In spite of the fact that I am athletically challenged, have never really known exactly what to cheer for as my children have played soccer, basketball, or baseball and don’t even really like or follow ANY sports of any kind, somehow all my son has ever wanted to do is play football. We placated him with the “flag” version for several years, however, he just wanted to play the “real” game. This year as he enters 7th grade we gave in. It has been an eyeopening experience for all of us. It is teaching him discipline and responsibility in new and creative ways. However, for the first time EVER sports will infringe on church and church activities (including youth group.) It is interesting because in the world of us youth pastors this is what we always complain about. How could parents/students choose sports (or band, debate, drama) over what’s important?
Here are some thoughts from the “other side:”
As far as he or we can figure out He is the ONLY Believer on His team. Daily in practice he is navigating listening to both coaches and players cuss and deciding if this is a good choice for him. This is only one example of ways he is forced to think about what living in the world and among the world, but not getting sucked into it really means. We have had discussions on ways he might talk about Christ with others. In short he can’t relegate his faith to certain nights of the week when he is “supposed” to be thinking about it.
It has amazed me the solid life lessons football is teaching him. He is learning the power of being truly needed on a team. This summer he has missed out on some “vacation” for the sake of the commitment he made. If he does not learn to follow directions and allow himself to be guided and “coached,” there are consequences. As an incredibly regular and awkward JH kid he needs affirmation in addition to his parents. It matters when Coach D tells him his strength is his greatest asset. (Of course it didn’t hurt that he picked a kid up and pushed him back 30 yards in practice the other day.) It isn’t “better” but he wasn’t learning all of this in this way in youth group- a great one, with an awesome youth pastor. (No not me, silly, he goes to another one too.)
My son is crushed he is going to miss youth group on Thursdays for the sake of football. He likes the structure of small groups and deep Bible study, his youth pastor and his friends. This year he is testing if “football is worth it” going forward. For awhile he may attend another youth group as well, because it meets on a night when there is no practice. It made me wonder what is it that we “youth people” are really angry about when parents tell us, “I’m sorry it’s (blank) season, my kid won’t be coming.” Is it we miss their child? Is it we are worried about the student slipping away from the Lord? OR Are we mad that our “program” wasn’t more appealing? Should we perhaps find ways to reach the sports kids at their interest point?
Parent’s Hate The Pull Too
Now I know there are some families out there who move heaven and earth to make sure sports take precedence in their kid’s lives. HOWEVER, I think more parents are like us. They see their child enjoys something, and might even be good at it, and they want to let them be a part of it. Each of my children are allowed to pick ONE activity besides church stuff per season. Still I have three kids in MS so if they all pick something different- that is three directions at best. Sometimes we are just tired, we are trying really hard, and that is why we ask you to just make this “one exception for my kid” to come to “whatever.”
There is a difference between kids who are apathetic and flippant about church and youth programming and those who are not. This is in spite of sports or other activities. We don’t expect adults to ONLY be involved in church why do we put that pressure on our students? Unfortunately we live in a secular culture that sets schedules in spite of our “religious affiliations.” My son likes football, his Dad and I care his relationship with Jesus doesn’t suffer. We will get him to youth group, and attend early services on Sunday as we have to deal with afternoon games. I am hoping that somehow we can find support in this decision to allow him to play. After all he really wants to be the next “Ray Lewis,” whatever that means.