ASK BOB: Should My Child Miss Church to Play Sports?

“Sorry Preacher, but we won’t be in church services the next few weeks.  Our son is on a traveling team and has games scheduled on Sundays.  We hate to miss church so much, but we really can’t help it.  I wish they didn’t schedule games on Sunday but that’s the way it is.”

Preachers from all across the country are hearing that rationale from formerly dedicated parents who are missing church because their children are on athletic teams that are competing on Sunday morning.  These teams are generally reserved for the more gifted athletes and the parents rationalize that since their son or daughter is such a good player they have to participate in the Sunday games if they are going to reach their potential.  Who knows?  A college scholarship or even a professional career may be in their future.

There’s been a radical shift in our culture’s attitude toward Sunday in recent years.  In the early 20th Century there were ‘blue laws” that made it illegal for professional sports to be played on Sunday.  Restaurants, service stations, shopping centers were closed out of respect for a day of rest and worship.  But as our society became increasingly secular we gradually transitioned from “The Lord’s Day” to “Super Bowl Sunday.”  Now we have little children’s soccer, football, basketball, baseball, lacrosse games scheduled, even on Sunday mornings.

It’s doubtful we’ll be able to reverse the trend but followers of Christ should be willing to be distinctive from the world.  Romans 12:2 challenges us, “Do not be conformed to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.  Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will ishis good, pleasing and perfect will.”

With the advent of traveling teams, Christian parents have a golden opportunity to teach their children about priorities.  Mom and Dad, what’s really most important to you?  Do you crave the ego-boost of bragging about what a terrific athlete your child is, or do you want them to know God’s will for their lives?  When you allow your child to skip church to play ball you are clearly teaching them that becoming a good athlete is really important, while worshipping God and becoming a devoted follower of Jesus Christ is secondary.

At the very least you should find a church in the area where the team is competing and get your kids up and attend an early service nearby.  If they are playing at home on Sunday you would do well to attend an alternative service, Saturday evening or early Sunday morning.  The extra effort would communicate to your children that worship is important to you and would also provide some positive family memories in spite of the inevitable complaints.

Better still; tell the coach that your child will not be participating in any Sunday games that require missing church services.  That may mean your child will be cut from the team.  But what a positive testimony that would be!  If every parent who claims to be a Christian would take that position, Sunday games would soon be rescheduled for another day.

In 1965, Sandy Koufax refused to pitch in Game One of the World Series because it was Yom Kippur, a Jewish holy day.  Instead of Koufax, Don Drysdale pitched for the Los Angeles Dodgers and he gave up seven runs in 2 2/3 innings.  “I bet right now you wish I was Jewish too,” Drysdale said to Walter Alston when the manager came to pull him from the game.  The Dodgers lost to the Minnesota Twins 8-2.

Instead of pitching that day, Koufax attended synagogue in Minneapolis.  As the Dodgers’ ace, Koufax still pitched games two, five and seven, throwing complete-game shutouts in games five and seven.  Koufax’s decision and his pitching brilliance remain a source of pride among devout American Jews, even those who aren’t baseball fans.  And it made a bold statement about his values.

If your children are outstanding athletes that will be obvious in time.  There are other opportunities to develop their skills.  If not, perhaps God has something better in mind than a scholarship to UK or a starting job with the Cincinnati Reds.

At the 1924 Summer Olympics in Paris, Eric Liddell refused to run in the heats for his favored 100 meters because they were held on a Sunday.  Sunday was a day of worship and rest for Eric.  He would not run even if he were his country’s only hope of winning an Olympic gold medal.  Instead he competed in the 400 meters held on a weekday, a race that he won.

Liddell’s Olympic participation and the Biblical convictions that influenced him, are depicted in the Oscar-winning 1981 film Chariots of Fire. Interestingly, he went to China in 1925 to serve as a missionary and teacher.  His parent’s convictions, deeply imbedded in his soul, didn’t prevent Eric Liddell from becoming a great athlete but they did help assure his lifelong commitment to Jesus Christ.

When I was nine years old I came home from little league baseball practice really excited.  “Mom, Dad!  Our team gets to go to see the Cleveland Indians play baseball!  I get to go to a major league baseball game!  It’s free!  All I have to do is wear my ball uniform and take a sack lunch.  A bus will drive us to Cleveland.”

My parents rejoiced with me until they looked more closely at the date.  “Sorry,” they insisted.  “That’s a Sunday.  It’s the day we go to church.”  No matter how much I protested, begged, whined and pouted they stood by their decision.  In fact on our way to church that Sunday morning we drove right by the spot where the team and coaches were boarding the bus.  My dad beeped the horn and waved at them as we drove by.  I scooted down in the back seat, somewhat embarrassed that my family was so “religious” and that made me different.

Obviously that decision warped me for life!  I never forgot that lesson.  My parents taught me that going to church and honoring God was more important than any major league baseball game, no matter how exciting. When I went to Bible College in Cincinnati a few years later to prepare for ministry, I saw dozens of major league baseball games including a World Series or two.

A good principle for parents is: Keep your priorities in proper order and trust God for the results.  Instead of worrying about what will happen to your child if he/she misses a game or doesn’t make the team, believe the words of Jesus, “…seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.”



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