This morning Twitter sent me a message that instructed me how to follow football on Thanksgiving. The essence of the message said that it’s really what the holiday is all about. Sports. They seem to take over everything these days.
If you had asked me just a couple of years ago if sports was the enemy of youth group, I would have screamed, “YES!” What is wrong with these parents who force their children to give their lives up for athletics? Maybe if students were just a bit better at time management they could be involved in both…
Then each of my children found a passion in an extra-curricular sport that took a lot of their time. We are a 2 season cheer family along with softball, football, volleyball, and this year potentially, Spring track. There are daily practices, evening games, travel and training to get better. This is all because they love it, not because we “make” them do anything. As a matter of fact, they are all allowed only one extracurricular per quarter, and they just all happen to choose sports. It’s an outlet where they build friendships and confidence. They don’t miss church, but all too often they do miss other youth programming throughout the week. There is either a scheduling conflict, or sometimes they are just exhausted.
I read a really interesting post this week on the “flaw” in Orange family ministry philosophy. The author actually supports the family ministry model while bringing up a really valid point. Parents aren’t the only outside influencers in kids lives: friends, coaches, and teachers in many ways equally reach into the lives of a student.
He actually suggests we equip parents to equip their kids to reach their friends. My kids have had the opportunity to be evangelists on their perspective teams while learning how to shine Christ in a place that can be focused all too much on performance.
Our family sports are not the center, but I have been amazed at the amazing faith lessons they learn in that environment. They have noticed a pattern that youth leaders tend to care a lot when they show up to programming, and few make an effort to ever watch them on the field. Quite frankly, they have missed out on great opportunities to see my kids and interact with a lot of parents who like us sit in the stands way too often. You can learn A LOT about a parent in watching the way they interact with their kids playing a competitive sport.
Here’s what I will say is unfair on the parent front: when our kids choose sports and we the parents expect you the youth leader to make concessions for that. My kids have missed retreats and trips for the sports they play. They have hated it, but it isn’t their youth leaders fault. They shouldn’t ever be asked to change anything for a game or practice. Our children are given the choice of what to attend while at the same time taught to weigh all the factors involved. Yet in the process, they are learning life lessons of commitment, teamwork, and accountability.
You see, I no longer believe sports are the enemy. If I were to tell any of my children they could no longer play, I think they would come to resent youth group honestly. They aren’t living in sin because they like a sport. Isn’t it our role to help students know how to share the Lord with those around them. For this type of kid it happens to be on the field, court, pool or slopes.
Can we get creative? Groups like Fellowship Of Christian Athletes finds ways to meet before school. I have heard of leaders who intentionally become coaches and refs to meet the kids at their point of interest. We haven’t even talked about the other students involved in activities like drama, choir, or academic clubs that might take just as much of their time as any sport. I just wonder if we are missing out on a huge discipleship opportunity when we expect students to only come to us? I often wonder if our real issue is they don’t like our programs as much as they like other things and we are jealous? Is youth group more than just a place for the kids not involved in other things?
These are the question we need to ponder.
What about you? Are sports your enemy or your friend?