During my teenage years I lived in a parsonage in Alliance, OH. At that time ours was a church blessed with a good size youth group. Lots of teens = lots of stories and Scott always seemed to have the most and the best.
Scott lived in a neighboring town and was a high school athlete playing both baseball and basketball. One Wednesday night he arrived at church in his baseball uniform with red on his face and fire in his soul. It seems his mom showed up at the diamond, hailed Scott to the car and announced to the coach that it was time for church. To hear Scott tell it, you would think Barbara showed up armed with everything but the diaper bag. As for Barbara? All I know is that Sandra Bullock landed her role in The Blind Side because Barbara wasn’t available.
That was then and it was Wednesday night. Today I can’t think of anyone who would collect their child from an athletic field on a Wednesday night in order to attend church, myself included. That battle is over and the coach has won. The same is true for every other night of the week. It is what it is and we aren’t going back.
What has become increasingly concerning to me, really to the point of alarming, is that I know very few any more who are willing to collect their families and lead them to worship even on Sunday morning. In fact, parents are their children’s biggest champions in missing Sunday worship. It’s looking more and more like the coach is going to win a clean sweep on our worship as we sit in the stands and cheer him on.
And I wonder what God is doing as He sits in the stands waiting for our worship.
I have spent some years pondering how we as Christians should respond to the growing epidemic that tells our children that sports are god. My thinking on this subject escalated as we navigated the waters with our own child. Where would we draw the line? Where SHOULD we draw the line?
These are the places where my head and my heart came into agreement:
1) In our current overcommitted society, we are in desperate need of a Sabbath rest.
If what we do is work or go to school all week and then spend our weekends in the rush and stress of athletics, where does our Sabbath rest fit in? We face our Mondays more exhausted than we left our Fridays. Our children, the “always connected” generation, need to see us model a Sabbath rest. We are their example. What kind of model are you? How exhausted are you?
2) God calls us to corporate worship.
We were created for worship. Although we can worship privately, God calls us to worship together, to encourage each other, to build each other up.
3) The church needs you and your consistent presence in order to grow and see people won to Christ.
The church as a whole, working in harmony, can accomplish more than you as an individual. But the whole is made up of individuals. Families looking for a church need to be able to come into your church and see children and teens who can befriend their children and teens. They need to see your cool kids there!
Consider these two quotes from Dr. Thom Rainer in The Unchurched Next Door: “Eighty-two percent of the unchurched are at least somewhat likely to attend church if invited.” 82%!! But how can you invite them if you aren’t going to be there yourself? “Only two percent of church members invite an unchurched person to church. Ninety-eighty percent of church-goers never extend an invitation in a given year.” Yikes. I’d guess the local country club has a higher invite percentage than the church. Again, if we aren’t going ourselves, how can we invite our unchurched friends or neighbors?
“But the church doesn’t have anything to offer my family.” And you may be right. Programs need faithful, committed people in order to be successful. People willing to show up and serve. Do you? Are you?
4) Millennials didn’t simply disappear from the established church.
Yes, some have walked away. Yes, many churches refuse to reinvent themselves in order to stay relevant. But, I’ve come to the conclusion that many millennials are simply imitating their parents; parents who have become lax themselves, parents who continue to look for a church that meets their needs rather than jumping in and becoming a part of the solution where they are. Don’t blame the kids. They didn’t start this.
5) Missing church is the easiest habit to form.
A few years ago, stepping into an organized church was the hardest thing for me to do. The organized church had wounded me deeply. The most spiritual thing I could do on Sunday was stay home with my Bible and my coffee and meet with God from the privacy of my own chaise lounge. And you know what? I loved it! I mean I REALLY loved it. I make way better coffee than any church kitchen. For the first time in my life I knew what Lionel Richie meant when he crooned, “…easy like Sunday morning…” After living in a parsonage all my life, the only thing I could proclaim from my easy chair was “Who knew?”
But I could not stay there because I need to hear God’s word proclaimed by God’s called. I also could not stay there because I could make no difference from there. I know, I’ve heard lots of people talk about their Sunday mission fields at the park or the gym, but I have never heard one salvation story come from these mission fields. That is, after all, the main goal of a mission field; souls won to Christ. If your response here is “Souls aren’t saved at my church either” then please revisit #3.
Now that you think I’m anti-sports, allow me to clarify:
1) I love sports and I know the value of team work. I’m an athlete of sorts myself and even have a few trophies to prove it. My chosen sport usually takes place on Sunday mornings. At times I participated. Currently, my hip strongly opposes my sport so the decision is made for me and, honestly, it makes me a bit sad. So I get it.
My issue is this: Because church has become largely a Sunday morning only event, if I miss corporate worship on Sunday there is a two week hole in my corporate worship experience. And if I participate in a seasonal travel sport, there is a months long hole – often a couple of times a year – in my corporate worship experience. That’s not what God calls us to. He also doesn’t call us to “emergency corporate worship” – that kind of worship where we show up and spend the hour frantically checking our watches in order to be out of there and at the ball field on time.
That kind of worship only reveals our fear of the coach rather than our awe of the Christ.
Yes, maybe you can handle sporadic or hurried worship for a season. But what about your child(ren)? Those whose spiritual development is entrusted to your care? Those who cannot make sense of our schizophrenic worship attendance? Those who can see straight through our obligatory worship when all along we had an opportunity to bring them into real worship? They can and they do see it for exactly what it is. So, what is it in your life?
2) This isn’t only about sports. Insert whatever it is that gets your worship time. I now live in paradise where really fun parks, back yard pools, boats, beaches and any number of beautiful, restful, good things can keep parents from leading their families to a place of worship…for weeks on end…all year ‘round. These places are just different looking ball fields.
Scott? The Scott whose story started this blog? Today he’s the head coach of the India National Men’s Basketball Team. News flash: Having his mom escort him to church on that fateful Wednesday night didn’t cost him his college scholarship or his career. What it did, rather, was provide him with a solid Biblical foundation; a foundation that is now being used to tell lost young men about a Christ who can change their lives. Under his leadership they have also become a successful ball team far exceeding expectations. It would be labeled “win-win.”
I know it’s Saturday and Saturday isn’t the best day to post a new blog. Internet traffic is light. But tomorrow is Sunday. The Lord’s Day for the Christian church. So today – Saturday – I ask you, “What foundation are you laying for your children? The coach or the Christ?” It’s your choice and it’s your responsibility.