Thursday, February 19, 2009

Sports programs and church

As one of many pastors of churches in east Orlando, I participate in a coalition of church leaders called "Converge." According to our mission statement, "Converge is churches in east Orlando who share a common vision of seeing our community centered on Jesus Christ...and [who believe] that we need (not just want) one another to see this vision realized as the Body of Christ." To see a listing of participating churches and find out more, visit

As Converge pastors, we are contributing an article to an upcoming issue of our community newspaper, the East Orlando Sun. The article is titled "Too Much of a Good Thing for Our Families." It touches on the issue of how time-consuming kids' sports programs in our area have become, particularly their effect upon church attendance and Sabbath rest.

Here is the article in its entirety. I invite your comments.

Participation in sports and being part of a team provides many benefits to children and their families. Lessons about sportsmanship, teamwork and self-discipline abound. Add to this the value of physical activity for personal health and the worth of childhood sports participation increases still more. There is no denying that having a child participate in a sport or on a team can be highly rewarding.

East Orlando provides fertile ground for these kinds of opportunities. Imagine a sport or activity and there is a good chance that there is a club or league available for your child to participate in on some level. These kinds of sporting and extracurricular resources are part of what makes our community a great place to live and raise a family. We live in a place rich with opportunity. Unfortunately sometimes we as human beings have been known to take something positive and good and use it to the point of excess or the extreme. Could this possibly be the case when it comes to child involvement in extracurricular activities such as sports?

As the spiritual leaders of our community, we the pastors of
Converge, a group of East Orlando churches working together for a common witness in our community, ask parents to consider the impact their children’s activity levels have upon their homes and day to day lives. There was a time in American society when Sundays were considered to be sacred. It was a day for worship, rest, and time for being with family. When is the last time your family had a Sunday like that? How often do you find yourself missing worship because your child’s team now has a game on Sunday morning? How often does your teenager not make it to youth group because an additional practice is required? Is this something everyone simply has to accept or could things be different?

What would happen if the parents of East Orlando spoke with a unified voice and said enough is enough? What would happen if parents said to the coach or league organizer that in our family we value our spiritual nurture as much or more as the benefits of being on the team?
If we want our children to grow up to be adults who have a proper balance of work and rest and value spiritual depth then we have to model it for them during their youth. For most of us our sporting dreams end at high school, a few continue to college and a small fraction make it to the big leagues. On the other hand being spiritually well grounded serves you well for an entire lifetime. Are we sending our children the message we want them to receive or something all together different?

In times of trial or challenge like many people currently face, we would submit to you that it is faith which sustains and carries a person. Making the all-star team and winning a championship are great accomplishments, but the impact of such achievement usually wanes in time. Eventually trophies collect dust and medals tarnish no matter how nicely you showcase them. However, a well developed faith provides a foundation which stands the test of time.

Playing a sport and being part of a team is a great thing to do. If your children aren’t part of an organized team or group you should consider it. We just want to encourage you not to participate in sports
(or anything else for that matter) to the level that it is detrimental to your family and your spiritual well being.

The Pastors of Converge


Matthaeus Flexibilis said...

Good article.

FWIW, Frame argues in Doctrine of the Christian Life that the primary purpose of the sabbath is rest not worship, but it is a convenient and profitable time for the church to gather.

Mike said...

Thx for that, Matt. I'm interested to see how Frame justifies his viewpoint Biblically, considering the NT references to the early church gathering on the first day of the week for worship, not rest. There is something inherently special (for both the individual and the congregation) about the Lord's Day; it's not just a one-day-a-week Sabbath principle that's being taught. (Although for people who must work on Sunday - like me! - it's important to get that weekly day of rest in there somewhere.)

Mike said...

My friend Mark Bates sends this link to an article in US News & World Report that goes along with this post. It's by Peter Cary, and titled "Fixing Kids' Sports." Here's a sample:

"Children are starting in sports younger, specializing in one sport earlier, and may play the same sport year-round. The consequences of such activity are not yet fully understood, but sports physicians say stress injuries among kids are way up, and coaches say some of the most talented athletes drop out by their teens. And for many parents the demands of toting kids to practice, travel games, and tournaments are taking a big toll on what used to be called family life. In the past 20 years, says Alvin Rosenfeld, a New York psychiatrist who specializes in adolescents, structured sports time has doubled while family dinners have been cut by a third and family vacations have decreased 28 percent."

