deconstruction and of boundaries that we put up with as an inclusive community, like you're building and with this community that has as few barriers as you can put up... Rather than telling me just kind of where you do put up these barriers, what kind of criteria do you have... Is there anything that's off limits? Is there anything that kind of sets this understanding of what you can do... Do you play TV, MA-games? Are you like, maybe not so much with the Mature stuff?

RUSS: On stream, we wanna keep it as family-friendly as we can, just because we want people to enjoy the content, there's plenty of content out there for people to enjoy if they wanna enjoy other things... Obviously, we're not going completely rated E for Everyone and just doing family games, and dare I say in Nintendo games on every stream since those are always accepted and PG, for instance, one of our big streams we did right when it came out was Ghost of Tsushima on PlayStation. The nice thing about that game and the reason why we streamed it was they had settings to turn off violence gore, all that stuff, so we were able to keep it a lot more tame than just the game directly, even though it is a violent rated M game. We did a whole thing and a whole series on The Last of Us, part two, but we did not stream them because again, that game is just way too difficult to stream. It is not a story that I think everybody should experience. Usually, it's my favorite game of all time, David and I did a two-hour deep dive spoiler cast into the game and talked about ways that we see Christianity involved and things like that, which is an awesome discussion, but we do draw the line there where it's like... That's just not a game that's gonna be easy for us, a stream now, can we have a conversation about it as adults and about people and have a true conversation about whether or not people should play that game? Yes, absolutely. As far as the group goes, our big thing is just Do no harm to others, but I also believe that in doing no harm to others, we should also be accepting of other people's backgrounds and beliefs and all that stuff, you allow that and it just... It comes to a point where we just wanna be respectful of each other and what we do believe, except that that's gonna happen, there's gonna be some arguments, there's gonna be some differences, we've had some differences in the past... Over a year ago, we had a little bit of an issue because of the whole black lives matter issue. I'll say it again here that our group is very much pro-black lives matter, we understand what's going on with that, and we wanna promote that and support that, and we have some members that weren't okay with that and weren't happy with it, we told them that they are completely fine with being around, they're completely fine with doing that. And they just said that they didn't wanna be a part of it just because we simply made that statement, we respected, and we still try and talk to them and we still have conversations with them, but you're always gonna run into things like that throughout the growth and life cycle, the church goes through that every day, there's always, as I say, and as I remind my wife as she goes through the life of being a pastor, there's always gonna be somebody that's gonna be upset with you, the key to good leadership and good ministry is being able to accept those people for their beliefs and agree to disagree, just kind of move past that and it doesn't need to be about that, and definitely have plenty of examples of that when it happens...

NATHAN: Right, kind of an active of doing no harm, trying to pursue the most peaceful route that you possibly can, and sometimes there is peace in separation, that's a real challenge, especially as we forge these groups and as we kind of wrestle through what they actually look like, you touched on an interesting thing as well, that crossfire started out very much as a group of people that got together and played games, and then whenever you kinda stepped up into your leadership role, it turned into a content creation, in addition to that, since you've continued to delve and dive into this thing, some questions of, Is this a church plan? Are we doing church right now, what is this that's happening, where do you see Crossfire? What is the next step? How are you figuring out without letting us in too much to yours and David's private conversations that you don't wanna let us in on.

RUSS: Honestly, there's no conversation, it's like we don't want people to know for us, we've chatted about that, we could see it becoming a church plant in the future, that's definitely a possibility at some point or another, we also see it as being kind of a supplemental Ministry, we have a friend that has a homeless ministry in Denver, they feed the homeless weekly, and their church is meeting once a week to pack lunches for the Homeless in a bar, there's plenty of examples of those type of communities and groups working within the church. So we've kind of looked at ourselves in a couple of different ways, we've talked to a bunch of people in our conference about what it looks like to either become our own church or to become that ministry that can be a Crossfire ministries of the Methodist church and the Rocky Mountain conference, similar to like UMW women or UMCOR or these other groups that the Methodists have being something similar and what that might look like going forward, we've definitely delve into a lot of those things for us, it's just kind of a wait and see, we're slowly moving towards different things were being challenged by the conference to do different things to kind of set ourselves up to move in a certain direction, depending on how things go, as far as where we go and what's actually gonna happen... I have no idea. It's just kind of a... We're still in that wait and see kind of, we're close to making a determination and going one way or another.

