I always thought it would be a simple decision to make. Church before sports. End of discussion. Easy peasy lemon squeezy. But, as is often the case, the thought of making a decision and the act of making that decision are very different things.
My friend and I’d had a conversation over morning coffee about our decision to not let our children miss Sunday morning church services to take part in sporting events. That very evening I received an email containing my son’s basketball schedule for the weekend.
Two games were scheduled for Saturday and two for Sunday. The first Sunday game was slated for 9:30 A.M., smack dab in the middle of church.
I sat at the kitchen table waffling on the decision I had confidently shared with my friend hours earlier. Well, maybe it’ll be okay if he misses this one time, the little voice in my head reasoned. Weighing most heavily on my heart was the fact that I knew my son would be disappointed if he couldn’t play. Like most folks, I don’t like to see my children disappointed.
In the end, he did miss that game. He sat in church with his father, his brothers, and me while his team played a game across town. It was painful. Painful, I tell you.
But it was also fruitful. You see, my husband, Corey, and I didn’t tell our son outright that he couldn’t play that Sunday. The conversation went something like this:
“Hey, Owen, what do you think about that game being scheduled during church?”
“It stinks,” he answered. After a short silence he followed up with, “But I can still play the other games, right?”
He was disappointed for sure, but he knew without prompting from his parents what it meant to have a game scheduled during church. It was a proud mommy moment when I witnessed him come to that conclusion himself.
Making the Tough Call
The last thing I want to be is judgmental toward parents facing this common predicament. We all live in the same over-scheduled society where, in the great drama of life, church is often cast as the understudy and sometimes doesn’t even get a part to play. Christian parents are in a tough spot when it comes to church vs. sports conflicts.
It’s imperative that we think through our family priorities and make wise decisions about kids’ sports and other extracurricular activities. We are called to be a light to this world, and sometimes that light may shine brighter when it is missing from the basketball court.
Corey and I have not laid down a hard-and-fast rule that our kids will never skip church activities for athletic events. In fact, our boys have been late to youth group more than once because of sports practice and have missed out on Sunday school to get to games on time. Someday there could come a time when a particular activity scheduled during Sunday morning church wins out over sitting in the sanctuary. But we want any such instances to be the exception, not the norm.
How do you decide what to do when faced with a tough call? Here are a few principles that help our family make these difficult decisions.
1. Be Realistic About Your Child’s Athletic Prospects
I want to keep my kids’ sports life in perspective. My sons are not going to be pro athletes, and there’s a high likelihood they won’t play in college either. According to the NCAA, only 3.4 percent of high school boys’ basketball players will play in college. Of those who play college ball, only 1.2 percent will be drafted by the NBA. Other sports have similar numbers.
There is great value in playing sports, including things like being a part of a team, being pushed physically, learning new things, and learning to win and lose with character. These are important life lessons, but if they come at the detriment of my kids’ spiritual lives, they’re not worth it.
2. Give Kids a Realistic Perspective on Themselves
I don’t want my boys to grow up believing the universe revolves around them. Corey and I are their parents, not their road crew, and I am fearful that dropping everything to work around their athletic schedule will lead them to believe otherwise.
Paul urges the Christians in Philippi to “do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves” (Philippians 2:3, NIV). I want my children to understand the value of Paul’s convictions.
One day they will enter adulthood, and if our parenting choices lead them toward conceit rather than away from it, we will have done them a disservice. Helping our kids accept that there are times when their desires must take the backseat to something more important will be beneficial for years to come. Down the road, their spouses, employers, and friends will be better served if our children learn to place the needs of others above their own.
3. Make God More Important
I am wary of raising my kids to believe their activities are more important than their God. I’m certain families don’t do this intentionally, but when sports and other activities always come first and God always comes second, or even gets pushed aside for a season, we risk silently teaching our kids that God is not important.
When we push God to the outskirts of our lives, we begin to trust ourselves more and him less. We start to believe our lives are in our own hands, and our ability to see God for who he is—Creator, Father, Protector and Sustainer—begins to fade.
4. Allow Room for Creativity
God doesn’t live in a church building, and he will meet us elsewhere (Matthew 18:20). If and when we decide to miss church for sports, a recital, or another event, we can still keep faith at the forefront of our lives. Maybe a game or performance would cause us to miss a sermon on taking care of widows and orphans. With a bit of planning, we could select an alternative to church that would leave a lasting impact on our kids.
For example, we could take part in a food-packing event with an organization such as Feed My Starving Children, which sends food to developing countries. We could purchase and donate supplies to a homeless shelter. Or we could keep a devotional book or biography of a missionary or even a Christian professional athlete in the car to read on the way to the game. Add a little Christian music to the mix, and we could have a family church service in the car! Corporate worship is important, but there are ways to keep Christ at the center when we miss a Sunday service.
5. Don’t Be Judgmental
We parents are given the opportunity to raise our kids as we see fit, and that will look different from household to household. Just because John Thompson missed church for a football game doesn’t necessarily mean Jim Smith will. And that’s okay.
We must make the decision that is right for our own family without passing judgment on families who choose differently. The key is not whether we allow our children to miss church for extracurricular activities; it’s that we don’t allow our culture to sway our faith.
Answering the Call
Jesus gave us a challenging assignment: We are to be in this world but not of it (John 17:16). Answering that call may look different for you than it does for me. But if we choose to be purposeful in our decision making, our light will shine brightly wherever we are, whether that is on the bleachers with some popcorn or in a pew with open Bibles.