The religion of sports


This entry is part 1 of 1 in the series The religion of sports

The religion of sports.  Really?  Sports are a religion?  Even if that’s true, so what?  It’s only a small fraction of the country playing pro sports.  And they’ve made a choice to go for money.  So isn’t it really about the religion of money?  Well – no, it isn’t.

The religion of sportsI actually wasn’t planning on writing this.  Not today at least.  Off and on though, I do see evidence of the religion of sports.  Unfortunately, too much on – not enough off.  

I need to point out that I live on the west coast.  That’s important, because professional sports broadcasts that originate from the east cost are on in the morning our here.  So games that are 1 PM Eastern Time are actually 10 AM Pacific Time.  That means they cut into church services out here, rather than being after church like back there.

The religion of sports

So now you’re probably thinking it’s times like Sunday mornings during NFL season.  But you’d be wrong.  It’s not the professional football of the rest of the world either.  Sorry, not professional golf either.  Not professional basketball.  Nor professional baseball.  Actually, not any professional sport.  At least not that much.  Not anymore.  With so many people having DVR capability, it’s no problem for all but the most die-hard fan (who has to watch live) to watch after church.  

For those who need to at least know the score of a game, who’s to say whether someone looking at a cell phone during service is reading the Bible – or checking out ESPN?

But what if the game isn’t on TV?  Or Radio?  Or the web?  Those are the ones I’m really talking about.

if anyone causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin

Am I really implying that parents who have their children participate in sports are causing their children to sin?

No.  I’m not implying it.  I’m saying right out that, depending on circumstances, I think it is happening.  No implications.  An outright statement.

Let’s look at the passage from which that subtitle comes:

The Greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven

Mt 18:1 At that time the disciples came to Jesus and asked, “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?”

Mt 18:2 He called a little child and had him stand among them. 3 And he said: “I tell you the truth, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. 4 Therefore, whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.

Mt 18:5 “And whoever welcomes a little child like this in my name welcomes me. 6 But if anyone causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a large millstone hung around his neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea.

Mt 18:7 “Woe to the world because of the things that cause people to sin! Such things must come, but woe to the man through whom they come! 8 If your hand or your foot causes you to sin cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life maimed or crippled than to have two hands or two feet and be thrown into eternal fire. 9 And if your eye causes you to sin, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life with one eye than to have two eyes and be thrown into the fire of hell.”

Everyone with a child really needs to ask themselves where they stand with what this passage says.  Jesus is talking about children.  Not because they are a certain age.  Not because they have their whole lives ahead of them and have plenty of time to decide what to do with the rest of their lives later.  


But, let’s take a side trip on this thought – plenty of time because their whole life is ahead of them.  Are you sure?  I don’t mean to be morbid, but …

The Parable of the Rich Fool

Lk 12:13 Someone in the crowd said to him, “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me.”

Lk 12:14 Jesus replied, “Man, who appointed me a judge or an arbiter between you?” 15 Then he said to them, “Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; a man’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.”

Lk 12:16 And he told them this parable: “The ground of a certain rich man produced a good crop. 17 He thought to himself, ‘What shall I do? I have no place to store my crops.’

Lk 12:18 “Then he said, ‘This is what I’ll do. I will tear down my barns and build bigger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. 19 And I’ll say to myself, “You have plenty of good things laid up for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry.” ’

Lk 12:20 “But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?’

Lk 12:21 “This is how it will be with anyone who stores up things for himself but is not rich toward God.”

The parable is about a man whose life would end that night.  What if it wasn’t a man, but someone’s child.  It’s sad to say – but it does happen. 

Just before the parable, Jesus talks about greed.  Money.  The parable is about greed as well.  Money that will be coming in the future from the surplus crops he will store. 

But, is greed always about money?  What about the enjoyment of sports, living vicariously through your children’s experiences?  Rather than go to a church service, a family goes to a service for the religion of sports – also know as youth sports, peewee sports, Etc. 

Notice, I said Rather than go to a church service.  Sports, in and of themselves, aren’t the problem.  It’s what we do with them. 

Question – is it more important for you, especially if you’re Christian, that your child learns about Jesus – or about the religion of sports?  Worse yet, if it comes to a choice between the two – which would you choose? 

Yes, most children will not die – at least not in the U.S.  However, this question still applies.  If the religion of sports is more important to you, that’s what your children will learn from you.  Unfortunately, statistics show that the vast majority of children who do not learn about the religion of Jesus will not go on to learn about Him when they get older. 