NATHAN: Since your time with Crossfire. How many years have you been involved? 'cause I know it's been around for five years. I believe.

RUSS: It's been around for five years. I've only been involved with it for about a year and a half now... Okay, I haven't been a part of it for very long, again, we're starting to see that it can be something bigger than just a group, in the last year and a half, we've seen probably our numbers double, far as our group size participation has doubled, it's just slowly figuring out what this looks like and what it is. We're still very much in the infancy of a ministry...

NATHAN: Yeah, I feel like we all are. The more people that I've met that are in this leadership role, in this nerdy leadership role, I've met with some people that are veterans of the field, but even there, they're still like, Man... This thing is just getting started. We have no idea what we're doing with this video game ministry with nerd ministry. And I will say that's the first thing that I remember, I was just getting started with this thing, probably the first month or two, and I got a Facebook message from you that's like, Hey, you're doing something cool, and it looks like what we are doing, we should sit down and talk. And I love that spirit, I love that willingness to include this new kid on the block and what you were doing, thankfully, I've had a really great time with the Church Planters is a very collaborative field, but I was told going into this thing that it was gonna be, Oh, it's a battlefield. It's competition, everybody's gonna want your neck and think you're coming for their congregation... You weren't like that at all, and I wanna say, I really appreciate that. So I'm curious to know, what do you think is the essence of this collaborative nature, do you just see that as being the only way we're gonna survive on this vast thing called the internet, what is your approach there with this collaborative effort?

RUSS: I definitely think so. We're all kind of in the same space. We're all going after the same things. I think the hardest part about church planting and starting a ministry is having manpower, in all honesty, we're coming up with that issue right now, or I'm at my breaking point peak of how much I can put in because I still have a full-time job, separate from this Dave is obviously a full-time pastor, moving to a bigger churchhis time is getting stretched more and more, the biggest thing as far as churches and things that I've seen become successful is finding people who are willing to give their time and their gifts to move forward, the ministry, move forward, the ideas, and what I'm starting to see more and more is there's a lot of people out there with the same mindset that we do, whether it's different fandom, whether it's different backgrounds, it's different things that we all bring to the table, there are a few groups out there and a few ministries that are doing what we're doing, that are very, very large. What I've noticed from connecting with a lot of the different people I've connected with, we all kind of have this connection in this kind of motivation and drive, we don't wanna limit who we're going after, we don't wanna limit the crowd that we're a part of, the part of that is our Methodist background. I think that kind of separates us from those other groups, and I haven't really seen a more open and understanding and willing community out there, collaboration is gonna be huge, I think going forward for everybody, whether it's even just a cross-promotion of us on your podcast, you on our podcast from you, on our videos or co-streaming or whatever it is down the line, we can definitely use those to our advantage to help each other, and I definitely think collaboration is a huge piece to that, especially if you wanna come from small beginnings and become something larger than that.

NATHAN: There's a larger thing that we see in the video game sphere, especially anybody can be Playstation that they want to and just secluded over in the corner with their exclusives, but now that Nintendo is even collaborating with Xbox here and there, that's a big deal. And people notice and they see that essence of collaboration, and it brings a sense of camaraderie that I think is really something we don't often get in the nerd world, we kind of see it as these different franchises that are these pillars, but I do think that is something unique about Methodism is that one of the reasons I'm proud to say I'm a Methodist with all of our shortcomings and faults that we may have, is that we are connectional... I can go to the Methodist church down the road and I'll be welcomed as a Methodist and I go to any other methodist church, and they'll all feel like some kind of home, they probably all be haven to pot luck maybe now during covid, but not too much longer, there'll be a potluck somewhere, and I really just don't think that the internet is so small. There are so many people, we both have very sizable Twitch followings, and I don't know if they would compare... I don't know if we would have much overlap, I'm sure there are some members here and there that overlap, but we place such different games and we approach things in such different ways that I feel like we're all reaching just different people in some pretty incredible ways.

