As I sit down to write this little article I am well aware that the topic and the conclusion might not sit well in many ideological circles, nonetheless it is an issue that Christy and I feel strongly about and my hope is to offer a perspective from a pastor and father. To begin with, it is important to note that my position is not one of being a reclusive anti-youth sports fanatic. Ironically, this piece is being typed while on vacation in the mountains watching the NCAA tournament. Our day was coordinated so that we could be back at the cabin when the games tipped. Sports has a been a part of my life literally since I was born. I had the privilege of being an all-state athlete and signing a college football scholarship. Every Thursday, I meet with a group of coaches for Bible study, three of which are now in the Alabama High School Hall of Fame; I get sports. By the way, all these coaches agree that Youth Sports has gone nuts.
The title of this piece offers a glimpse into a much larger dilemma; one in which I won’t address all the variables. Allow me to give some context; I grew up in a small town in South Alabama, where Christian precepts governed the community mindset. Please note, said Christian precepts were not synonymous with Biblical Christianity, but I’ll leave that for another piece. However, these precepts implied a deep respect for Sunday and Wednesday night because these were “Church Days.” As a child and teenager, sports and faith never clashed.
Those days are long gone. My purpose is not to yearn for the good old days and claim that there was something better about them or attempt to outline the sociological trends which have led to where we are today. People much smarter than me are writing dissertations on that, I simply want to offer a position that the Rials family has arrived at after much prayer and discussion. I am not going to address every single conflict within the world of youth sports, I might do that one day in much longer format. This article is specific to why our boys won’t be playing opening night.
Anyone that has children playing youth sports in a secular environment understand the tension that I am addressing. Seven years ago when I moved to Montgomery to pastor Thorington Road Baptist Church, I saw an ideological shift begin. This shift devalued the traditional “Church Days.” I mentioned this change and my great concern to our Wednesday night Bible Study a few years back. After teaching the Book of Revelation for over two years I can offer a basic premise. Satan doesn’t stand outside the door of the church dressed in red, with a pitchfork, and a pointed hat, yelling boo! Satan deceives the church by offering her shiny trinkets all the while desensitizing her to the poison within. As C.S. Lewis makes vividly clear in his book: The Lion, The Witch,and The Wardrobe, Turkish Delight is so appealing and yet so deadly.
When we moved to Montgomery, Solomon (our oldest) was one, but already some of our parents were concerned because they were using Sunday as the rain out day. I vividly recall a couple of conversations relating how frustrated they were. I personally experienced this two years later when Solomon was three and I decided to coach a T-ball team. Sure enough, we had a rain out and for the first time our family had a crisis. Sunday is our family Sabbath, what was I to do? Honestly, this was a Godsend because this tension forced me to develop a more comprehensive theology of the Sabbath. Fast forward a couple more years and we are told that because the league has now grown so much, Wednesday would now be another practice day. Apparently there are not enough time slots to place every team on the other days of the week. As mentioned, we are slowly being desensitized and I anticipate that it won’t be too long before we witness Wednesday as a regular part of the schedule. Even better then that, Sunday usage is on the horizon! This is already true in the travel ball phenomenon as well as other parts of the country. It will hit the Bible belt soon.
As a follower of Jesus Christ, I surrender to His Lordship. This principle is the guiding force for everything that I do. His Kingdom is my call. I realize that many would say, “Well, you are a preacher and that is the comment you are supposed to give”. I would respond to that comment very simply; that is just weak! It is a feeble attempt to avoid the point. The call of the Kingdom is the same for the preacher as it is for the attorney, teacher, or cop. Part of our problem is this false division we have created between secular and sacred. His Kingdom is our call. Period. This principle governs the way that I parent. I don’t own my children. I steward their souls for Christ’s sake. Therefore, everything I do is pointing them in a direction. The direction that I point them matters for eternity’s sake. I am accountable to God for the direction in which I point them.
Moving on, the Bible is clear that our faith is in Jesus Christ alone, but here I want to offer a point that I am convinced has been diminished by our consumer driven mindset for picking churches based upon our narcissistic preferences rather than by Biblical and prayerful divine guidance. I am called to have faith only in Jesus Christ, and I am called to live that faith out in community. The local church is not an attachment to our faith, it is the people that we live out our faith with. The call of salvation is not to a lone ranger style of me and God, or a kid in a candy store looking for the sweetest and most colorful sucker, but it is a call to live in community with the accountability that comes with it. We are saved by the atoning work of Jesus Christ, He gifts to us the new identity of being part of His Bride. We love Him when we love His Bride. We devalue Him when we devalue His Bride.
This brings me to my conclusion, we will not be playing opening night. We will not play because opening night falls on Good Friday. Our community of faith is celebrating the Lord’s Supper on this night together, and that takes precedence. They will be there Saturday morning to slide into home, spit sunflower seeds, and look goofy in a hat that doesn’t fit. We will be there with cameras so everyone on Facebook can still vicariously enjoy the day. But on Friday, we will be with The Bride of Christ! Every decision I make as a parent points my kids in a direction. I know that the boys will probably get mad and pout for a few minutes, but they are kids and I am responsible as their father. Their principles today are my principles. If I don’t give them my principles today or worse if I have no principles, then tomorrow they certainly will have none. God did not call me to be their buddy, to win most cool dad, or any other junk like that. He called me to steward their soul as a father. If I don’t, somebody else will. I want to leave you with a short little story told by Tony Evans in his book “Raising Kingdom Kids.” It is powerful.
Long ago, there lived a man who sold pork as a butcher. He had never bought any pigs, rather he slaughtered wild pigs by the hundreds. A man from a neighboring town asked him one day, “How do you catch all these wild pigs?” The man replied, “It’s easy. I just stick a big trough of food out there down low enough for the piglets. Then when the piglets come to eat, the parents follow. While they are getting used to it each day, I start putting up a fence at night. Just one side. I do another side every night until all I have left is a gate. Eventually they come in, distracted by the sweetness of the food, and I close the gate without their ever knowing what happened.” (Evans, 11)