Sports on Sundays—Church Leaders

Sports on Sundays is a three part series composed of three pastoral letters:
Letter to Church Leaders || Letter to Parents || Letter to Athletes


Author’s Confession: I play and coach competitive ultimate. During the summer, my own team practices and competes on Saturdays and Sundays. For the team I coach, tournaments also span Saturday-Sundays, albeit less frequently. Yet, I also believe deeply in the importance of the gathered body of the Church, and serve in the youth ministry at my own church. I write as one personally touched by these time conflicts.

Dear youth pastors, senior pastors, children’s ministers, elders, deacons, and leaders of the church,

Over and over, we’ve echoed ourselves. “Those parents care more about soccer on Sundays than church.” “Back when I was a kid, sports were never on Sundays.”1

Sometimes it just takes that one voice. The one who says, you are free to disregard the endless pressure to succeed and to do. The one who says, you have been accepted, loved, and redeemed regardless of how well you (or your children) perform.

The rise of youth travel leagues and club sports outside of school has given rise to the weekend commitments of baseball families, swim team kids, lacrosse, basketball, football, … you name the sport, it takes families out of church on Sundays. As church leaders, sometimes we interpret this as an intentional disregard of the importance of faith and a personal affront to the very important work of spiritual formation that we are trying to do on Sundays. But for many of the families in our churches, it feels like the treadmill they can never get off. Seasons run together, without a break. Fall cross-country gives way to winter indoor track, which moves to spring outdoor track, and then summer off-season workouts. While there is an intentional choice to being involved with a sport or sports, sometimes this treadmill has snuck up on families, who merely think they are doing the best for their children.

If we, as the church, do no more than simply bemoan the lack of attendance by youth and families, blaming the lack of attendance on sports, then we are missing huge opportunities to be the church.

What if, as the church, we found ways to be with families outside of the church walls?

I recently read about a church which offers a Saturday night service once a month, in order for the church to have a Sunday rest. Other larger churches have begun offering Saturday evening services in addition to their Sunday morning services. Maybe part of this issue is whether we have become tied to Sunday morning as the only opportunity to gather as a church body?

Or, what if your church worked with a local sports league to offer a Sunday morning worship or prayer gathering at the fields for any who were interested?

Maybe your church sponsors a team or league that only plays on Saturdays?

There are also multiple communities around the country where clergy of all denominations have worked together to request that Sunday morning be kept clear by the sports leagues.

What if we were the prophetic voice offering families a way off the treadmill, saying this isn’t how life has to be?

Sometimes it just takes that one voice. The one who says, you are free to disregard the endless pressure to succeed and to do. The one who says, you have been accepted, loved, and redeemed regardless of how well you (or your children) perform.

As the church, we can offer that freedom to the youth and families within our congregation who are feeling trapped by this need to excel. We can simultaneously celebrate the gift of sports, while rejecting the notion that we are beholden to this gift. We can remind parents of the freedom they have to say “no” to one more commitment in their children’s lives or in their own lives.

We can offer the rest that comes from following the One who says, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light” (Matt. 11:28-30, NIV).

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Footnotes:

1. Ecclesiastes 7:10 might be applicable here.

 


FrankeKristin Franke spent 5 years as the youth director at Union Church in Hong Kong. She graduated with her M.Div. from Princeton Theological Seminary in May 2015, and currently works at the seminary. In her free time, she plays and coaches Ultimate Frisbee.

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