RUSS: It's interesting with the power of the internet, with the power of us being able to communicate, and I think the last year, the church is really seeing the ability to perform online and what that looks like and connect like this, me and Montana, you and Carolina being able to have this conversation and record it, find a big question that I posed to David and we've even post to our conferences, does church need to be a one-specific location thing, or can we reach many more people since the pandemic started my wife's church, they were just given a discipleship Award, because even in the midst of a pandemic, they grew a decent amount for being a small church, and a lot of that had to do with finally going online, getting that online service, having an online presence, what that looked like. And they now have members that are not in the state of Montana that are giving to the church, that are participating in Bible studies, they're participating in Sunday service, all these different things. Gamers are already online, we are already an online community, how can we as the church, how can we as Christians create that online gaming church? And what does that look like? And I honestly think as time goes on and we start phasing out and we start defining more our ministries, I can honestly see a point where it is like Nate's the senior pastor of an online church, and I'm marketing for an online church, and Dave is a community outreach manager. I do all these things that you see on online communities already, but we put that in the space of a church, and so far from looking online, there's a couple examples of that going on. Again, I think there's still space for more of those groups, and we haven't seen very many groups succeed in that space, I've seen a couple that I've already failed and have kinda shut down in the past, and I'm kind of wondering if maybe they were ahead of their time, so to speak. I definitely think the last year and having the pandemic has definitely finally brought to light to the regular church that maybe we should partner with these type of things and kind of push those. So I'm very interested to see where all of it goes and where we are in the future.

NATHAN: There's a really interesting Seth Godin truism that he talks about where people like us do things like these... The thing that I keep harping on and a lot of my conversations that I'm having nowadays, because I find it really interesting, this idea of finding your tribe, and I know tribalism is a dangerous word, so I don't wanna get towards that at all, more of what he's talking about is finding your people, finding people like us to do things like these... My big question for nerd churches and for gamer churches is that we don't really know who we are. There's so many of, there are a couple of Comic-Cons, like a gen con, like Gen Con is really specific. That's a table top game, or even in Charlotte, here we have an anime con, and that's gonna be very specific. But for the most part, like San Diego, anywhere you go, they're gonna be very broad, everybody's there doing everything, there's almost so many interests that you can't come up with that phrase. People like us do things like these... We don't have that thing. Do we have that thing that unites us or are we united by our multifaceted interests?

RUSS: It depends on how you define maybe being a geek or a nerd, I know those are kind of the two overarching like words used to describe this over-Umbrella that includes gaming, anime, comics, all of it into one, that'd be the closest we have to a defining that one of the things that Dave and I have talked about, and we're slowly trying to figure out what that would look like, churches have church camp, or everybody gets together, Nerd's have Comic-Cons, E3, PAX, all these different conventions. What if we brought together the idea of Christianity and gaming, a nerd and geek dom and table top gaming and comics and Pokemon cards, and brought that all together and created some kind of event that would bring that all together. We've talked about that, we've looked at it, we've gotten some good feedback on it and people are actually excited for that, so we may be doing something like that, similar to that in a smaller scale, there's definitely something out there to do that... I'm a part of a pretty long list of people on Twitter that call themselves Jesus Geeks... Instead of Jesus freaks me, there's no specific title yet, nobody's really defined it or brought that up, or I brought it to the mainstream that has said, This is what this group is.

NATHAN: Yeah, I think we're all kind of toying around with this idea, I'm a little bit involved with love thy nerd, and sometimes they do an LTN-Con where they'll get together, and I attended it last year and it was online, so of course, we're all doing the best we can with our online stuff, and they did it in person, apparently in years passed, and I'd be curious to know what that looks like, but you know what it ultimately was... Was mostly panels, it was mostly seminars, most of their game plays in their actual plays and stuff were all on Discord, which I was still super new ith, and trying my best to figure out the only avenue that I see for Checkpoint to have worse. I don't think it makes sense for us to cue up on Twitch and start singing Hosanna, and then for me to get up in a suit and tie and start preaching at the twitch screen like, nobody's gonna listen to that. Nobody's gonna pay attention to that. I don't blame them. Well, that stuff isn't as important, I don't care as much about preaching or about... I love worship music, but that's not as important to me as the sacrament, when do we take communion, when do we baptize, when do we do this stuff as a virtual church, what do you think about the future for those relationships of digital Sacramentation... Of digital worship in that sense, not so much just music and preaching.

