A New Idolatry
“I’ll be gone every weekend the next two months for my club sport.”
As those words began processing through my mind, I struggled to know how to respond, and what to think. I could feel my brain, as a student pastor, beginning to hemorrhage. This post is going to be pretty strictly an opinion piece, there will be some scripture, but it’s going to follow my mental squirrel chase a bit…you’re welcome to join me.
I know that I’m not alone in the quandary that many student pastors feel when it comes to our students and their involvement in club sports. If this is a new topic to you, let me break it down for you in the only way that a ministry-biased person can. What used to be sacred, Sundays and Wednesdays, has now become a free-for-all on a student-athlete’s time. Gone are the days that schools and sports surrender the two days a week that the church used to lay claim to. In order for an athlete to remain competitive in his or her sport, a great deal of time must be given to honing the sport of choice outside of school athletics. Meaning that we’ve got students with practices until late Wednesday nights, and tournaments that go through Sunday evenings.
When I was a teenager, we could count on those two days being ours, whether we went to church or not. School and little leagues got the other five days a week. Things have changed a bit in the last two decades.
This change means that a good chunk of my leadership students are involved in these club sports that take them away from our meeting times each week. I anguished over this fact until about a month ago, and then the Lord gave me an epiphany in the middle of a conversation with my sweet bride.
Are we, as student pastors, asking our students to idolize the church? Now, I know what this sounds like, but stay with me. We beg and plead our students not to idolize sports, academics, reputation, and status. But, is it possible that we’ve turned the church into the new golden calf?
Jesus, in The Great Commission, instructs us to go therefore, or as we go, and make disciples. Our mindset, I fear, is that we think making disciples means us having every single student at church every single time we open the doors. Is that a bad way to look at ministry? Not necessarily, but I think we forget that church isn’t the only place that God can speak to, or use our students. We also need to have a realistic expectation of our kids. Sometimes, they’re just flat busy or tired.
Side-note soap box: If you’re a parent reading this, and your teenage child tells you they don’t want to go to church because they don’t want to go…remember, you are the parent and if they’re refusing to go now, think about what this will look like when they’re in college, when they don’t have parents getting them up for church. It’s okay to “make” them come to church. If they don’t want to go to the student ministry on Sunday mornings, use that as an opportunity to worship Jesus with your child.
But it doesn’t look like I think it should…
Remember when I said that several of my leadership students are involved in club sports? Let me tie a couple of things together for you as you’re reading this. My attitude toward club sports used to be extremely aggressive and biased against them. My reasoning was that the sports themselves were taking my leader students away from my profound teaching that was going to change their lives for the better, because I was the only way they were going to hear the actual words of God…arrogant, isn’t it? Over the years, I’ve come to realize that I sometimes have a distorted view on reality. Like the statement before, it happens to me often enough that I have to sit back and rethink what reality looks like from somewhere other than my little corner of earth, and if I don’t do that…I get things distorted.
These kids have the ability, and the desire, to go do what the Bible says, even when it doesn’t look like we think it should. That’s why they’re looked at as leadership kids. I have students who have opted out of our bible studies to go serve in another ministry area. At first, I was insecure because I thought we weren’t feeding them spiritually, but as I’ve processed through it, I’ve realized that these students want something more than sitting and listening. They want to go and make disciples out of the younger kids, they want to share the gospel in their friend groups. They’ve moved past some of the beanie weanies that we sometimes feed our students, and want to begin to feed the younger kids what they know. THIS IS AMAZING!! Do I miss those students, and want them back in our ministry? Absolutely, but I also don’t want to be concrete on their feet when it comes to their spiritual development.
These students are sometimes also going into a whole different context than our church ministry. I should be celebrating that! I should be encouraging these students to take the gospel wherever they go, as Jesus told us, and as I teach and encourage them every week! What an opportunity! Does this mean that every student who does club sports is going to become the next great evangelist? Not necessarily, but it does mean that they have a chance to be in the world of some people who may not have heard the good news of Jesus. They may have never been in close proximity of someone who takes their faith serious, and lives the love of Christ wherever they go. Here is our golden opportunity to send out our disciples to go and make new disciples. Making disciple-makers is every student pastor’s dream! If it’s not, then it should be! Keep in mind that when these teenagers become disciple-makers, that their model of doing it may not look like yours. If they’re being faithful to keeping God’s word paramount, and living as a believer, then pump them up!
I was talking with a parent of one of my club sports students, and she was telling me about how they had begun to incorporate prayer into their team’s activities, and how some of the parents of those students had begun asking questions about church. Were these things life-changing? Only time will tell, but guys, how awesome is it when students and parents live out the great commission, outside the church walls?! We ask students to go live out the great commission, but sometimes, it looks different than we expect it to look. I need to encourage that more, I need to equip students better for that kind of thing. But, most importantly, I need to CELEBRATE the fact that they are being faithful to sharing the gospel, as they go.
After this epiphany that the Lord gave me, I had several conversations regarding this topic with students, parents, and my wife. God used those conversations to affirm and reinforce that I had been a knucklehead when it came to trusting God to use these students. I had gotten so wrapped up in thinking that I was the only one they needed to be around when it came to the gospel, that I had begun to not trust that God would use them in the contexts He was placing them in.
Do I have it all figured out? No. Do I still get aggravated when students miss events and studies for sports? I’m working on it, but God is so gracious in helping me to remember that these students love Him, and that they have opportunities outside of church to share. My encouragement to whoever is reading this, is to keep an eye open and and ear out for chances to share the gospel. Don’t get me wrong, church attendance is extremely important. Getting plugged into a bible study or small group is crucial to your growth as a believer. But, it’s not the be all, end all for faith development. The church really isn’t for lost people to find, it’s for believers to bring them to after introducing them to the Jesus who loves them.
So, all that being said…Share when you’re at church, share when you’re in sports. Share, as you go.
“Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe al that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” Matthew 28:19-20
What do you think? What are some of your thoughts on this subject? I’m incredibly interested to know what the Lord has stirred up in your heart and life to motivate you in your walk with Him.