When Sports Compete With Youth Ministry: Revisited

Last night at our midweek environment we had two factors working against us. First, we have had our first two days of warm weather as we heated up to the 70’s here in Michigan, (the average high is 43). The second was the beginning of Spring sports and countless try-outs that took students away from our midweek environment. When this kind of double whammy occurs, it can be easy to become despondent and defeated, but it’s important to step back and see the big picture of what is happening. It’s also important to consider how we respond to these times in ministry. Below are some points I made last year in a post titled, When Sports Compete With Youth Ministry: Part 1

Viewing the Situation Differently:

1) Embrace, Don’t Fight: Attacking the school system, parents, and schedules does no good! Our message might be accurate, but it falls on deaf ears when we challenge commitment to the church. In my experience, parents and students will always try to “make it work” for the church when we come alongside them instead of attacking them. It is often in the “come alongside” moments that they are more willing to make it work for our programs. Remember, parents and students are not our enemy, culture is.

2) Understand Parents and Students Better: It’s hard for me to understand parents of teenagers since I am the parent of two toddlers. However, I have made it my goal to ask questions about the reality of sports for parents and their kids. I have some brilliant youth leaders who are parents themselves. I make a point of  listening to what it is like to have a student in sports and try to understand the struggles and pressures on the family. It’s not as clear cut as we might think sometimes… I have acquired much more empathy for parents as they make tough decisions with their kids schedules. Until I am in their shoes, I cannot judge how easy it is to make decisions about sports and church schedules.

3) It’s Not About Me: Part of the issue that we face is the false teaching that you and I are ultimately responsible for the faith of students. We are here to partner with parents and not replace them. Deuteronomy 6:7 is clear that parents are to disciple their kids first, not the church.We are here to continue and support what they are already doing. If a parent chooses to have their student miss an event or program in favor of sports, it’s imperative that I leave that responsibility with them and not judge their decision. Even if I have an inkling that they are not prioritizing faith over sports, it is simply not my job to judge.

4) It’s STILL Not About Me: Can I be honest? Much of my struggle in the past has centered around my insecurities and self esteem. Too many of us get bent out of shape because our security and confidence is so tied to whether we have good numbers or whether students pick sports over me and you. When students choose sports over us, we can feel deflated and hurt. Am I right? It’s a hard reality to admit, but I have found that I have to examine my heart regularly on this one. As a caution, anyone in ministry cannot be healthy if they are fueled by the acceptance and security of students. It’s a no win situation and can be disastrous.

5) Pray for Them: Our students are under huge pressure to find significance through sports. Our culture has ingrained in us that we must win to be successful and significant. We know that true significance comes from being a child of God and using our gifts to honor Him. It’s imperative that we pray for families as they navigate through this challenging and competitive time. I also find that prayer helps me to approach the whole situation with a team focus rather than competition.

6) Create Practical Steps to Be a Team: It’s imperative that we work hard to do all we can to help students attend our events and programs. Too often I have spent to much time and energy complaining rather than creating bridges for families to attend. In my next post, I will outline my team approach to make church and sports work…

4 Responses to When Sports Compete With Youth Ministry: Revisited

  1. Andrew March 15, 2012 at 10:37 am #

    Thanks for the article and the gentle reminders. I too minister to teens in Michigan and I am experiencing and have experienced everything that you wrote about.
    It is a challenge that is extremely frustrating. What has really bothered me though is that sports and youth ministry are compared as apples to apples at least in my area. Even sports practice is more active than even the best Bible study I am told. Lately I have been putting our best effort into ministry this time of year and being supportive and build bridges but it really feels like it falls on deaf ears. Thanks for your article it does equip and encourage us to “stay in the game!”


  2. Phil Bell March 15, 2012 at 2:07 pm #

    Andy, thanks for your honest comments! You express how many of us feel and experience every week. In these times, I try to focus on what I can control and focus less on what others are choosing to do. As long as I give God and these students my best, I know He will honor my efforts.

    Stay in the game and keep going Andy!

    Where in MI are you?

    Phil <

  3. Brandon March 17, 2012 at 7:52 am #

    As much as I hate to admit it, I take it personally sometimes. Thanks for this.

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