It’s no secret that youth sports are broken. Kids specialize too early and parents care too much. What should be a developmental focus is often waylaid by an irresistible desire to live vicariously through our kids.
As a wise friend once put it “adults are ruining youth sports”.
It might surprise you however to learn that the same dynamics that are turning kids off of sports may also be at work on Sunday morning.
Said another way “Christians are ruining church”. From the gridiron to the pulpit, the issues are one and the same.
A fixation on Game Day Outcomes
In youth sports, parents want to win, so they engineer all-star teams, exclude those still emerging in their development and stack the deck to that single end. The net result is super teams that deliver lopsided outcomes that sap the will to play from the vanquished. Who wants to get up on Saturday morning only to get destroyed by 25 points? How can you develop as a player when every possession is a track meet the other direction?
You can’t and recreational players are left by the wayside.
The same goes for communities of faith. We want the biggest and we want the best. In the world of Churches, congregation size is the scoreboard. Butts in pews are the only thing that lights the lamp.
This leads to churches that are run as businesses seeking more and better everything. Bible-based teaching and execution are easily slotted as day two issues. Spiritual growth, impact in people’s lives and meaningful fellowship will come, but have you signed your pledge card?
The people come, you win on the scoreboard and lose the bigger battle.
Is a meaningful faith journey to simply show up five minutes before the service, grab a latte, sit with strangers in an arena and hero-worship a compelling pastor on a video screen from a neighboring campus?
I’d rather sleep in. So would most, and that’s the issue.
We should not only attend church, but become the church for the same reasons we participate in sports. Relationships, growth, support and to have a positive impact on us and others.
Rah-rah Zig Ziglar speeches from the pulpit once a week will not accomplish this any more than a 60 to 11 shellacking will make our kids better at hoops.
As previously mentioned, parents (often with the best intentions) work hard to engineer super teams that play all year around. The mindset being that if my kid is going to get better he/she must play with the best and specialize.
Unfortunately “the best” often boils down to offensive prowess. This means that defense, teamwork, sacrifice and role players are all marginalized. By playing with only the best, you win. Perseverance is never learned and failure is rarely experienced. These factors have combined to make the NBA unwatchable and also contributes to college basketball players transferring at such high rates. Additionally specialization leads to injuries, burnout and the loss of a true love for the game.
Exclusivity in the church realm is no different and similarly leads to alienation and lost faith. From the outside the church looks a lot like an assembled group of exclusionary and judgmental zealots, sitting in pews congratulating each other on their perfect lives. While never true, the perception is real.
Rather than a supportive group of people struggling to grow, the church is perceived as Pharisees pointing fingers and promoting ritual over action. Churches reinforce this with cliques within their walls and indifference to “outsiders”.
This makes the appeal of golf on Sunday morning even stronger.
Yelling from the Sidelines
I’ve been to many youth basketball games in a variety of venues and the lone constant is the echo of parents yelling tips and advice to their kids. Too often those yells sounds a lot like they are coming from me.
Oh sure, 95% of it is supportive rather than critical, but the latter is typically the only part the kids remember. They forget the praise and internalize even the most well-intentioned suggestions.
The same could be said of many churches. A large percentage are focused internally in serving members of the church itself and “yelling from the sidelines” at a culture in decline. We’re all guilty of this. We sip coffee and sing songs but then Monday through Saturday we go on about our business and forget the meaning behind the lyrics.
True ministry means actually ministering and that means to engage with diverse groups. Relationships and actions matter a lot more than arguing the political cause du jour on social media and stroking the occasional check to a nonprofit that resonates. Christ told us to go. He rarely mentioned tweeting.
So what is the answer?
The answer for both youth sports and the church is the same and tracks pretty closely with the action items outlined in The Purpose Driven Life.
- Find a great Coach with the right motivations, a solid plan and make sure you buy in — FAITH
- Recruit a variety of types of people for your team and build relationships with them – EVANGELISM
- Re-discover what it means to be a fan– WORSHIIP
- Put in the work– MINISTRY
- Focus on fundamentals and follow your Coach– DISCIPLESHIP
Easier said than done? You bet. But important to keep in mind nonetheless. Without it our children (and their parents) will quickly decide it’s easier to just quit.