RUSS: I definitely think the church is realizing we need to figure that out, I definitely don't think we have that figured out, because again, going through an entire year of most churches being online only, those questions are starting to finally come up and finally be asked until somebody really comes forward and says, You know what, here's the definition, here's what we're gonna do, here's what online community looks like, here's what... All this stuff looks like it's gonna be hard until people start stepping up and saying, This is what it is, my wife's church, the online communion, they've been doing that as best they can, it's grab a drink, grab some kind of food item and join us together and let's just do that. That does bring some questions to some people, because I know the purists out, they wanna say, Well, it's not blessed by the pastor, so you're not actually having the person who's certified to be doing the sacraments... Is not the one doing it. There are gonna be those purists out there, they're gonna have trouble with that, and that's fine, because fortunately, everyone's gonna have options, and the whole point of doing the online scene in the online church is to get the people who are non-traditional, who are not the normal Sunday morning, going to church and doing all that normally, so I definitely think we're gonna be in the direction of trying to figure that out a little bit more, and I'm very interested to see how people get creative with it going forward.

NATHAN: I think it's an exciting overlap that is gonna have to be addressed eventually, I think that I'm putting it off as long as I can at Checkpoint, but it's eventually gonna have to happen... I have to answer that question 'cause I get asked it a lot as well, and I think it is... It's the million dollar question. The other aspect of virtual church and a virtual gathering and a community gathering in this way is stewardship, and the way that you seem to be doing it currently at Crossfire and having some great success and involving people. And giving them a sense of ownership of this. Generosity is through fundraising. So we mentioned that a little bit earlier currently as we're recording this, so this will kind of date the episode, but that'll be... Okay, you guys are fundraising for St. Children Hospital, which is amazing. Your goal for the mind, I believe is 1000, which is awesome. Talk more about what do you think is the future of this? Is this your end goal with this method of stewardship, or do you have a next step once people get involved, how do you envision stewardship for Crossfire in the future?

RUSS: This has probably been the biggest set of conversation David and I have had for the last several months, we meet with a clergy coach who helps with church planting, how do you make this a concrete idea that actually is sustainable and the big word there is sustainable. I don't think we've gotten there yet. It is not the easiest thing to translate community or what not into giving into support. One great thing that is easy to do is, yeah, fundraising and getting money to people in need, like a lot of people are like, Great, I see a tangible thing that I'm giving to, I give money to this, it's going directly to this organization. Great, I feel good. Move on, but then you got the question of, okay, if we want this to become a full-time thing in a full-time church ministry, you can't do this for free, and so that becomes a really difficult task that we've just kind of been discussing on, it's hard to say this in the online space, in the church space, it's a little bit different, but how do we monetize this thing that we're doing so that we can do it more and do it better and provide more and reach more people? And I think that's a big thing that I know we're struggling with, I'm not sure how your journey is on this, it's hard to justify to people because they're a little bit more comfortable when... Yeah, I attend a church on Sunday, I see a building, I see a pastor who is working in this building every day, but for some reason when it's an online space, I don't think people see it as much. Unless there's a ton of content. People support others on Patreon, on YouTube, on whatever platform they're on, and they support their online creators, but they're like, Oh, it's 'cause his creator does so much for them, but they'll tell you, Hey, it took years and years of work and energy to get to that point that they were providing high content, high quality stuff, but they were able to say, Hey, I'm doing all this stuff and you love it so much, and it's great. Please support me so I can keep doing it. It's really hard on the opposite side as a church to be able to do that without that following first, and we've just been really working on what that looks like. The one thing we said that we could do right in this moment is doing things for others and trying to make that kind of our message initially and that's worked decently well. We're not even close to what some of the people out there able to do for these things... One creator that I follow is already at 200000 raised for St. Jude and I'm over here like, yeah, we're doing a 1000, which is great, and I'm loving that we're doing it, we're slowly making our way up, we start back in October with Able gamers, we raised 400 for them. Then we did extra life in November, and we were able to raise 600 for extra life, so we kind of upped that to 1000 and we're about halfway at this point of recording towards the end of May, it was just kind of something we could latch on to and make a tangible thing to show that we're making a difference, even if it's not a huge difference right now, but I definitely think the hard part about all of this is finding ways to say, Okay, how can we make this a sustainable ministry and make it a full-time thing, David is a full-time pastor on the side, I have a full-time job, so this is nowhere near our job, we are not collecting money from this, we are not bringing in any revenue from this, we are pushing it either all the fundraising or to keeping on the few things that we have going, whether it's the website or the podcast hosting or whatever it is, it's getting the money for those things, keep that going, but we've definitely had those discussions with our conference with our clergy coach of, Okay, how do we make this thing a real thing and make it a full-time ministry that has staff and has that... What does that look like? I think that's the hardest part of church planning in general, but.