Mike said...

Oops, I omitted the link to the USN&WR article:

Matthaeus Flexibilis said...


Here's a quote from Frame on his biblical rationale (DCL ch. 29):

Scripture always defines the Sabbath as a day of rest, rather than a day of worship. God’s Sabbath in Gen. 2:2-3 is a rest from his labors. The fourth commandment calls on Israel to work six days and rest for one. When Scripture mentions specific violations of the Sabbath, they are in the category of illegitimate work, not failure to engage in Sabbath worship (Ex. 31:13-17, 34:21, 35:3, Num. 15:32-36, Neh. 13:15-18, Jer. 17:21-22, Amos 8:4-6). Jesus’ confrontations with the Pharisees on the Sabbath concerned work rather than worship, as in Matt. 12:1-14.

The Sabbath rest is physical, not merely a ceasing of one activity to perform another, as some Reformed writers have represented it. Scripture often condemns burdensome activity on the Sabbath, even when there is no question of people missing worship activities (Neh. 13:15-18, Jer. 17:21-22). The Sabbath is to be a “refreshment” (Ex. 23:12, 31:17), a “delight” (Isa. 58:13). I therefore believe it is legitimate to spend part of the Sabbath day in sheer physical rest. A nap on that day should not be disparaged as idleness, as might be supposed from the language of WLC 119.


Rest is fundamental also to the theological symbolism of the Sabbath. In Gen. 2:2-3, as we saw, it represents a completion and celebration of man’s cultural labors (and of course a successful completion to the probation of Gen. 2:17). In Ps. 95:7-11, rest represents the promised land, the fulfillment of God’s promise to Abraham, which Israel in the wilderness forfeited by its covenant disobedience. But the Psalm also widens the scope of the promised rest. Even as the Israelites dwell in the land, another rest awaits them. So the Psalmist urges the people not again to forfeit the rest that God has promised. Heb. 3:1-4:10 explains that this rest is the final eschatological promise, the promise of the new heaven and earth. The writer urges the Hebrew Christians, as in Ps. 95:7-11, not to forfeit this rest by going back to Judaism. The Sabbath rest awaits the people of God.

The theme of redemption as rest is especially appropriate since the fall brought about a curse on the earth and made man’s labor a hard task (Gen. 3:17-19). Even before the fall, Adam would have known the difference between work and rest, for he would have observed that distinction in keeping the Sabbath. But after the fall work becomes painful and toilsome, and rest becomes a partial relief from the curse. In Deut. 5:15, the Sabbath command recalls the rigors of bondservice in Egypt, from which God gave rest to his people. So Eccl. 2:9-11 speaks of man’s toil as “vanity,” and Ps. 90 expresses similar world-weariness. The wicked, indeed, have no genuine peace or rest (Isa. 48:22, 57:21), but as a redemptive blessing, God gives rest to his people (Ps. 127:2). Jesus promises rest to those who come to him (Matt. 11:28) (rest by taking on a yoke!), and God gives rest from their labors to the glorified saints (Rev. 14:13).

In all of this, the biblical emphasis is not on rest as a symbol of grace (with work as a symbol of sin) as Calvin and others supposed. The rest is not a rest from sin as such, but a rest from the toil that sin has brought upon our working life. God’s rest lifts the curse from our labors, temporarily, and eventually permanently. It is a redemptive symbol, but not a symbol of grace as opposed to works. Rather it symbolizes our final reward as a rest from our labors.

He adds later, "I have differed with the Reformed tradition by saying that the fundamental meaning of the Sabbath is rest, rather than worship. Nevertheless, the Sabbath is a day of rest on which worship is profoundly appropriate." He then discusses this appropriateness in some detail.

Mike said...

Interesting stuff! Thanks.