>> by Joy Fisher  A seasoned dugout mom

Courtesy of HomeLife Magazine.

My 9-year-old daughter played most of last spring’s softball season without attending practice. When I signed her up, practice was held on Thursdays. After the first couple of weeks, the coach announced that practices had been switched to Wednesday nights. Without hesitation, the mom standing beside me blurted out, “We have church on Wednesday nights, so we can’t come.” We were in the same boat.

The coach was understanding and supportive, but we felt out of place with the team all year, wondering if other parents resented that our daughters showed up for the “fun” part or understood what the big deal was about missing church for a few weeks.

What is the big deal? Each year, 35 million children (ages 5-18) suit up for organized sports. When they suit up is sometimes a gray area for Christian families. Regular church attendance is a must for parents who want their kids to put God first in their lives. So what impact does skipping church for sports have on that worthy goal?

Karen Daniel, mom of two teenage girls who love competitive cheerleading, gymnastics, dance and swimming, sums it up: “Gone are the days of safely being able to get exercise playing in the neighborhood with your friends until Mom calls you in for dinner.” So, many parents sign their kids up for sports.

Janis Aston, now a grandmother, remembers when schools and sports teams didn’t have games, rehearsals, practices or programs on Wednesday nights because of church activities, much less on Sundays. “This is a reminder of how the secular world continues to creep into our spiritual lives,” she said.

In the movie “Chariots of Fire,” 1924 Olympic runner Eric Liddell discovers that the heat for his race will take place on a Sunday. He refuses to run so as not to compromise his Christian convictions. Nearly 90 years later, individuals and families still find it difficult to decide what to do when faith and sports collide.

Father of two Chris Roberts isn’t willing to simply accept the new status quo of sports on Sundays. “We have to model for our kids what our priorities are,” he says. “If enough kids didn’t show up, teams or leagues would have to re-evaluate the schedules.”

The first time their son was invited to play in a travel soccer league, Joe Ed and Michelle Conn said no. Last year they let Ethan play, and the family missed six Sundays at church. Joe Ed gave the situation a lot of thought.

“I was brought up not to miss church ever, so it has been particularly hard on me,” he admits. “But at the same time, we don’t want our church attendance to become a matter of legalism. Ethan goes to a Christian school, and Michelle works in a Christian ministry. Most of our recent ‘vacations’ have been mission trips. I don’t think our son misses many opportunities to see the importance of our relationship to Christ. Seeing that living relationship is more important than whether we made it to the church on Sunday morning.”

Also important in making choices about how to allot precious family time is the notion that children need to honor commitments and be good team players. Sarah and John Galloway are the parents of three boys under the age of 11. Sarah says, “Church commitment and nurturing a relationship with God is something we hold very high and have instilled in our boys from birth. We also nurture loyalty in commitments our children make, be it sports, academic or extracurricular. If you join a team, your team relies on you to be there.”

“When church and sports fall on the same day and time, we make a decision about what’s best for our family,” Sarah explains.

Perhaps a good approach to balancing faith, family and sports involves fewer extracurricular activities to participate well in each. As parents, you’re working toward the trophy of kids who know who Jesus is, not perfect attendance at Sunday School. Practice your priorities with your kids and see where the Lord leads you.