NATHAN: What gives me a lot of hope, a lot of people will sometimes kinda harp on Gen Z or those around that age of like, Oh, they're broke or whatever, they don't ever give money to anything, it couldn't be less true. I always think back to tiktok, and there was one viral tik-TOK of somebody that was like, Hey, Venmo, me however much you want to for the next 24 hours, however much I get my Venmo, I'm gonna cash out and I'm gonna give to the first person I see on the street, like busing, they raised a college tuition, they'd raise like 400000 in 24 hours and yes, it's kind of doing it for the men, it's kind of doing it for that moment, I don't think people put two and two together, but that is a form of stewardship, that is an example of generosity, where did the intersection of gamifying stewardship in a way, how does that kind of work for the future of church ministry? I think there's a lot that churches could learn, it does come down to paying the salary at times, it does come down to those kind of things, but almost all that stuff I hopefully should be in-house, but what does it look like for things outside of house, to come in and hit this viral market of extravagant generosity.

RUSS: And I definitely agree, and it's because I've said this to a lot of people, I've just had discussions with a lot of mega church pastors and pastors who have million dollar budgets. Okay, how do you get to that point? Where does that happen in a big church versus a small church, a small church, you rely on your 10% tithe because that is your lifebread, that is how it works. For when I was a part of a mega church in Denver that I attended for a while, You didn't hear that 10% message very often, it was more give what you can give, just give a teeny bit, every little bit helps, and it's the whole numbers mentality you have a thousand people that come and everybody gives five bucks, five bucks doesn't seem like a lot, it's a Starbucks to them, but to the church, five bucks times 1000 people, that's a lot of money. Versus a church of 20 people who now have to give 10% of their income in order to cover that gap when it comes to the gaming space, we see that because we have vast numbers. We don't have to be a 50-person church, we don't have to be limited by the size of our building, we just are limited by the size of our reach and how many people we reach, and that's why you see things like Patreon and things like that, creators have mass and followings, but everybody's only giving a dollar... Well, a dollar in 20000 people is 20000 a month. You're making more than the mega church is because you're not harping on that as much as other things have to... And rely on that. So I think us as a gaming sphere, in us as an online church and service, if we can find the avenue to kinda bridge that, and you wanna keep the lights on, we wanna keep these things going, We want a stewardship for people, and it doesn't require very much of you, I think that's kind of the key to where that goes, so the key is to reaching those people and getting people to buy in on what you're doing, and then from there, it's to say, Okay, throw us a dollar... Throw us five bucks. It's not gonna hurt you very much, but here's what we're doing with that money, we are giving it to people, we are giving back to others, we are finding ways and finding people who are in need, and honestly showing that you're actually doing that. I think a lot of people have been soured in the past with churches where it's like, I give money to the church, but really all I see is I see my pastor driving a BMW, and I see our multi-million dollar stadium getting upgraded every week. What are we doing in actual lives to change that, because I feel like a lot more of that money can go towards that stuff, which brings to the point of the whole idea of an online church, I feel with an online church and a gaming church, you can have a lot less overhead than a lot of churches out there have, so we can have more money to give to others to do and support others, to find ways to give back to the communities and different people in need. Honestly, I think online church could be a huge thing, especially for Gen Z, the truth is the church is in decline right now, so what are ways that we can do church differently? Be the light that Jesus actually wanted us to be in a different way. That we are now in a technology-driven, internet-driven world and society that we live in right now...

