May 032017 0 Responses

Faith, Family, and Football (but not in that order)

Faith, family, and football. It’s a mantra which symbolizes the priority list for many families. God comes first. Family comes second. Whatever sport is in season comes last. It’s a great saying. It’s one many people believe in theory, but do not live out in practice.

Something interesting happened last weekend. It flooded in my hometown on Friday and Saturday. It’s not unusual to have heavy rains in the spring, but it is unusual to get a two-day warning it is coming and for it to actually flood to that extent by Friday night. So much rain fell so quickly and with more rain on the way, all outdoor activities were canceled by Friday afternoon. This included weekend long baseball, softball, and soccer tournaments. By Sunday, the rain subsided and a cool, overcast day ended the weekend. The result–Sunday worship services were packed. (See: Force Your Kids to Play Sports)

With nothing to do, parents brought their children to church. The impact on the service was undeniable. There was energy, joy, and deep spiritual connection. The impact on families can be predicted. They likely experienced rest, connection, and reduced stress. The impact on the future is likely unchanged. Next weekend will be packed with multiple games and a hectic schedule.

While I never want to read too much into one weekend, I am left wondering two important questions:

Question 1: Who Makes the Call?

Who is making the decisions for your family regarding priorities? Sadly, many parents are outsourcing the most important decisions to others–coaches, commissioners, and tournament directors. Instead of a parent consciously making difficult decisions regarding where a child can best spend their time on any given weekend, they simply do whatever the leader of an organization determines is best. If the coach signs up for a tournament, they play in a tournament. If a director determines they play on Sunday morning, they play on Sunday morning. No real thought is given to what is in the best interest of the child. Few people ever question what is the lasting impact of these decisions. No one recognizes the bias of those who are being given power over our children.

Nearly every coach, commissioner, and tournament director is a good-hearted, well-intended, volunteer who is giving of their time to serve kids. I don’t question their heart or their decisions. But I do recognize their bias. It’s not their job to make sure my child grows up with a vibrant faith. It’s their job to put on a tournament or field a team or manage a league. They will make decisions in line with their responsibilities. But who is making the decisions regarding our specific children? Who is making sure our weekly activity aligns with stated priorities? (See: The First Step to Effective Parenting)

It’s okay to outsource key decisions. We all do it. I regularly outsource decisions to doctors, teachers, police, and other authorities. But in each case, I’m involved in the decisions being made and I trust the authority in their area of expertise. A teacher knows more about education than me. A doctor knows more about health than me. But does a coach, commissioner, or tournament director know more about creating a healthy family than me? Probably not. Leaders of sports organizations are in leadership because they are good at sports, not necessarily because they are good at family. I trust them with sports, but I can’t outsource key decisions about my family and faith to them.

Question 2: What’s the Real Order of Priorities?

Do we truly believe in faith, family, and football or do we actually live by football, family, and faith? My fear is that it’s the latter. Here’s a simple test: When was the last time your child missed something faith-related because of sports? Probably recently. When was the last time your child missed something sports-related because of faith? Maybe never. We say God is our top priority, but in what ways do our children experience the reality of that priority? How are the activities of our children different from those who come from families who do not value God? If there is no difference in practice, is there really a difference in philosophy?

I’m a sports guy. I grew up in a sports family. I believe sports can play a vital role in teaching our children valuable life lessons. I also believe Christians, particularly in America, have turned sports into a god and we are currently bowing at the altar of kids sports at the expense of the well-being of our actual children. We are training them to value football over faith. We are teaching them that God is good when he fits into the few open slots of our overly-scheduled lives. Sadly the lesson many kids are learning is “if it rains, then we love Jesus.”

Not only do we value football over faith, we also place it before family. When was the last time your child skipped a game because your family needed time together? Name a time it wasn’t in the best interest of the family to attend a tournament so the team had to go without your child. Some might object, “If you commit to a team, you should be at every practice and game.” That’s a fair objection and a justifiable principle. But if that is your thought, have you willingly committed to a team or schedule which you know could hinder the well-being of your child or family?

As a pastor, I regularly hear, “We missed church Sunday because we just needed some family time” or “I need to stop volunteering because our schedules are so busy.” Neither of those statements is wrong. However, I rarely hear, “We missed the tournament this weekend because our family needed to be in worship” or “we had to stop an outside activity because our family needed more time together.” The truth is, we often place sports before family.

Practical Changes

I normally do not like to write critiques without having some solutions. Sadly, in this, I don’t have a clear action step. How can we enjoy sports while also valuing family and faith? How can we engage in a sports-crazed culture without being negatively impacted by it? I’m not fully certain. But here are some ideas:

1. We must admit that many elements of kids sports are not about the kids. Having admitted it, we must then change things so they are about the kids.

2. We must limit the amount of games and practices which have become the norm.

3. We must get back to specific seasons instead of expecting everything to be year-round.

4. We must encourage participation in multiple sports rather than early specialization.

5. We (Christians) must influence leagues and organizations to honor Sunday morning. It’s a sucker’s choice to believe “we have to play on Sunday morning.” Have tournaments with fewer teams. Skip school rather than church if a game is that important.

6. We must ensure that we are regularly making difficult decisions which place faith before sports in order to remind ourselves and teach our kids of our priorities.

7. We must consciously make important decisions rather than mindlessly outsourcing them to others or the culture in which we live.

It’s a funny thing as a pastor. In days of old, guys like me panicked when it rained. Bad weather drove away crowds. Now I pray for rain. A good Saturday rain which makes fields unplayable greatly increases the likelihood that kids and parents will be in church on a Sunday.

I don’t write this to guilt parents. I’m not even saying it’s wrong to have your child engaged in a sport with great time demands. I am troubled by the culture we are creating and how little thought we have put into the decisions we are making. It’s not that we have intentionally placed sports before faith. It’s that we have apathetically allowed others to make decisions which are not in the best interest of our children’s long-term development.

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