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February 17, 2019

DISCLAIMER: this blog is longer than usual.

I got a really great email from one of our sharp young moms at church that I think bears sharing.  She and her family aren’t the only ones who are struggling with the dilemma she shares.  I’ve changed the names to protect the innocent.

What can we do about the Sunday activity epidemic? It’s happening, we know it but what’s the best way to handle it as a parent in our generation?

I’ll give you a scenario with Suzie. Suzie is involved in softball, volleyball and she shows horses. I think it’s good for her to be active and involved in playing sports. Although neither her dad nor I are big into sports, I do think it’s good for her body and mind to be challenged in these areas. Horse showing is a ‘pick and choose’ what you want to be apart of so it’s easy to set apart Sundays or other days that we feel other things could be more important. However, volleyball and softball, not a chance. In the upcoming weeks, Suzie has 3 volleyball tournaments that fall on Sundays. The last one was in our town, I dropped her off, missed half the tournament and went with the rest of the family to church. However, these next few that are coming up are located further distances where that’s not an option. In your opinion, what is the best way to handle these situations? Obviously there are multiple options but none of them really seem to stick out. We could;

   A) Not participate in any volleyball or softball because let’s face it, it’s not going to change, I only see it getting worse. 

  B ) Participate but create black and white boundaries that absolutely no Sunday activities will take place and let her             team down with her absence. 

  C) Choose to let her go if we can find her transportation so the rest of the family can go to church.

  D) Skip church all together and make it a family day.

I really hate that this is even a discussion, I wish it was different and not something we have to face but the reality is we do and there are decisions that have to be made.

See why I wanted to share this?  There may be a family out there who won’t have to deal with this, but the vast majority will.  Even here in the Midwest, where there are churches dotting the landscape, Sunday has become the most popular day for kids’ sports.

This mom’s right, you’re not likely to change the attitude and practice of the sports leagues your kids are playing in.  They can’t see Sunday as a special day for church and family in the rear-view mirror, even as a dot on the shrinking horizon.  As much as I wish it were otherwise, there’s no going back.

The Bible doesn’t lay down any black and white rule on this.  There is no “Thou shalt not play softball on Sunday,” there.  No 11th Commandment that applies to youth sports leagues.  I’m actually kind of glad for this.  It would be easier if there was a commandment about it, but it would make meaningful discussion for families about this very challenging issue moot.  I think healthy discussion about this is good for a family.

So which of the options my friend listed makes the most sense to you?  I know  a lot of families who just don’t fight it.  They pick option D and go with the flow and don’t worry about making it a moral choice.  It’s not a dilemma for them.  Not the church part, anyway.  Their biggest problem is figuring  out how to pay for it all.

I don’t think I’d generally recommend either the A or D option.  A seems too rigid and D is way to fuzzy.  I don’t think a family will do themselves long-term good with D, and I think getting all wrapped around the axle of a legalistic A-choice sets up another set of potentially negative outcomes.

So we’re left with options B or C.  Or maybe a kind of hybrid alternative to option C: decide how often being absent from church is acceptable, then be strategic about these absences, and let the coaches know this is what your choice is.

Be sure of this, though.  If you decide that your kid being absent every Sunday from church in order to play their sport isn’t acceptable to you, there will be consequences.  Even if your kid is the best player on the team, most coaches will automatically build their roster around other kids.  Your decisions to honor God and attend church may not mean much to your kid’s coach.  Sorry.  It’s reality.  Some coaches will even go so far as to bench your kid out of spite because you won’t let them play every Sunday.  The more competitive the league is, the more this is likely to happen.  I hate it, but it’s reality.

If this happens, I think you, as the parent, will want to think long and hard about your decision.  And not just your decision on whether or not your kid plays on Sundays.  Do you want your kid to have an adult of high influence in their life who’s strongest motivation is to win a youth sports league?  Where winning a trophy (or even just bragging rights) is more important than building character?  I wouldn’t.  The best coaches are not always the winningest (I think that’s a legit sports term) ones. 

I need to insert here the fact that I’m not a “can’t we all win because we participated” kind of guy.  I don’t like the idea of participation trophies.  I think healthy competition is a good thing.  And in a world of healthy competition, there are winners and there are losers.  So don’t misunderstand me.  I’m not saying, “Don’t try so hard to win.”  What I’m saying is, “Winning is a worthy goal, but it’s not the ultimate goal.”  The ultimate goal is that your kid’s youth sports league experience will teach them how to be a reliable part of a team, that they will develop physical, mental and emotional skills through the experience, and that they will, most of all, develop character.

