“The worst part is ‘Christian’ parents are not setting faith as a priority and encouraging sports involvement at all costs”. This was one comment in a stream of rants from youth pastors saying what many have said for years, sports are the enemy of ministry. I’m not so sure.
When I first started in ministry, hockey was the culprit. Ice time was the dictator for those who loved and played the sport. I would shake my head and judge parents as I watched kids in hockey disconnect from youth group as the sport demanded more and more of their time. I would complain that parents should know better, make better choices for their kids, parents should just say sorry you can’t play because you should be in church.
Then, I became a parent of a travel athlete. As my daughter entered high school it was obvious she had the talent and desire to play high level volleyball and we were faced with the question. Do we join the world of travel sports? My husband and I prayed about it, discussed it with her, and began the journey into weekends on bleachers. IT has meant that I am late sometimes to a Sunday night and have very rarely missed youth group because of a tournament.
There is nothing like perspective to change how you see an issue and when I read the statement online about Christian parents not prioritizing faith because their son or daughter happens to be in a sport – it became personal. Does saying yes to a sport mean my daughter is saying no to Jesus?
In all of this, I discovered something. I discovered a community of parents who love their kids, enjoy supporting them, and are willing to make sacrifices so that their child can achieve a dream or a goal. I discovered people that love Jesus and those that don’t. I discovered something else too – it’s fun.
As I sat on the steel bleachers one chilly Saturday morning hugging my coffee, it hit me. These parents need help spiritually parenting their son or daughter as they navigates coaches, scouts, teammates, and other parents just like I do. They need help guiding their student through the tight schedules, injuries, and conflicts that will definitely come. What if we chose to help them?
What if, instead of demonizing sports, we actually stepped out of the box and walked with those that God has gifted with athletic ability? What if we didn’t judge parents and students because they play a sport that happens to conflict with our programming but instead created opportunities to meet them where they are? Let me give you a couple ideas:
What if you made your message or lesson available to parents so that they can share it, or at least discuss the points, while they travel? They have a captive audience and often wish they had an opening to talk about things that matter. Parents could use a little boost to get the conversation started, and as youth pastors, we are the kings and queens of small group questions.
If you create a podcast of messages and teaching for parents to listen to in the car with their athlete, they could be listening to the message from Sunday morning, teaching on leadership, character and integrity on the field or ice, playing for the glory of God, or even a message on identity. You could help them fill their car with a great discussion that is relevant and challenging for both the parent and student.
We can offer a connection point that does work for the student. A bible study before school works for a few of my athletes. It has become a sweet time of connection and I have more one-on-one time with them then I would have a Sunday night. The goal is relationships and discipleship and that can happen anywhere.
This weekend a travel hockey player will be playing bass in the student band, he’s a great kid that loves Jesus. He also happens to be a really good hockey player. Soon his season will kick in and we won’t see him on some Sundays, but I know he will still love Jesus. As his youth pastor, I’m excited to see how God will use him on the ice and I look forward to walking with his parents as we seek to keep him connected to Jesus and our community.
Is hockey of the devil? I have learned the answer is no. It’s an opportunity for ministry.