Thus when I see an article about parenting written by a parent who is trying their best to “bring up a child in the way he should go” I am very reluctant to judge and critique because, like I said, parenting is hard.
That being said, I’ve noticed a trend in the sharing of a few articles that have been brought to my attention by good Christian friends who happen to be good parents as well that disturbs me. The theme of the articles is kids playing sports and how to juggle the obligations of being on a sports team with the obligation of living life with the spiritual family we call church. The overall tone of the articles has been one of balance while trying to give priority to church functions.
The articles I don’t really take issue with. It’s the tone of the comments on the articles or by sharers of them. Comments like, “I would NEVER allow my child to miss a church service for a GAME!” and “Any parent that chooses sports over church on Sundays needs to reassess their priorities,” and the brilliant piece of theology, “Whatever we do instead of going to church teaches our children that activity is more important than church.”
Now, I must be honest with you: I have four daughters, and at one point in time all four of them were playing softball at the same time. Needless to say, our weekends were packed and it was nothing for us to spend an entire Saturday at a softball field. Two of my daughters play fall softball and one plays high school basketball. Needless to say, sports is a big part of their lives. In the few short seasons they have played they have learned the concepts of teamwork, putting the needs of the team in front of their individual needs, valuing diversity and good sportsmanship. Oh, and I forgot to add, they have missed church events for sports on occasion (You may commence with the shocked gasping noises).
So, are my priorities messed up? Am I teaching my girls that softball is more important than church? Am I an utter failure as a parent?
No. And here’s why: my kids understand that the Church is more than meeting together on Sunday. If that’s all that the Church is, we are no more spiritual than an NFL team. The Church is the body of Christ, and that cannot be contained to a Sunday meeting. Yet, they also understand that the best way to serve the body is by meeting with her on a regular basis so that we can encourage one another, build up one another and love one another. But the last thing I want to teach them is that their salvation is dependent on going to church or that spirituality can be measured by something as tangible as Sunday School attendance.
NEWS FLASH: Going to church every Sunday will not save you! Neither will going on Wednesday nights, or Saturday morning prayer breakfasts. These things are all well and good but they cannot save you. Their ability to save ranks right up their with the Pharisees tithing their herbs and spices: while it’s nice and looks good, it does not save. That being said, I also firmly believe if you are saved you will plug into a family of believers and meet with them regularly, not because it saves you, but because you realize you can love God better with a family encouraging you.
Now, back to the main point: how does a parent balance sports and church events? Here’s a list of a few things that we try in order to strike that balance:
1. Emphasize that Sports are not the Most Important Thing in Life
Not even close. Things like faith, family and education all come before sports. Our girls all understand that a certain GPA must be maintained if they want to play. They have missed practices due to church events. They have even missed a game so we could go to our Church’s Homecoming as a family. In our family sports is a privilege, not a right. This is taught both by example and by word of mouth.
2. Communicate Clearly with Coaches the Importance of Sundays to Your Family
You may be surprised at how flexible some coaches will be in order to make sure that every kid can be at practice. Yes, there are exceptions, and I realize that coaches are often restricted by field availability when it comes time to schedule practices, but I have found that if you are vocal early in the process (e.g. the sign-up phase), that compromise can be had. Granted, sometimes that compromise is moving a practice from 11AM on Sunday to mid-afternoon, but at least that frees up time for you to go and worship with your church family.
3. Let Your Kids Have Input
Okay, it’s time to be brutally honest here. More often than not the ones choosing sports over church is not the kids, but the parents. Last summer my oldest was presented with an opportunity to go to Mexico and build a house for a homeless family as part of a mission trip. The biggest hang-up was she would have to miss the All-Star Softball tournament. I let her make the decision. We laid out the pros and cons of each, and she chose Mexico. We have also allowed our kids choose whether or not to play a sport. This past year two of my daughters elected to take music lessons over playing softball or soccer. Even though the sports fan in me would have loved to watch them play a sport, the dad in me realizes that if their heart isn’t in it, it’s no fair to them or their coaches.
4. Set Limits
Our kids are limited to one sport per kid, per season. With four girls, that’s more than enough! We also limit involvement with travel ball and the number of leagues they can be involved in per year. Limits are important. Children need to know that God has designed a rhythm to life and part of that rhythm includes rest and relaxation. Too often I have seen parents and teens totally burned out because they always have somewhere to go and play/practice/participate and they never have a time to reflect on God and who He is and what He wants.
5. Worship Always
On the rare occasion my child has had to miss a Sunday service due to sports, we have taken the time to worship as a family. Sometimes this meant communion and Bible reading at the ball field (in which we invite other families to participate if they so choose. Talk about evangelism!). Other times it involved singing worship songs in the morning before we left. But we always make it a point to worship. Why? Because this teaches that the Church cannot be contained to a building on Sunday morning.
6. Do Not Neglect Church Attendance
While I don’t think church attendance can save you, I will say that if you are saved you will attend church regularly. My girls may miss 2 Sunday mornings a year due to softball. Where are they the other 50 Sunday mornings of the year? In church, having fellowship, breaking bread, praying, and being taught the Word of God. Through this routine they are taught the rhythms of work, worship and rest, and it’s a rhythm that I have seen them live out in their own lives, sports and all.
7. Do Not Be Quick to Judge Other Parents
Again, parenting is hard. The easy thing to do is point a finger and make an example. Instead of doing that, offer to help. Pray with other Christian parents. Car pool if possible; be there when they need to vent or rest, and give sound, loving counsel when asked. And yes, if they miss a few Sundays in a row, gently encourage them and remind them that their spiritual family needs them and they need their spiritual family. After all, parenting is hard.