At the risk of making somebody mad, I’ve got to ask, “Do you believe your kid’s work in their youth sports league will result in a full-ride collage scholarship, and then a full-time career as a professional athlete in their chosen sport?”  Because if it does, and you’re a pragmatist, you’ll select option D and not look back.

According to the NCAA, 2% of college athletes go on to make a professional career of their sport.  TWO PERCENT.  Forgive me for being so bold, but is your budding all-star in the 2 percentile?

Just in pragmatic terms, an every-Sunday schedule for your kid and their sport probably doesn’t make good sense.  So.

But there’s part of this thing that doesn’t have anything to do with your kid’s potential future in athletics.  It has much more to do with their future as a person, and the values they will carry with them into their adult life.  These values are being formed and developed in them right now.  And your decision on whether or not to play on Sunday is part of the process that is forming and developing them.  Choose carefully what values you want to impress on your child.

Here’s what I’d do.  You can take it or leave it.

First of all, I’d spend a few days praying about this.  Believe it or not, I might even spend some time fasting about it.  Not to get God’s attention, but so He can get mine.  I’d invite my spouse to join me in this.  But I’d ask for us to both go solo on it.

Then I’d set aside some time alone with my spouse to talk about what we’re thinking and feeling after this time for prayer and possibly fasting.  In this conversation, I’d try to be creative and explore possible options.  I would not put us under the pressure to solve the problem in this conversation, though, because that kind  of pressure is generally counter-productive.

For me, it would come down to some hybrid form of option C.  How many Sundays at church are we willing to be gone?  And why do we think that number?  There’s no particular right or wrong answer, but you’d better know why you settle on the number.

God’s not giving out awards in heaven for how many Sundays you have perfect attendance at church.  It’s not about that.  But I can tell you after 45 years of watching hundreds of families, if church and being at church isn’t a value for the parents, it probably won’t be for the kids.  And if it’s not a lived-out value when the kids are young, they’re not likely to carry the value with them into their own adult life, and eventually into their family life.

So how do you settle on going to church often enough that your kids know it’s a family value for you, and then pick it up for themselves, without leaving the impression that church is a totally optional activity that’s farther down the list of priorities than school?  (By the way, if the choice was between going to a youth sports league game or tournament, or going to school, how hard would the choice be?  Ouch.  Sorry.  Not sorry.)

How about if you have a values discussion with your entire family?  Your older kids will be able to do more with this discussion than the younger ones, but it’s a good idea for the younger ones to be present for it if they’re old enough to not wreck the whole thing.  How about presenting the problem: In our family, the most important thing is putting God at the center of our lives.  We’ve got a tough decision to make, though, about softball (or volleyball, or soccer, or video game league, or whatever), because a lot of the games and tournaments are on Sunday, and that’s the day we always want to go to church.  Does anybody here have any ideas how we could keep God at the center and still do the sport?  

Let them talk.  Or let them just be quiet.  They’ll need to think about this.  Then, when they’re ready to talk, treat their input seriously.

I’d go on: Your mom (or dad) and I have been thinking a lot about this.  You know how much we love that you have such a great time with the team and the sport.  We love that.  And we’ve been praying about how we can keep God at the center of our family and you have all the opportunity that you can to play your sport.  Does this make any sense to you?

Please don’t use this as a script, but I’ll go on to give you a possible way to proceed.

Your mom (or dad) and I are thinking we’ll be OK with missing church a few times for your team, but we really don’t feel like we can miss every time your team plays on Sunday.  Here’s what we’re thinking.

And then you tell them how many Sundays you’ve decided is right for you.

Then you say: We’ll talk to Coach about this and let him know this is what we’ll be doing.  How do you feel about this?

It’s understandable if they feel a little afraid that they’ll lose their place on the lineup.  It’s OK if they have some fear of being embarrassed or singled out.  Wouldn’t you?  So give them grace for this.  But firmly and gently draw the line for what your family will be doing.

There’s no excellent answer for this moving target.  No one rule fits every family on it.  Except for the rule I put in my little script for your talk: Put God at the center of your family (and then fight like crazy to keep Him there).

The best news I have on this is that God wants to make you wise to make the best decision on this dilemma.  He says so in James 1:5.  You might want to look it up and commit it to memory.

I’d say, “Good luck,” but I don’t really believe in luck.  Not with this.  So I’ll say, “God’s best.”

From → Parenting

One Comment
  1. Shane permalink

    how about going to the Wednesday service at night?

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