Is It Time to Re-Think Your Family’s Sports Schedule?

From baseball season to fantasy football leagues, sports are tightly woven into the fabric of our culture. Since this is a blog for women, I may not be writing to many die-hard sports fans or professional players, but that doesn’t necessarily mean sports aren’t playing a major role in your life and the rhythm of your family.

A Huffington post article, The Final Four, Travel Teams and Empty Pews, recently asked the question, “Who is winning the competition between sports and religion?” Until I read it, I wasn’t consciously aware that sports and faith had stepped into the same ring, but the numbers I read concerned me:

  • In a study of sixteen declining congregations in the U.S. and Canada, the number one reason cited by clergy and church members for failing attendance was the “secularization of Sunday.” Many church members cited their kids’ sports as being the most critical factor.
  • More than 1/3 of congregants in a separate study said school and sports-related activities was “quite a bit of an issue” when considering their church attendance.
  • About 2/3 of “Easter Christians” polled said they attend church only twice a year because they are too busy with other commitments including kids’ sports programs.  

Shouldn’t someone throw the flag here? Isn’t it time we notice that sports are pulling Christians out of the pews? There is bound to be a ripple effect. Church isn’t just something we do. Church is the artery that pumps blood to so much that is necessary to run the race of faith well. Soccer games and baseball practices are not a good substitute.

The article held up those church leaders who are scrambling to respond to this trend by adding sports programs of their own, creating additional service times, etc. If churches are reaching people for Christ with these methods, I say, “Go team!” But I think it’s important to throw the ball back into the parents’ court and ask a bold question. Do our kids really need to be involved in sports?

Lets think it through for a moment:

  • What do our children really learn through sports involvement?
  • What do our families really gain by enrolling our children in organized sports activities?
  • What is really on the line when our kids miss a lot of church or our family doesn’t attend church together because of sports?

The answers to these questions need to be squeezed through the grid of God’s Word, not just our personal preferences. What is the purpose of parenting anyway? What should be the priority for our families?

I believe as parents we are called to do more than just raise good kids. Our mission is to make disciples. We also need to work hard to show them how to “seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness” (Matt. 6:33). We must teach them how to make God their most important priority.

Can God be your highest priority if you play sports? Sure. I’m not talking about some legalistic line in the sand that asks all Christians to choose between sports and Jesus. But I would like Christian parents to join me in considering whether our children’s activities are contributing to discipleship or simply to busyness.

What does this look like practically? Does it mean all Christians must sit the bench? I don’t think so.

At our house it means we allow our son to play one sport in one league, and we vigilantly guard Sundays so they’re activity-free. Sports still occupy two nights per week for a span of a few months, which applies plenty of pressure to our family calendar. Would my son like to play more? Yes. But we are not willing to divvy up the time and energy that would require.

My little guys are little. I realize that makes me a bit of an armchair quarterback on this issue, but it’s less about rules and more about establishing a family priority. I hesitate to put the cart before the horse and predict what we will do in future parenting seasons, but we plan to fight hard against allowing sports to play too big a role in the lives of our children or family.

More and more leagues are being offered, more and more practices scheduled, more and more pressure applied to our children to excel in sports for one simple reason: there is a demand for these things. If we as Christian parents called a colossal time out and re-evaluated our involvement, it might make a difference in the bigger picture. It might not. But it would certainly make a difference in our children, our families, and our churches.

So, whaddya say parents? Shall we pull out the playbook of God’s Word and hold up our family schedules to it? Shall we stop going along with the sports-crazy crowd and dare to ask if raising good soccer players might be competing with raising sold-out disciples?

It’s a course that might not win us any parenting trophies in our sports-crazy world, but Paul seemed to have known that was coming when he gave us this important thought to consider (utilizing sports language no less!):

“Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it. Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable.” (1 Cor. 9:24–25)  

Does your family calendar reflect that you are seeking a perishable or an imperishable crown?