When I was in middle school, I played for a City youth football team in Sioux Falls, SD. Our team wasn’t very good and many of the other guys quit before the end of the year. Since half of the team was in 7th grade and the other half was in 6th grade, those of us who were older ended up playing on the line since we were naturally bigger. I was a 7th grader, thus relegated to the line. I decided to play football because I loved to catch passes in the backyard. Not many lineman catch passes.
As the end of the year rolled around, we learned that our last game would be played at the Dakota Dome in Vermillion, SD—where the University of South Dakota football team played. How cool?! In addition, our coach promised us older players that had been stuck on the line a chance to play quarterback, running back, and wide receiver—finally, a chance to have fun.
The only problem was that the game was scheduled for a Sunday morning. That was church day, no questions asked. I didn’t even tell my parents that I wanted to play, I just decided I would skip the game and go to church.
My parents hadn’t pressured me to make this decision, but they also didn’t suggest that I skip church and play instead. As a 12 year old, this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity didn’t seem that important to miss church for.
I read a blog earlier this year about the frustrations of a pastor parent who consistently sees other activities taking precedence over church activities. As an intern pastor, I just planned a canoe trip next summer. I had to keep in mind, however, when baseball season was over. And when football practices start. Hockey, cross-country, soccer… I think we found a nice window in between, although this is the most requested week of the summer for the camp we are going to—apparently I’m not the only one trying to find a week that doesn’t conflict with sports.
It’s not societies responsibility to observe religious times, whether it’s Sundays or holidays, but over time, it feels more and more like the monopoly on time falls upon activities that are kids must attend—if you don’t come to practice, you don’t play. The church is often riding the bench as 2nd or 3rd string. In more and more cases, church is cut from the team—a family chooses to sever ties because there isn’t enough to gain.
Perhaps your child will make millions as a professional athlete or become a famous musician or actor. Chances are, however, that if your kid is so talented that they go on to make millions, missing a few activities for a church event or a family event won’t set back their future.
It is hard to be too critical of the times. There are so many choices and so many opportunities. What makes me nervous, however, is that we are specializing too much and if our kids aren’t focused enough early enough, they “miss” out on their opportunity. Sadly, the cost isn’t just religious affiliation and the social opportunities to learn, grow, and mature in a setting that promotes spiritual and social growth, but kids are being asked to grow up faster and faster.
What is the cost of this? Are we raising generations of kids who are so entrenched in an identity of activity that when they don’t have the sports team, they are left wondering who they are and what they are supposed to do? Certainly there are many valuable skills that one develops through team sports. I played sports through college and still enjoying playing games on occasion. But I played a lot of different sports growing up. And I still was involved in my youth group at church. I still could spend time with school and find time for friends.
This isn’t a plea for sport and school activities to keep all Wednesday evenings and Sunday mornings free of any activity. But it is a plea for sports, coaches, instructors, to be sensitive, sensible, and aware of the effect that all of this over-scheduling has on kids. We have enough pressure from our peers, from our parents, from our teachers, from our coaches—the church can’t compete. The church knows that if it applies too much pressure, that it turns off the kids or the parents (even if sports putting on pressure are guilty of the same act). For now, it appears the church will settle for second or third string, as long as it’s still on the team. Will our kids have to continue settling for 2nd or 3rd string if they decide to make church part of their lives?