As our children grow up, life changes more than we expect—at least more than I expected. I thought we were busy when my children were little. I had no idea! As my children have gotten older and more involved in extracurricular activities, my wife and I spend more time trying to coordinate who is taking which kids where. Yet, busyness is not the biggest struggle. The biggest struggle we’ve had to face is what to do with youth sports activities that happen on Sundays.
This question is more complicated than many think. Some make a blanket statement saying: “Sunday is for worship, not for sports.” As a result, they come to the conclusion that children shouldn’t participate in ANY sporting event on a Sunday. On the other hand, many parents have gone a different route, choosing to attend every sporting event/practice at the expense of church attendance. These parents feel a real obligation to the team on which their child plays--by joining the team, their child has made a commitment to attending practices and games. And there's a practical angle--if you regularly miss practices, then, rightly so, you won’t be playing in the games. If you’re going to miss a bunch of practices and never get to play in a game, what’s the point? That’s the dilemma many parents are facing.
So, what’s the solution? Some choose to skip church for the sake of sports, others choose pulling children out of sports altogether. Neither extreme are great solutions. As my wife and I have wrestled through this dilemma, we’ve come to a middle ground and held firmly to it. As a result, we’ve actually begun to see changes in the way organizations have scheduled games and practices.
Our family is highly-involved and athletic. All four daughters play, some on multiple teams—often toward the top of their teams. On top of that, my wife coaches every one of their teams as either head or assistant coach. This makes the stakes higher when we choose to miss a game or practice. So, how have we decided to handle this situation?
First, we prioritized worshiping with God’s people and the church’s youth ministry. We decided that these things are essential aspects of what it means to be part of the Body of Christ, so they are at the top of the priority list. We will NOT miss them, neither will we leave church early or rush out of fellowship time following the service. These rules also apply for the church’s youth ministry activities.
Second, we inform the sport’s organization at the beginning of every season regarding our convictions. My wife makes a joke that every season she has to write her “manifesto of faith” and send it off to the organization. We have found it important to be clear with expectations. We let the organization know that our family is not committing to Sunday morning or Wednesday evening games/practices, neither is my wife as the coach. This helps to set the tone right away. It also lobbies for a change in the organization's assumption that Sunday mornings are merely free time.
Even more beautiful than setting clear expectations has been the opportunity to share our faith with the organization’s leaders. In the process of explaining our commitment levels, we also share the reasoning for those commitments. Yes, we love sports, but we love Jesus more than sports. So, our worship and growth in Him takes priority. It has been a great way to share our faith with an organization at the beginning of every season.
Finally, we spend a lot of time talking to our children about this stance and why we take it. At first, they felt guilty about leaving their teams short on players. They also were disappointed at how many games they missed—some of them “big” games. Yet, the more we have spoken with our kids about our priorities and the things we love, their hearts have changed. It’s important to let your kids know that you are not simply imposing “another rule to follow,” but are choosing to place a priority on worshiping God—choosing to participate in something that ultimately brings much more joy than a game. As we speak to our kids about this decision, we don’t want them simply to obey the decision, we want them to love the decision. So, as a parent, make sure you love the decision, then talk about it often with your child.
We’ve been taking this stand as a family for seven or eight years, and, surprisingly, we haven’t had any pushback from coaches or organizations. Every coach we’ve spoken with has understood our stance and every organization has allowed my wife to coach. Our children haven’t been “penalized” for missing any games/practices for worship or children’s ministries. Sure, some of the kids on the team will make a comment about them missing a game, and some of the parents will comment to us, “Would have been nice for your girls to be at the game this morning,” but, all in all, there have been no negative ramifications.
There have been positive results. We’ve actually begun to see organizations change the way they schedule games and practices. With a couple previous organizations, they slowly stopped scheduling games and practices on Sunday mornings and almost completely stopped scheduling them on Wednesday nights. In turn, this freed up other parents on that team who didn’t take as strong a stance as our family to attend worship. Not only that, but we also have noticed that our public stance, has empowered other Christian parents on teams to take a similar stance. We increasingly heard more parents saying, “We will not miss worship for a game/practice.” The impact of our small stance spread far beyond what we imagined.
But, isn’t that the way the Kingdom works? Jesus said, “The kingdom of heaven is like a grain of mustard seed that a man took and sowed in his field. It is the smallest of seeds, but when it has grown it is larger than all the garden plants and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and make nests in its branches…The kingdom of heaven is like leaven that a woman took and hid in three measures of flour, till it was all leavened” (Matthew 13:31-33, ESV).
For those parents wrestling with how to handle youth sports and Sunday mornings, it’s my prayer that you would be empowered to take a stance. As a couple, spend time prayerfully deciding where to draw your line in the sand. Then, boldly take that stance and watch God spread it like leaven through your organization.