Is that something you’re OK with?
Is that something you think God is OK with? 


Let’s look at some things about the little ones – the children – from the Bible.  

Back to the little ones – The Passover

I’m not going into the details of the Passover.  If you’re not familiar with it, please refer to Exodus Chapter 12.  My reason for bringing up the Passover is something in this passage:

Ex 12:24 “Obey these instructions as a lasting ordinance for you and your descendants. 25 When you enter the land that the LORD will give you as he promised, observe this ceremony. 26 And when your children ask you, ‘What does this ceremony mean to you?’ 27 then tell them, ‘It is the Passover sacrifice to the LORD, who passed over the houses of the Israelites in Egypt and spared our homes when he struck down the Egyptians.’ ” Then the people bowed down and worshiped. 28 The Israelites did just what the LORD commanded Moses and Aaron.

observe this ceremony

We start off with a command from the LORD to continue to observe the ceremony of the Passover.  This is to be a reminder, not only for those who actually went through that night, but for the generations to come.  It’s to be a lasting reminder for God’s chosen people – not only that they are chosen by the creator of everything, but that God has the power to save / rescue them.  Even after they turn away from Him, He will be there when they turn back to Him.

And when your children ask you …

Yes, that’s right – you’re children will ask you about the things you do.  Or don’t do.  Well, most of them will.  When I was a kid, I learned at a very young age not to ask questions of my parents.  But that doesn’t mean I didn’t have questions.  It only meant I had to come up with the answers some other way.

Either way, the important part is that children do notice things.  And they ask about things.

Also notice that it says “when” your children ask.  Not if they ask.  Not just in case they ask.  But when they ask.  If you’re wondering, does it really say “when” – or is this some addition by the translators – here are the two Hebrew words that lead to the translation of “when”.

1961 אֶהְיֶה, הָיָה [hayah /haw·yaw/] v. A primitive root [compare 1933]; TWOT 491; GK 181 and 2118; 75 occurrences; AV translates as “was”, “come to pass”, “came”, “has been”, “were happened”, “become”, “pertained”, and “better for thee”. 1 to be, become, come to pass, exist, happen, fall out. 1A (Qal). 1A1——-. 1A1A to happen, fall out, occur, take place, come about, come to pass. 1A1B to come about, come to pass. 1A2 to come into being, become. 1A2A to arise, appear, come. 1A2B to become. 1A2B1 to become. 1A2B2 to become like. 1A2B3 to be instituted, be established. 1A3 to be. 1A3A to exist, be in existence. 1A3B to abide, remain, continue (with word of place or time). 1A3C to stand, lie, be in, be at, be situated (with word of locality). 1A3D to accompany, be with. 1B (Niphal). 1B1 to occur, come to pass, be done, be brought about. 1B2 to be done, be finished, be gone.  1)Strong, J. (1995). Enhanced Strong’s Lexicon. Woodside Bible Fellowship.

and

3588 כִּי, כִּי עַל כֵּן, כִּי־אִם, כַּמָּה [kiy /kee/] conj. A primitive particle; TWOT 976; GK 3954 and 3956 and 3955 and 4015; 46 occurrences; AV translates as “that”, “because”, “for”, “if”, “surely”, “except”, “yea”, and “doubtless”. 1 that, for, because, when, as though, as, because that, but, then, certainly, except, surely, since. 1A that. 1A1 yea, indeed. 1B when (of time). 1B1 when, if, though (with a concessive force). 1C because, since (causal connection). 1D but (after negative). 1E that if, for if, indeed if, for though, but if. 1F but rather, but. 1G except that. 1H only, nevertheless. 1I surely. 1J that is. 1K but if. 1L for though. 1M forasmuch as, for therefore.  2)Strong, J. (1995). Enhanced Strong’s Lexicon. Woodside Bible Fellowship.

Given the context, this is a future event that is unquestionably – doubtless – indeed – going to happen.

However, there are some requirements before the children can ask.  Here’s how one commentary puts it:

Vers. 24–26. The establishment of the Passover festival is again enjoined, and at the same time there is connected with it an injunction to instruct children concerning it. The Israelitish child will not unthinkingly practice a dead worship; he will ask: What does it mean? And the Israelitish fathers must not suppress the questions of the growing mind, but answer them, and thus begin the spiritualizing of the paschal rite.  3)Lange, J. P., Schaff, P., & Mead, C. M. (2008). A commentary on the Holy Scriptures: Exodus (Vol. 2, pp. 39–40). Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software.