NATHAN: Let's talk about some highlights. Let's talk about what is the good. Do you believe that God can use fandoms? Do you believe that God can use nerd culture for good? I already know the answer. The answer everybody said is yes, I... Have anybody ever wants to push back, I'd love to talk about it rather than just asking, have you ever seen it? What are some highlights that you've seen in your experience, where have you seen God use this nerdy fandom for good?

RUSS: I've had a lot of examples in smaller doses, obviously, we're not that big of a community in relation to a lot of other communities that are out there, but little things like we had a female reach out and join one of our discord chats and hung out with us, we talked about games, we talked about her love of Animal Crossing, we talked about all this other stuff going on, and then she brought up... She was like, I was interested in your group 'cause I love gaming, but I'm wrestling with my faith right now, I grew up in the church, I fell away from the church, but now I kinda wanna be back in it. What does that look like? Let's have that conversation. I feel comfortable here because you are my people, I feel comfortable because we have similar likes, I don't feel judged, I don't feel like an outsider because of the way I dress, because of the way that I talk or the things that I like to do. It's not so much about that when it's an online presence because you can kind of be who you wanna be, I feel comfortable now let's have a deeper conversation and see where that goes, that's one example of just relationally what we can do with fandom and what that looks like. S far as actual good, obviously, we see a lot of times. It's an example, you talked about the big gestures of giving or support or evangelism online, whatever you wanna call it, even if it's not faith-based, it's the ability to give back to others in very large quantities, you see that in other groups and other communities and our little bit of fundraising that we've done, people wanna give back to others and want to feel good about being able to do that, we set up a Minecraft server and we have that available for people to hang out. And one night I hung out with a couple of guys and a younger kid jumped in and he was having fun, he was 15 or 16, and I kinda knew who he was 'cause I knew his dad, and he hung out... Had an amazing time. Well, the next day, his dad messaged my wife to just say, Hey, my son was on with your husband and a bunch of the Crossfire people, I just wanna let you know how big of a deal that was for him. He's struggling right now. The pandemic has hit him hard, he doesn't really have an outlet to hang out with people, and he just said he had the most fun I had in months, and he felt so good and comfortable, and then me as a parent, I felt great because I knew that the group he was hanging out with was a good group to hang out with, and it wasn't just a normal online toxic gamer community that you sometimes see, or toxic gamer that experience when you're playing online with others, so he felt comfortable, he felt accepted and he had a ton of fun doing it. So those are just small examples of what that can look like, if we grow this and make it bigger, we can do those type of things on an even bigger scale, the cross-section of faith and fandom is a huge thing, just because for the longest time gamers nerds geeks, anime fans, table top gamers, we weren't accepted in culture, we weren't mainstream, we were supposed to stay in our basements and be on our own, and now that we're kind of breaking out of that and finding others that think like us, we're realizing that a lot more things are connected to that fandom, I can be a part of it, then what was told to us as we grew up and as we kinda went through this, so there's definitely definitely that intersection of faith in fandom...

NATHAN: Let's talk future then, if you could dream a dream, if you could think about what is the future of this intersection, what is the future of crossfire, or what does the future of just nerd churches in general?

RUSS: I would love to see crossfire or some kind of gaming ministry take over as another very large ministry extension of churches everywhere, they'll have the homeless ministry, they'll have the men's breakfast, the women's breakfast, they'll have umcor-they'll have Methodist Women, and they'll have Methodist gaming and that'll be a group where people know that if you're a gamer, here's your local church, you guys could do a Bible study that's game-related, here's our weekly streams, who's listed on the Methodist gaming streaming list of people that you can join hang out with that are like minded and gonna bring the specific content that you're looking for, Here's the Methodist gaming podcast, where like minds come together and discuss the way that gaming and faith intersect and having deep conversations together, but also having fun talking about the game as we love and the things we love I can see it becoming on par with a lot of the big gaming organizations that are out there, I feel like there are definitely plenty of spaces available there for larger, bigger faith-based gaming communities to pop up to be there, to have an outlet and a community for people to join in and be a part of, it's just, where does that happen? How does that start? And how does it all come together?

