Church & Sports
The two commands of Jesus: go and come. Jesus invites the weary and burdened traveler to come to Him for rest. Jesus invites the curious fisherman to come and follow Him. Jesus also sends His followers into the world. Peter, the extroverted fisherman, was invited to follow Jesus; Peter’s obedience resulted in being sent into the world to pass along Jesus’ call for those far from God to come and follow Him.
What’s more vital: the coming to Jesus or the going in Jesus’ name? Should you focus on learning all that you can about Jesus and His Word, or is the need so great for you to be the hands, feet, and mouth of Jesus to your world that you must simply go? The tension between Jesus’ two commands is where His followers dwell. It is likely that you lean one way or the other, either feeling that your primary responsibility as a Christian is to go and tell or to come and sit at the feet of Jesus.
As you read the Bible I think that you will find that the either/or debate leads to a both/and solution. Yes, we are to come to Jesus, to spend time with Him by being part of a local church to serve others in our community groups, teach a kid’s class, carry one another’s burdens, and to gather with others to worship Jesus and be shaped by His Word. But if our focus ends with gathering together with other believers on a Sunday, we have missed our Lord’s mission for the church. The mission He has given us is to proclaim His gospel to those in our community as well as to our neighbors across the globe.
How does this tension resolve itself if you are fourteen and blessed with the ability to run fast, kick hard, and place the soccer ball into the back net? Jesus has gifted you with certain abilities, so follow His command in Matthew 28 to make disciples as you go to weeknight practices or spend your weekends in cities across the southeast. Your mission field is your team, your sanctuary is the pitch (that's a soccer field for you Americans), and your sermons are preached by living out your faith in Jesus as you travel with your team.
However, God has also called you to belong to the church. As part of the body of Christ, you are gifted by God in order to serve others. He’s also given you the gift of the church in order to instruct you, serve you, carry your burdens, and to serve as your faith family where you worship, pray, and serve together. In Acts 2 the church gathers together for studying Scripture, prayer, and eating a meal with fellow believers. While we are commanded to go, we are also commanded to gather in community with one another as the church.
What do you do when the option of traveling with your team to play your sport conflicts with being with your church family? Over the past few weeks I have spoken with a wide variety of adults on this topic, including youth pastors and several parents. Some have elected for their athlete to focus on school sports that do not typically conflict with regular church attendance and others have gone the travel ball route. One thing I have learned through the conversations is there is likely no convincing someone to change their opinion on the subject. As a youth pastor for more than fifteen years, it is a tension that I have watched play out in family after family.
If you lean towards the “coming” side of the question, remind yourself that even faithful church attendance does not equal being Christ-like. Unfortunately, it does not take long to think of someone who is seldom vacant from their pew on Sunday morning, yet lacks the visual signs of being a disciple of Jesus. Just as I did not become a southern cook capable of making melt-in-your-mouth, made-from-scratch biscuits from dining regularly at my grandmother’s table, neither does attending church activities bring about love, gentleness and self-control in one’s life.
On the other side of the equation, if you are always going and not operating as part of the church then how are you growing in your knowledge of Jesus? Where are you being held accountable? Where are you being sharpened as iron sharpens iron? God loves the church (Ephesians 5:25-27), He’s placed believers in the church, and the church is His vehicle to take the gospel to the nations. How can you value the church if you do not regularly participate? If you are almost always selecting a sports game over church attendance, then can you honestly say that you value the church over a sport?
A few things to think through as you wrestle with this decision for your family:
- If your family seldom misses on Sundays:
- How are you encouraging your child to use his/her gifts to advance God’s kingdom? How are you helping him/her transition from knowing facts about God to living out his/her faith?
- Spend some time reflecting on the mission field that God has called your family and your kids to reach. Who or what does that look like?
- How does your consistent attendance and participation result in you going to tell others about Jesus?
- If your family often travels on Sundays and is away from your church family:
- If my child is learning what I value most by how I spend my time, then what am I teaching him/her about my value of the church if we only attend when there is not a conflict with our team’s schedule?
- Is my sport helping me live out the Great Commission, or is it hindering me from living out the Great Commission?
- When you are at the ball field or traveling on the weekend, how can you purposefully use that time to honor Jesus and share His love with others?
- What’s my true motivation for being part of a travel team? Could I accomplish the same thing through a school team which typically has fewer conflicts with church attendance?
- Since feeling connected to the church is vital to whether or not a teen wants to go, how can they form a closeness with those their age at church if they go weeks without seeing one another at church?
When your family is away on Sunday:
- Lead your family in a Bible study when you are away on the weekends; another option is to contact Neil or Leah Frances and ask for them to share with you the upcoming Sunday morning lesson and use it to lead a family Bible study
- Have a list of the other kids in your child’s Sunday school class and pray for them by name when you are away
- Encourage your child to lead devotional and prayer time with their teammates
- Check our Youth Parents Facebook group to discover what is being taught each week and use that as a guide for what to discuss with your athlete
- Be intentional as a parent about looking for opportunities to serve the other parents on your kid’s team