So here are the requirements:

  • The Passover festival must take place.  If not, no questions will be asked.  Unless, of course, a child asks why their friends’ families celebrate the festival – but their family does not.  Once again, we see a bad example being set for the child because of the action / inaction of the parents.
  • The parents are to instruct the child about the meaning of the Passover and why it is celebrated.  However, notice what comes next.
  • The child will ask why this particular worship practice is happening. 
    • That means the child has to know it’s a form of worship.
    • There’s something else that is apparent by the fact that the child will ask questions.  Yes, there is a command to instruct the child.  But that command has to be balanced with the statement from God that the child will ask questions.  It means that the parent has to explain the festival at a level the child can understand, but also below the capacity of the child.  That’s the only way to induce questions. To essentially teach the child how to grow.
    • If the explanation is consistently above the understanding of the child, it will likely turn into just a bunch of words, with no meaning.  Words that will eventually be blindly recited, but will provide no knowledge of God.
  • The parents must not suppress the questions of the growing mind.  To do so is to make it very difficult for the child to understand what’s happening during the festival.  If they go someplace else for an answer, it may not be correct – leading to an incorrect view of God.  If they don’t even seek an answer, it will probably lead to an isolation from God.  Yet another example of the child suffering from the action / inaction of the parent.
Communion

Yes – this is about the Passover.  A Jewish festival.  But honestly – aren’t the issues the same ones that apply to a Christian family as well?  Substitute something like Communion for the Passover – and the end results for the child related to their knowledge of what Communion is all about are no different. 

BTW – if you happen to think that what the Pastor or Priest says before Communion is an adequate explanation to your child – think again.  It’s not.  If anything, the whole Communion experience could be kind of gross to a kid – eating and drinking someone’s body and blood.  Don’t think that correct?  Consider this, especially the underlined parts, even from adults:

Jesus the Bread of Life

Jn 6:25 When they found him on the other side of the lake, they asked him, “Rabbi, when did you get here?”

Jn 6:26 Jesus answered, “I tell you the truth, you are looking for me, not because you saw miraculous signs but because you ate the loaves and had your fill. 27 Do not work for food that spoils, but for food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you. On him God the Father has placed his seal of approval.”

What food has a child ever eaten that leads to eternal life?

Jn 6:28 Then they asked him, “What must we do to do the works God requires?”

Jn 6:29 Jesus answered, “The work of God is this: to believe in the one he has sent.”

Jn 6:30 So they asked him, “What miraculous sign then will you give that we may see it and believe you? What will you do? 31 Our forefathers ate the manna in the desert; as it is written: ‘He gave them bread from heaven to eat.’’”

An inquisitive child will wonder about this bread from Heaven – and how come they’ve never gotten any of it.

Jn 6:32 Jesus said to them, “I tell you the truth, it is not Moses who has given you the bread from heaven, but it is my Father who gives you the true bread from heaven. 33 For the bread of God is he who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.

At some point, even if only from a grammatical point of view, a child will figure out that Jesus is that bread.  That begs the question – how can a man be bread?  Even more – why would anyone want to eat a man?  That’s cannibalism, isn’t it?

Jn 6:34 “Sir,” they said, “from now on give us this bread.”

OK, the people Jesus was speaking with didn’t get it.  So He goes into more of an explanation.  The clearer this gets, the more likely that a younger child will begin to figure out that something’s not normal.  However, they won’t be able to actually figure it out without some help.

Jn 6:35 Then Jesus declared, I am the bread of life. He who comes to me will never go hungry, and he who believes in me will never be thirsty. 36 But as I told you, you have seen me and still you do not believe. 37 All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never drive away. 38 For I have come down from heaven not to do my will but to do the will of him who sent me. 39 And this is the will of him who sent me, that I shall lose none of all that he has given me, but raise them up at the last day. 40 For my Father’s will is that everyone who looks to the Son and believes in him shall have eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day.”

I can’t help but wonder, how many children will even be aware of what Jesus said after sentence I underlined?  Some explanation is definitely in order here, since even a relatively young child understands the concept of eating bread.

Jn 6:41 At this the Jews began to grumble about him because he said, “I am the bread that came down from heaven.” 42 They said, “Is this not Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know? How can he now say, ‘I came down from heaven’?”