NATHAN: The connection does feel so large, believe it or not, I don't even know if you realize this, but there is actually a Methodists gaming, it's not an extension ministry not... I'm actually meeting with them this week, I'm realizing more and more that there are nerdy clergy out there that I literally got invited to join a nerdy clergy, D and D campaign. So there are enough of us out there that there's this big group of people that wanna start doing like a monster of the week campaign, there are so many discrds out there, there are groups out there, and I'm so concerned that they're not gonna have that same spirit of collaboration, you and I have this willingness to reach beyond the four walls and to unite into something incredible, there are so many of us and we're all disconnected, and that's another secret hope with this podcast, this is my goal, is to try and unite these wonderful people 'cause there are so many interesting people that I know, and we're all recreating the wheel, and the reality is, is like we don't have to... We can work together in some really remarkable ways and hopefully do some bigger things together than we could ever do each growing our own 500-something followers on Twitch. Why not work together and come up with something even greater, I really do see some possibility there...

RUSS: Everybody has a different goal, but when I see each goal, I'm like, That solves a piece of a missing puzzle, and we solve a bigger piece of your puzzle that could make what your idea is even bigger. And same with this group, so for me, it's like here's all these puzzle pieces of this gaming culture and gaming group and gaming community, what would it look like if all of these pieces came together and we each did an aspect, a piece of the whole overarching theme and what that looked like, because I think, again, it's the saying that You're... When you're together.

NATHAN: We need our Jesus Voltron, somehow we need to make it to a Ultron together and all unit and make something incredible 'cause it's out there. We just gotta do it and keep getting to know each other and talking, so maybe... Well, maybe we'll have on this podcast, I'll try and get everybody to come together for one like big finale, just so that I theorize whatever works, I just gotta get these people to know each other 'cause you're all wonderful. We just gotta collaborate, 'cause I think that everybody's doing something so exciting and everybody is so funny, I love watching everyone's streams and trying to hop in in the chat and be my cheeky self because I like to make little jokes and comments here and there, the more we can support each other the more I'm discovering just how good everyone is, it's not like anyone is a squeaky wheel, we're all really bringing our RA effort and the internet just doesn't work like that, it doesn't matter how hard you work necessarily at the get-go, it's that collaboration, it's that network, and so I'm really excited for the future and seeing what that Voltron might look like, and I should be talking to David in a later podcast as well, so who knows who knows where I'll be in like two months. I like to always ask our final question, just to get a good gauge of who you are as a nerd, and then also to make some great recommendations. What are you watching? What are you playing? What are you reading? I just finished up watching Jupiter's Legacy, which was a really good build-up with a really bummer last episode... What am I playing? I swear, I swear I'm going to eventually play the Famicom detective club games, I bought them on the switch and I'm so excited for them because ACE attorney is one of my favorite game genres of all time, one of my favorite franchises. And this is like the precursor to it, and I wanna play it so bad. But I literally lay down in bed at like 9-40, after a long day, I put my switch and I play five minutes of a visual novel, and I'm like, Well, I'm going to bed, and so I can't make it through. And then I just finished reading... I'm trying to remember what it was. I think it's a school frozen in time, it's a Manga by the artist of your lie in April, and it's really, really good. It's all about these students who had a student who committed suicide and then three months go by, and then all of a sudden they're all in the classroom together, nobody else is at the school. And all the doors are locked. They don't know what happened, they showed up for school and something's weird, they discovered that they're trapped in time, and one of them is the one who committed suicide, and none of them can remember who it was, and so I think it's gonna be this really interesting look at mental health and talking about like, You don't even know who I was, you don't even know where my brokenness was, where my heart was, and maybe this will be like a second chance to find the hurt... I don't know, I'm really intrigued by it. It's an interesting concept.

RUSS: Playing right now, I am absolutely sucked into a Returnal On Playstation 5, I just beat the Final Boss last night, which I'm so excited for it 'cause a lot of people who know me know that. Like I said, I'm story-driven gamer, so I do not play on higher difficulties, usually play on the lowest, 'cause I just wanna experience the fun of it, when I found out the return was an extremly hard game, I was like, Oh no, and all of a sudden it clicked. It clicked with me. I love playing it. I beat the first boss on my first try, which not a lot of people did, and I finally beat the last boss last night after I think I'm like 60 hours into the game.

NATHAN: So are you going for a new game plus? You gonna try to...

