Sport v Church: which is the winner?

Mark Chester

‘Can I ask for your advice about something?’ said a dad to me, one Sunday morning. His sons are elite athletes and they practise and play on Sundays, which means they don’t often get along to church. I know that not everyone who reads this blog is a churchgoer, but those of you who are might recognise this dad’s dilemma. And those of you who aren’t may still understand it because the principle can apply to all sorts of situations. So, how do we manage conflicts between our priorities for our children and theirs?

‘What do you think we should do?’ asked my friend.

It’s a subject that comes up regularly in my conversations with churches.

My advice is this:

  • Don’t turn the issue into a tension between sport and church. Sport will win in the hearts of most children who love to play, but they may feel guilty about it, which could tarnish their experience of sport forevermore.
  • Sport can give children a sense of self-worth and purpose. To deny them that could engender resentment and damage their self-esteem.
  • Your children have a gift and they worship God when they use that gift. If they were musical or artistic, they would be able to express that gift in church during Sunday services, but because they are sporty, they cannot. Sport can be the means to worship, so don’t deny your children the opportunity to worship God by using the talent he has given them.
  • Go with them to watch them play and, while there, show them in your conduct and conversations what it means to be a Christian. They may learn more about how to be a Christian by your example in settings in which your faith is not shared by those around you than by what you do in church on a Sunday morning! 
  • Try to keep them connected to the church family in other ways, especially to those who take an interest in their sporting endeavours and who make your children feel that the gift God has given them brings pleasure to others too. 

One of my favourite films is about golf and is called The Legend of Bagger Vance. In it, the narrator says: ‘God is happiest when his children are at play.’ It’s a sentiment I identify with as a father. I wonder what you think?