Jn 6:43 “Stop grumbling among yourselves,” Jesus answered. 44 “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him, and I will raise him up at the last day. 45 It is written in the Prophets: ‘They will all be taught by God.’ Everyone who listens to the Father and learns from him comes to me. 46 No one has seen the Father except the one who is from God; only he has seen the Father. 47 I tell you the truth, he who believes has everlasting life. 48 I am the bread of life. 49 Your forefathers ate the manna in the desert, yet they died. 50 But here is the bread that comes down from heaven, which a man may eat and not die. 51 I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. This bread is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world.”

Can it get any clearer?  Can it get any messier for a child?

Jn 6:52 Then the Jews began to argue sharply among themselves, “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?”

Apparently it can get both clearer and messier.  But, there’s more.

Jn 6:53 Jesus said to them, “I tell you the truth, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. 54 Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day. 55 For my flesh is real food and my blood is real drink. 56 Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me, and I in him. 57 Just as the living Father sent me and I live because of the Father, so the one who feeds on me will live because of me. 58 This is the bread that came down from heaven. Your forefathers ate manna and died, but he who feeds on this bread will live forever.” 59 He said this while teaching in the synagogue in Capernaum.

OK, now we’ve moved into vampire territory – drinking blood.  Don’t laugh.  Would someone these days who’s into the vampire thing be able to tell the difference between Jesus and their favorite vampire?  Something like the Vampire Diaries is supposedly OK for someone 15 years or older.  I’m sure that means those a few years under 15 will also want to read it – just because they want to see what they aren’t supposed to read. 

Major explanations are in order here.  Question – do you think your kids would ask about this?  Do you think you’re ready to talk to them about it?

Many Disciples Desert Jesus

Jn 6:60 On hearing it, many of his disciples said, “This is a hard teaching. Who can accept it?

Yes, this is hard teaching.  And anyone who does “accept” it without a full , understandable explanation hasn’t really “accepted” it at all.  Their knowledge would be so far off that they’d be clueless as to what’s going on. 

Jn 6:61 Aware that his disciples were grumbling about this, Jesus said to them, “Does this offend you? 62 What if you see the Son of Man ascend to where he was before! 63 The Spirit gives life; the flesh counts for nothing. The words I have spoken to you are spirit and they are life. 64 Yet there are some of you who do not believe.” For Jesus had known from the beginning which of them did not believe and who would betray him. 65 He went on to say, “This is why I told you that no one can come to me unless the Father has enabled him.”

Jn 6:66 From this time many of his disciples turned back and no longer followed him.

 If that’s where a child is, it would be a failure of epic proportions – again because of the action / inaction of their parents.

Rules for Christian Households

Let’s look at something from the New Testament now.  It’s from Paul’s letter to the church in Colosse.

Col 3:18 Wives, submit to your husbands, as is fitting in the Lord.

Col 3:19 Husbands, love your wives and do not be harsh with them

For more on what these two verses really mean, please see The problem of “Wives submit to your husbands”.

Col 3:20 Children, obey your parents in everything, for this pleases the Lord.

Col 3:21 Fathers, do not embitter your children, or they will become discouraged.

There’s that parent – child thing again.  Actually, it’s even worse than just the image conjured up by the word discouraged.  Here’s what it really implies:

120 ἀθυμέω [athumeo /ath·oo·meh·o/] v. From a compound of 1 (as a negative particle) and 2372; GK 126; AV translates as “be discouraged” once. 1 to be disheartened, dispirited, broken in spirit.  4)Strong, J. (1995). Enhanced Strong’s Lexicon. Woodside Bible Fellowship.

Broken in spirit.  That’s a big deal.  At least it should be a big deal for the parent who loves their child.

Enough examples?

I could go on with more examples, but I think the point has been made.

You may be thinking that I haven’t really mentioned sports all that much.  And therefore, I haven’t made the point at all.  But really – I have.

You’ve seen all the things that can happen from the action / inaction of a parent.  Things that happen to their child / children.  Let’s make it clear though. 

When a Christian parent has / allows their child [to] spend so much time in sports that sports becomes more important that Jesus – both the parents and the child suffer.  Maybe not immediately.  Maybe not even in this life.  But remember, we’re talking Christian parents.  And Christian children, presumably.  

Consider this passage – Jesus’ own words.

A Tree and Its Fruit

Mt 7:15 “Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves. 16 By their fruit you will recognize them. Do people pick grapes from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? 17 Likewise every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. 18 A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit. 19 Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. 20 Thus, by their fruit you will recognize them.

Mt 7:21 “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. 22 Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?’ 23 Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’

Is that about sports?  It’s actually about all sorts of things.