RUSS: I'm trying to get the platinum trophy, so that's gonna require a couple of play-throughs to get some collectibles, and unfortunately, with being a procedurally generated game, the collectibles don't always show up as people are very upset about, so I'm gonna get to start to dive into that and we'll see if I get angry and frustrated and stop, I'll probably be doing that up until ratchet and clank comes out next month, which I'm so super excited for it, I don't have any nerdy things that I'm watching right now. The two things that I absolutely love that I'm watching. One is kind of nerdy. I have been watching the new Mighty Ducks series on... Is that.

NATHAN: Oh very nice. I think that's definitely nerdy...

RUSS: A huge Mighty Ducks fan, being a hockey fan playing hockey in my spare time, I absolutely love the original Mighty Ducks, so the TV show has been scratching that itch, and then the other one that me and my wife enjoyed greatly, and it ends this week, we're big crime drama people. So we have been watching a Mare of East Town on HBO Max, and I highly recommend it. It is very good. As far as reading, unfortunately, I am in school right now, I am getting my Master's in teaching, this is my fun reading right now is finding your math power, teaching math to elementary students. So not anything fun for me as far as reading, I do not have the time, unfortunately, right now to read in my free time, I wanna get back to that probably will when school's done in about a year and a half, but... Gaming is kind of my one reprieve from school, so that takes up most of my free time that I have when I'm not either working, doing school or watching stuff with my wife.

NATHAN: You're reading subtitles, that's pretty much the extent of your reading. I get it, I get it. Well, that's good, that's good. So I appreciate the recommendations. I don't know if anybody will... Infinity half hour, but they might... I don't know if anybody's game, maybe somebody's really wanting to pay that textbook price, go ahead and drop a quick 120 or something on a textbook...

RUSS: Yeah, yeah, exactly.

NATHAN: Final question, just a final thing, opportunity, go ahead and do any shout-outs, where can people find you, either you personally or a Crossfire or both. I'll also include anything you guys want me to down in the show notes a linktree anything like that, but where would you recommend that people might reach out and find you.

RUSS: Like I said earlier, just search Crossfire: Faith+Gaming, anywhere, YouTube, Spotify, Apple Podcast, Facebook, all that, or just go to our website and you get all those links nice and neat at crossfirecast dot com, and my personal Twitter handle is best keeper, hopefully people are interested in checking us out a little bit more.

NATHAN: Awesome, well, thanks so much for us, I so appreciate your time, joining us here, and I know that everybody enjoyed walking through this journey with you. I'm probably getting more deep into the sauce of church and church planning than we were expecting, but this has definitely been an interesting conversation, learning some of the behind the scenes, I'm excited for where Crossfire goes from where checkpoint goes, and whatever God does with this crazy thing that we're calling game Church and nerd church. So thanks again, I appreciate it.

RUSS: Yeah, thanks for having me.

NATHAN: Alright, that's a wrap on nerds of pray, folks. I really hope that you enjoyed this podcast, this show is distributed free of charge and worldwide, but we would still love your support and help by giving us a five-star review, sharing the episode around your friends, and then we can reach as many nerds geeks and gamers as possible, be sure to go and follow Russ using all the links in the show notes, get them some kind words and encouragement for the great stuff that rossfire is doing, if you enjoyed this conversation and wanna talk more about it, feel free to join the Checkpoint Church discord. We'll be talking all about these exciting things that Russ brought to the table, not to mention this episode did premiere on our Twitch channel, so be sure to follow it back to catch the next episode live and discuss it with other viewers. Our next episode will tentatively drop hopefully three weeks from today, and will feature the author of the faith and fandom devotional series, Hector Miray, look forward to that, and thanks again for giving us a listen, if you have recommendations or would like to be considered as a future guest on the podcast, submit your name and biography to checkpoint Church at gmail dot com, nerds of pray is, recorded, edited and produced and distributed by Nathan Webb and Checkpoint Church. The Checkpoint church podcast is the hub for all of our podcast sermons and special projects. To learn more, go to checkpoint, church dot com or send questions to check in church at gmail dot com, remember that we believe three things to be true about every single one of you listening, regardless of where you might be with God. We firmly believe that God loves you. That we love you and that you matter. That's all for this one. I have been nerd, pastor Nate, and this has been The nerds of pray. Special thanks to our guest Russ Dornisch until next time - buh bye!


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