When Sports Collide With Church And Family…Which One Wins?

Some topics are just too controversial for a pastor to go near. But, at great risk, I am going to write about one even though I might unintentionally offend you or make you angry. What’s the topic? Is it abortion or same sex marriage or politics? No, it is far more personal and therefore, for many, far more dangerous territory. It’s kids sports.

Before I wade in, maybe it would help if I told you that I love sports. ESPN is my favorite channel. I spent August worrying about whether DIRECTV would get the SEC Network and am very excited about the beginning of the NFL season tonight. My family has season tickets to both Mizzou basketball and football games. I grew up playing sports where I learned some incredibly valuable life lessons…many of which I still benefit from today. Lastly, all four of my kids play(ed) sports beginning in elementary school and continuing through high school.

Maybe I should also add that I don’t think that being a Christian can be reduced to church attendance. There’s much more to following Jesus than being in church on Sunday mornings. And, at least for my family, it’s not necessary to eat dinner together every night of the week. Practices and games often prevent that, and, to some extent, that’s okay. Sports, like school and other worthwhile endeavors, take time.

With all that out of the way, let’s dig in a little. A study that came out last year and was reported in Christianity Today shows that one of the biggest obstacles to families coming to church is sports. I get that occasionally a family might miss church because of a sporting event. The problem is that it’s becoming the norm instead of the exception. The message seems to be: Church involvement (worshipping, learning, serving) is not as important as sports. Let’s go to church but if there’s sports on Sunday morning, well then sports win.

And the same goes for family time. It’s not uncommon for a kid, involved simultaneously in two sports, to have either a practice, game, or tournament every day of the week. And that’s just ONE kid. What if the family is crazy enough to have more than one child?

More and more parents are rebelling against the reality that there’s not time for a weekend away as a family or even dinner together because sports trumps all. Mission trip or family vacation or going to see grandparents or parents being involved in a small group? No way because there’s always tryouts or a practice or a game or a tournament. In addition, more and more families are divided too many evenings and weekends as they go their separate ways to accomplish all their sports activities. This all leads to this line in a recent article in the New York Times…

Try saying this out loud: “Family and academics are more important than sports, until sports conflict, then sports win.”

I know that a lot of parents feel like they would be doing their child a disservice by not allowing them to take part in all the sports they would like to try. I know that most parents are trying to do the right thing by teaching their child that you have to be dedicated and go to practice and stick with something to be good at it. All the moms and dads I know desperately want to be good parents. I’d love to hear from you as you try to find and stay on the right course. How do you decide what is the right amount of kids sports (and other activities) and what’s too much? No one has got this all figured out.

But here’s my question for now: Is it worth it? Is our investment in sports worth giving up real church involvement? Is it worth giving up family time? I can’t help but thinking of Jesus’ words in Mark 8:36: What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul?

What good is it if your child excels at sports but their spiritual and family life are significantly diminished? For the vast, vast, vast majority of these kids their sports career ends before or after high school. For a very small percentage it will continue through college. And almost zero will go beyond that. Let’s face it, your kids (for sure my kids) aren’t going to the NFL or the Majors or the MLS or the Olympics. They’ll end up like me–watching sports on television and attending games as a fan.

But what every single one of our children will need is a good relationship with mom and dad and brother and sister. What they’ll need when they’re 40 is a strong, connected family that knows each other on a deeper level than can be obtained from driving to and from practices and tournaments.

Very few kids (probably none of our kids) will end up making a career out of playing sports. But every single one of them will have to stand before Jesus. On that day it won’t matter much whether you made varsity or were “All State”. But it will matter for all eternity whether you walked with God.

Let’s play sports. But when sports collide with family and church, let’s make sure that the most important one wins that game.


  1. Josh P. said:

    Keith, Thanks for being brave enough to tackle this. As you know, the answer for each family is going to look a little different based on dynamics and time of year, but I love (and wholeheartedly support) your premise, that we need to evaluate which is higher priority and put them in the right order!

    Before joining our most recent baseball team, I wrote an email to our son’s baseball coach and told him that although we “made” the team (baseball wise), before he accepted us, he needed to know that our priority was God first, family 2nd, character development and a lot of other things 3rd, 4th, and 5th, and baseball was further down the line. I told him that we would be very committed to his team, to practice, and to tournaments, and games etc. But, I needed him to know that I reserved the right to say no to a practice/game when it conflicted with higher priorities and that just, in general, if we as a family, or our son, needed a break b/c too many things had hit in a row, we would reserve that right. I told the coach that we’d love to be a part of the team as long as he was okay with our priorities. He said that was fine, and we had a great experience the last year, and it took all the pressure off.

    What has been more rewarding is that one of the coaches on that team has asked me to start meeting with him to help him grow in his faith, and the coach who I exchanged the above referenced emails with, is now beginning to come to the Crossing! I really believe that if we stand up for our faith and our families, and lead, we will have an influence in the sports arena and help minimize the crazy train that is the idolatry (unintentionally so for most) of sports. Additionally, the ministry opportunities and spiritual conversations that have happened organically over the last school year have been multiple; it is really exciting to see how God is using this medium of kids sports to help people navigate these difficult challenges and consider His role in their lives.

  2. Joy said:

    Very well said! We’ve said no to softball tournaments, soccer games, baseball practice, Scouts meetings all because they meet on Sunday. I feel so alone in this area, which made me appreciate your post all the more.

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