If you’re the Christian family that puts the religion of sports above the religion of Jesus, consider these things.

Is the coach the false prophet?  Not necessarily because he / she set out to do that.  But because the family allows the religion of sports to be more important than the religion of Jesus.  Most likely, few if any set out to make that their goal.  It just happens.  Sports makes for a well rounded child.  Plus it’s family time – at least it can be.  It might be the parent reliving their own glory days through their child.  There are all sorts of possible reasons for how this comes to be. 

But it happens.  And then, at the end of their lives, the family members might be in the scenario above.  Will they hear something along the lines of “Well done, good and faithful servant“.  Or will they hear “I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers“.  It’s going to be one or the other.  But which one?

The sins of the father

Do you remember something in the Bible about God punishing children for the sins of the father?  It is in there.  Four times.  All four of them have to do with one of the ten commandments.  No surprise, since I’m bringing it up, that commandment is talking about idols.  So it’s very much in line with our topic of the religion of Sports.  

Ex 20:4 “You shall not make for yourself an idol in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below. 5 You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the fathers to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, 6 but showing love to a thousand generations of those who love me and keep my commandments.”

You may have noticed, there seems to be an inherent conflict in that passage.  The last verse says that God shows love to a thousand generations of those who love Him.  It turns out that the word generation has no Hebrew word from which it’s translated.  It’s implied by the sequence of father, son, third and fourth.  So we’ll accept that generations is an OK word, as long as we define it as the approximate amount of time between the births of the father, his son, his grandson, and his great grandson.  BTW – that is one of the dictionary definitions, so the limb we’re climbing out on is quite solid.

So – today that would be approximately 30 years for each generation.  In Moses’ time it may have been much longer, since people lived longer.  Also consider things like Isaac not even getting married until he was 40.  However, even with the current 30 years per generation, a thousand generations would be 30,000 years!  Clearly, the thousand generations isn’t to be taken literally.  

So what about the third and fourth generations?  Is that also figurative?  Or is it literal?  We’ve already seen that the father to the son – the second generation – is very real.  It’s not like God wants the second generation to be punished,.  But the parents, through their action / inaction have set up their children to be in a position where the children do the same wrong things as the parents.  And if noting changes, the cycle continues to the third generation, fourth generation … .

Sports.  It seems like such a benign thing.  Good things come from sports.  Well, yes – but not always. 

Religion of sports – Season 3

That’s right.  Season 3.  Like I mentioned, the religion of sports is something I’ve been thinking of writing about for some time now.  Then I saw this headline:  AT&T Audience Network’s Documentary Series RELIGION OF SPORTS Receives Green Light for Season 3.  Apparently the first two seasons made enough money that a third one is on the way.  Here’s who’s doing it:

Executive produced by New England Patriot Tom Brady, Pro Football Hall of Famer Michael Strahan, and award-winning filmmaker Gotham Chopra, “Religion of Sports” highlights stories from across the globe through tales of rivalries, cultural differences and competition.

OK no surprise there.  There’s probably no surprise in what Tom Brady had to say about it either:

“Three years ago, teaming up with Gotham and Michael on RELIGION OF SPORTS kickstarted (sic) what has now turned into a true religion for me,” Brady said. “Sports bring people together unlike anything else, and season 3 captures that better than ever.”

Great,  Tom Brady sees it as a true religion. 

The real question though is this:  Is it a true religion to you?  And I don’t just mean the answer is the first thing that comes to mind.  Or the thing you think should be the correct answer.  For a Christian, obviously, the answer should be no, sports is not your true religion.  But would someone observing your life say that you don’t practice the religion of sports?

BTW – there’s no such thing as having two “religions”.  Like one is the major one and the other is only minor – so it’s OK.  As Jesus said – Mt 6:24 “No one can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and Money.”  It’s equally true that no one can serve both God and sports.  And if we’re serving sports – that says something about how we serve God.  Or don’t.

Conclusion?

I was about to write my conclusion here.  But I got this email from Christianity Today.  It included a link to an article titled When Church Gets Sidelined by Youth Sports.  Here’s what it was about:

We asked four church leaders, “What should pastors do when families choose youth athletics over church services?” Their answers offer insight into the complicated nature of Christian formation and community. Though we can’t always control our congregants’ priorities, we can use these difficult circumstances to shepherd well inside and outside the walls of our church buildings.

