This article is in conversation with "Providing Sabbath for Busy Youth," posted on the Sparkhouse blog on December 8.
There is an ongoing frustration inside of me that I am guessing is somewhat universal to youth directors, pastors, and anyone who volunteers with youth and family ministry: the battle for time in kids’ lives.
I don’t have any data to support my thesis, but I think somewhere in the late 1990s or early 2000s, the respect for family religious participation went the way of stick shifts—rare and hard to find.
When pastors and church staff get together, one of the frequent topics of conversation is bemoaning the text or email every pastor/youth director/confirmation leader has received from parents saying, “Sorry, we can’t be at church this fall/spring . . . it’s XYZ season and we’re gone every weekend!”
Why are parents letting our kids’ extra-curricular activities take over our lives and interfere with our discipleship, including the expectation of the faith to participate in worship?
Friends, it is time to call a spade a spade.
Parents seem to have handed over the reins of their children’s schedules to people who may or may not have the best interests of that child in mind and likely do not have their faith life in mind at all. Besides the fact that most of our kids aren’t training for the Olympics, is it really worth teaching them that worshipping God should be done only when there’s nothing else going on, that the first and second commandments from God are less important than extracurriculars?
I think there are two significant issues, both of which are troubling.
The first issue is the economic divide you can see in just about any extracurricular activity. When you attend a school athletic event, for instance, there are two tiers of players. One tier of student athletes has parents who have spent countless weekends traveling for club tourneys, who have forked out thousands of dollars for fees, camps, hotels, equipment, etc. The second tier of kids are coming to a sport having been coached by volunteers or minimally paid school or park and rec staff. The divide this creates is stark, because, of course, kids who have been coached and trained for years will be far ahead of kids who have been playing pick-up in the neighborhood when weather allows. Early in most high schools, students who want to play sports have to try out for teams. Those whose parents didn’t give up weekends and lots of money are less likely to make the team.
That bugs me.
The second issue (which gets under my skin even more) is that so few parents are willing to say to a coach or show choir director or any extracurricular leader something like, “I’m sorry; my kids can’t make it Sunday. When we had our children baptized, we committed to raising them in the faith, which includes being in church.”
Instead, the church people get the email that kids can’t make it to confirmation class or to acolyte. For 25 years, I have responded with a wimpy “Thanks for letting me know,” when a parent has told me the child wouldn’t be around for weeks. That bugs me too.
Don’t get me wrong. As a parent, I have encouraged my kids to find what they love and get involved in it. I loved extracurriculars as a kid and was in 3-4 sports a year, played in the band, sang in choir, took piano lessons, loved being in student government, and held down a job. I am a better adult for having experienced those things. But none of those activities took precedence over church participation in our house, and that lesson stuck with me.
Discipleship has never been easy. Let’s not pretend it won’t involve sacrifices. Families, it’s time to reclaim our ground and stake out time for God. Our kids need Sabbath and it is up to parents and faith leaders to help them gain it.