“Hey Pastor, I just wanted to let you know that we won’t be at church for the next three months because my girl is playing ball and they have games on Sunday and practices throughout the week.”
My heart sank into my stomach. I wouldn’t call it shock, because I had heard this statement, or at least something like this, dozens of times from different parents over the years. Sports, plays, bands, fundraisers, on and on went the list of programs and distractions that would inevitably take the family out of church for a season. “Well, let me encourage you to reconsider that”, I began.
But there was no talking him down. I explained in a hushed tone the importance of his role as a father to set the standard for his children. I talked about the importance of putting the Lord first. I talked about the importance of *GULP* attending the local church (Heb 13:17). But, standing before me was a father and husband who, instead of leading his family in holiness was choosing to inflict them with spiritual wounds.
“Well they are saved, so what else is there?” he said, jovially.
I felt my face go flush. “What else is there?” I asked. “Life! The Gospel is for all of life; not just a ‘get-out-of-hell-free’ card. Being here as a family will do far more for them in the long run than this sport. Trust me.”
He snapped back, this time with a more serious tone, “Well, they [his kids] need to learn teamwork and stuff.” We exchanged a few more words and then he walked out – his children and wife in tow. We saw the kids at a couple more youth events and then never again.
Pastorally I still ache thinking about that exchange and others like it. As a believer who considers the gathering of the saints as a commanded, valuable, necessary privilege of grace; I had always struggled with these talks – I suppose I still do. I am stupefied at how readily professing believers throw God on the backburner – especially when the heart of their children is on the line.
Where did we go wrong? How can we sing on Sunday morning that Jesus is my “all-in-all” and then decide to sacrifice the glorious, life-giving truths of the Gospel on the bloody altar of hobbies? At what point did so many professing Christians parents exchange the instruction, “keep your eyes on Jesus” for “Keep your eyes on the ball”?
Oh great, another blog post about the evils of hobbies… I should say this, there is nothing inherently wrong with sports or any other kind of hobby, so long as it doesn’t violate God’s law. I am a huge Phillies baseball fan and an avid hunter (If you didn’t dislike me up to this point – you probably do now).
I wrestled with the tensions between hobbies and church for years. Swinging from one end of the pendulum – it doesn’t matter, to the other – all hobbies are evil and pull people away from God. I would like to think today, through studying God’s Word, I now have a more biblical understanding.
I do not believe that skipping out on the Lord’s Day services is ever appropriate unless divinely organized (sickness, hospitalization, etc.) Sunday is a special day for God’s people and ought not be treated like a second Saturday. This means that hobbies should fall second to the things of God. This thought is certainly counter-cultural. My unsaved family thinks I’m crazy, because every hunting season I come down out of the mountains with my wife and daughters, shower at a truck stop, and attend the service at a small rural church in the nearest town – effectively “wasting” the entire day… and I love it every time. Admittedly, there are times when I am driving down the mountain pass and thoughts of the big muley bucks I’m missing out on trot through my mind, but then the truth hits me, “Glorious are you [God], more majestic than the mountains full of prey” (Ps 76:4). Hobbies and convenience are no reason to disobey clear commands (Heb 10:25) – not even hunting season. I don’t ever want my girls thinking that we vacation from God.
I believe that the problem is not the sport or hobby itself – the problem is often the forgetfulness of the parents.
Parents Have Forgotten Who Is Responsible for Their Kid’s Spiritual Well-Being.
Children are a heritage and a blessing from the Lord (Ps 127:3-5), and as gifts from the Lord they are to be handled and cared for as precious beings made in His image (Gen 1:27). It is the parents that are commanded in scripture to discipline their children (Prov 25:19) and teach them what they are to know about God (Prov 22:6, Duet 6:7). It is the parent’s responsibility to introduce their child to the scriptures, “…which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.” (2 Tim 3:14-17). Oddly, in all of the passages we read about raising children, nowhere are these responsibilities shifted to the church. If I must give an account for my family, then I must take these responsibilities seriously.
Parents Have Forgotten the Purpose of Youth Ministry.
We can argue the validity of youth ministry all day, but most of us should at least agree, as mentioned above, youth group is not an acceptable substitute for Godly living and training at home. I am the first to recognize that there are a lot of bad youth programs out there. However, youth ministry, in its purest form is to come along side parents in helping to equip, meet, and reinforce the spiritual needs and habits of their children. Unfortunately, instead of being used as a helpful tool, youth ministry is often used as a substitute spiritual guide. It is a sad day when spiritual care of kids is pawned off onto the church, who having them for an hour or two each week is supposed to make up for the lack of spiritual vitality and leadership at home. Is it any wonder that kids get “bored” and fall away? It is even less of a wonder that upon the child falling away the blame is often placed directly on the lap of the church. Imagine if parents took to regularly praying with, studying with, and investing spiritually into their kids!
Parents Have Forgotten the Purpose of the Local Church Gathering.
When parents choose to enroll their children in programs that will directly violate the clear commands of Hebrews 10:25, it is a sign that they have forgotten the purpose of the local gathering. It’s easy to say “___________” is more fun than church, the kids enjoy it more; forgetting, of course, that the purpose of the church is not to entertain you! Gathering together fulfills a much greater purpose than simply something to do on Sunday morning (as long as nothing else is going on.) Mark Dever summarizes the purpose of the church gathering in this way: “The proper ends for a local congregation’s life and actions are the worship of God, the edification of the church, and the evangelization of the world. These three purposes in turn serve the glory of God.” (A Theology for the Church, p. 809)
Parents Have Forgotten Their Greater Affection
Most Christians profess that they love God. 1 John 4:19 reminds us that, “we love because he first loved us.” In fact, love for God and love for others is the most prominent mark of believers (John 13:15). Jesus says in John 14:5, “If you love me, keep my commandments.” Simply put, the Christians life is marked by love.
Consider the fact that Jesus lived, died and rose on your behalf. He died as the propitiation for your sins; satisfying the divine wrath of the Father that would have justly fell on you (1 Jn 2:2), had His mercy not spared you. You who were once dead in your trespasses and sins have been made alive (Eph 2:1). When you were born again, Christ took out that old stone heart and replaced it with a heart of flesh that would worship, honor, communion with, and glorify Him (Ez 11:19). You were bought with a price, believer, and you are no longer your own (1 Cor 6:20). Jesus and His commands are EVERYTHING to the believer and it is that love and passion for Jesus that we should be demonstrating and passing down to our children. Friend, as much as I like baseball and hunting – neither of those have done what Jesus has done for me.
When I pull my children away from the things of God for the sake of hobbies, I am not loving God and I am not loving them. I am programming them to be satisfied with lesser affections – I am programming them to fail.
Parents, we need to stop “programming” our children to fail in spiritual things by substituting spiritual things with an excess of programs (say that 10X fast), and get back to reminding ourselves of our responsibilities and showing our children that true joy is found in the presence of King Jesus (Ps 16:11).
This was a guest post from Blake Laberee. Blake is a husband, father of two, and the lead Pastor of a small Baptist Church in the Pacific Northwest. He holds a bachelor’s degree in Pastoral Ministry and was a Youth Pastor for five years. Blake averages one book per week, is an avid outdoorsman, and is a fan of Phillies Baseball.