These were four pastors that have first hand experience with the issues related to the religion of God versus the religion of sports.  I see these things in church during sports seasons for kids.  However, I don’t have kids.  So I also don’t have the first hand experience.  Therefore, rather than me writing something here – I’m going to give you an excerpt of what each of them has to say.  If you’re also struggling with this question, hopefully one of them describes something at least close to your own scenario.  Of course, most of you are not pastors, but the questions that come up are probably very similar.

  1. I am a husband, father, pastor, and seminary professor, and I enjoy sports as a good gift from God. I was a 19-year-old student playing college baseball when I put my faith in Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior, and I immediately began rethinking every aspect of my life, including sports. Like many pastors, I have been saddened to see families disappear from Lord’s Day worship services during their children’s sports seasons. I want to offer fellow pastors some practical suggestions to address this problem.
  2. I serve in a pastoral role, and my husband and I are raising three children who play ice hockey, soccer, and baseball with games on most Sundays. I feel, acutely, both sides of this conversation. It is not an easy problem to solve, so how can the church respond?

    It’s easy to resent this trend. To be sure, tied up in youth sports are parents with delusions of professional athletic grandeur and glitzy college scholarships. But, for the vast majority of families, youth activities provide a thriving community (albeit, often an expensive one). Kids play alongside their closest friends, and parents spend months on sidelines together forging meaningful friendships. The conversation around youth sports must begin by celebrating what is good and praiseworthy rather than simply lamenting the loss of worship attendance.

  3. I have two sons who play Amateur Athletic Union (AAU) basketball, and most of the tournaments are on the weekends. Unfortunately, so is church. I want my children to have the best of both worlds: strong Christian roots and a great childhood experience. My wife and I have done our best to maintain that balance, but I struggle when my sons have to leave early from service—and especially when they can’t make it to church at all. I also wrestle with the precedent this sets for our church family. On top of all this, I was an AAU baseball kid who occasionally missed church services during my teenage years.
  4. I have friends who pulled their children from teams in favor of church, friends who have family Bible studies on the road, and friends who completely replaced church with youth athletics. I’ve faced this same dilemma. For years my own kids wore uniforms in pews, ready for post-service games. However we feel about it, some families prioritize sports over church-based activities.

    I once believed Sunday services were non-negotiable. Then I had a son who fell in love with a sport, worked hard, and was good at it. Had we put down an ultimatum about participation in middle school youth group, he would have become bitter. My husband and I decided to reevaluate our priorities. Our non-negotiable changed from weekly Sunday attendance to active involvement in the body of Christ where he could learn, grow, and serve. This forced us to become more intentional about home discipleship and discussion. I wish our church had helped us during this time with creative ways to stay connected.

Some of the answers given in the article were for pastors.  Others were for the families.  But even the ones for pastors are important for you to know.  Maybe your church has some of those things already in place.  If not, maybe your pastor would be open to starting some of them.

Conclusion – the religion of sports

You’ve now seen both sides of the coin.  We’ve looked at what the Bible says about our need to place God in the number one position in our lives.  We’ve also seen what I’ll call the practical side of the issue.  There are many good points brought up by the four people above.

So what is a Christian parent to do?  Like I said – I cannot tell you.  I’m not in that position.  I’ve never gone through it.  However, as I also said, I see it happen.  And when it goes too far, and sports does become a de facto religion, then there’s a problem with priorities, with God getting moved out of the number one spot.

What do I recommend?  Don’t ignore it.  Ignoring the problem and just going full speed ahead with sports may appear to be an effective short term solution.  However, the long term consequences can be disastrous and eternal.  It’s just not worth it.  Check out the article.  Talk with your pastor.  Be the parent for the child who doesn’t know any better.  Wouldn’t you much rather spend eternity in Heaven with your kids than eternity in the other place?

I’m going to close with a passage we looked at earlier.  

Children and Parents

Eph 6:1 Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. 2 “Honor your father and mother”—which is the first commandment with a promise— 3 “that it may go well with you and that you may enjoy long life on the earth.”

Eph 6:4 Fathers, do not exasperate your children; instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord.

There’s a question that goes with it.  Long term, could there be anything more exasperating for a child than to find out they didn’t go to Heaven because their parents didn’t think it was important enough?

References   [ + ]

1, 2, 4. Strong, J. (1995). Enhanced Strong’s Lexicon. Woodside Bible Fellowship.
3. Lange, J. P., Schaff, P., & Mead, C. M. (2008). A commentary on the Holy Scriptures: Exodus (Vol. 2, pp. 39–40). Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software.

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