Are Kids’ Sports Our New God?

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Quite a few years back, my son (a second grader at the time) bounded down the stairs early one Saturday morning excited about his baseball tournament. It was going to be a beautiful, sunny day and our family was looking forward to spending it outside at the ballpark.

But when we got to the field we learned the day wouldn’t be what we planned. The coach informed us he had called in a substitute to replace our son in the tournament since we had previously told him if our team got slotted for a Sunday morning game we would have to miss that one. But apparently for him, if you can’t play Sunday, you don’t play Saturday either.

Our son responded to the disappointment better than I expected. Much better than I did, I might add!

We understand and value commitment. And we were fully committed to our baseball team. But, our first commitment, and the one informing all other commitments, is to our Lord.

Sunday is to be a day of worship and Sabbath rest. It is a day meant to put us back together after living in the world and with our sinful selves all week. As created beings designed to worship this should be the day above all days, one a Christian looks forward to as the highpoint of the week because we need to hear the truth of the gospel to put us back together again.

But this isn’t how our culture views it, and unfortunately not how many Christians think of it anymore either.

Little did I know that Saturday morning all those years ago was only the beginning of our personal battle with what has become an accepted trade-off with kids’ sports. Because of athletics, on any given weekend my sons have no friends or neighbors to even hang out with because everyone seems to be out of town for their competitive sport. And nearly every Sunday morning my pastor-husband feels the vacancy left in the pews by those who have abandoned the church for the fields and gyms.

This has led to much conversation in our home. After all, we have two athletic boys who love sports; one of them is beginning to wrestle varsity at our large public high school, and is looking forward to varsity football. The other plays middle school level football, basketball, and baseball. Neither have ever done club sports or played a game in place of church. Not once have they complained. And not once have I ever felt like they (or we) are missing out.

Quite the opposite actually, because when I see report after report of the 70-80% of kids who abandon the church upon college, and read that this generation is the least “Christian” ever, and that kids most typically adapt the ways of what has been modeled to them by their parents, I know they aren’t the ones missing out. If what I want most is for them to grow to be lovers of Christ, then prioritizing the things of God must come before, yes, even sports. And even if they grow up to become professional athletes, “life” will still never be found in their sport.

Life is found in Christ alone.

But too many Christians have deemed too many other things as more important than Sabbath day worship of the King.  We have bought in to the mindset that in order for our kids to be competitive in high school they must be on an elite travel team from the time they are young. (Never mind that many of these same kids drop out, burned out, before ever reaching the high school varsity level). On off-sports weekends (and after long busy weeks, or late Saturday nights), we’re inclined to think we deserve a free Sunday morning to sleep in, or “need” it to catch up on other things.

As the church we’ve not only accommodated this mindset, but succumbed to it. In my personal opinion adding Saturday night church services do not lead people to think highly of the Sabbath, but communicates that church is something, like everything else, that can just be fit in. But what happened to starting with Sunday morning worship as our non-negotiable, and centering our life on the gospel and the church?

Sadly, it’s not surprising we don’t see worship as essential when what the church is offering is often not the “rest” we truly need.  Instead of hearing preaching and teaching about who Jesus is for us, and the freedom he brings, we hear law-driven messages about what we need to do for him. Is it any wonder we don’t prioritize going to hear a message that beats us up and is void of grace?

But if we truly understood the gospel we would not only look forward to Sunday worship, but long for the ultimate Sabbath rest when we are united with Him for eternity.

Until that time, what would happen if Christians rose up and stood firm for the Sabbath?  What if we said to the local sports organizations that we aren’t going to play on Sunday mornings? What if we banned together to change what has become the new normal? And even if the culture didn’t change what if we said with our families, “as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.” (Joshua 24:15)?

May we have the courage to stand up to our cultural norms. May our children learn by our commitment to the church (not out of duty, but a desire and delight) what is essential for their souls. May they see that instead of missing out by not playing on Sunday morning, what they gain is far greater. As John 17:3 says, may they grow up to know life only to be found in the one true God and in Jesus, whom he sent. This is my greatest hope for my children; no game, athletic success or other accomplishment could ever compare.

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