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Are we driving our children away from God?

1.3. 2017 Written By: Tim Bentch 1,852 read

Tim Bentch is lead pastor at Souderton (Pa.) Mennonite Church. 

As I write, this article, I am already feeling guilty about my own deficiencies as a parent: all the ways I could have helped my children excel in sports, music, and academics. I could do more! All the missed opportunities to help my children become successful in life. We parents are plagued by guilt and we also feel the constant pressure from our society to be super parents and to turn out super kids.

But, are these pressures and expectations in balance with what we know is the ultimate goal of Christ-following parents: to help our children find Jesus? Are we helping our children find God and doing all we can to model a pursuit of God for them?

One area we need to take a strong look at is the current sports obsession (though there are many obsessions in other areas). With this in view, I ask the question: Are you driving your children away from God – literally? When you drive your child to a soccer match or practice on Sunday mornings, what is that teaching your child?

My wife and I served in Eastern Europe beginning a few years after the fall of Communism. In many of the countries under Soviet domination, Christians faced discrimination and persecution. In Moscow, I met a talented young musician who played the clarinet beautifully. He was in his late twenties. Why, I asked, didn’t he go to the conservatory of music or to a university for formal studies? He looked at me with a puzzled expression that said, don’t you know? Under Communism, there was no way he could be accepted into a conservatory or a university because he was active in the church: automatic disqualification. But, he chose to be faithful to God by staying active in the local church even though it meant that ‘success’ for him in a musical career or in any other field that required a college education was not possible.

I met an outstanding singer in Timisoara, Romania. He had one of those voices you usually only find in the east: a deep, dark, profound, resonant voice. When I heard him sing, I was incredulous. “Why aren’t you a leading soloist in the opera?”, I asked. Again, that puzzled look; don’t you know?  He told me that when he finished conservatory, he was offered a contract to be a soloist with the opera. But, they said, there’s one thing, “You will have to give up going to church. A soloist in the opera cannot be known to be a Christian.” He told them immediately, “No way,” and turned down the contract. Instead, he took a position with the choir of the philharmonic. It was not nearly as prestigious, but he stayed active in his local church.

I think about many others who made huge sacrifices in order to be faithful to Jesus and to honor him by serving in church. Yet we choose sporting events over church? Really?

When we are driving our children to a practice or a game instead of worship or instead of a Wednesday night youth meeting, what message does that send to our children? Are we saying, we only go to church when there’s nothing better to do?  Are we placing sports, or work, or leisure above knowing and serving God?

The Bible calls this idolatry. Proverbs 22:6 says, “Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not depart from it.” The patterns that we give to our children will stay with them the rest of their lives. If we are communicating that church is not important now, how can we expect that they will go to church when they are older? If we are modeling for them a faith that requires no sacrifice, then what good is it?

What on earth could be more important than our children’s eternal destiny?

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2 Responses to “Are we driving our children away from God?”

  1. Sam Adams says:

    And then I think, What about these other parents who don’t go to church and who love their children and who are spending time with them and sacrificing for them? Do I ask them to give this up so they can join me at church? Is that the cost of discipleship that I want to hang my hat on? Maybe we should start having church Friday night instead of Sunday morning so we don’t interfere with something that can be, to a large extent, a very healthy part of family culture in America.

  2. Dave King says:

    While I appreciate the concern raised by Tim, and it is an issue that needs more honest conversation in congregations, I don’t think pitting sports against church is a helpful approach. The book that I and my co-author published last spring (“Overplayed: A Parent’s Guide to Sanity in the World of Youth Sports”) is an attempt to open conversation among parents and hopefully within congregational settings. I recommend it to you, not just because I want to sell books but because very few if any books on this subject are written with a faith component. I have worked in athletics over 35 years and have seen firsthand the positive and negative impact of the explosion of youth sports. I’m hopeful that my insights and suggestions are helpful to those who read them. Forcing a decision between a practice and a church activity is the wrong question at the wrong time, and everybody loses. I believe there is a way to use both experiences to nurture faith in our young people. Unfortunately, the church has been unwilling to engage this issue with parents of young children who are facing tremendous pressures. Instead of helping them process these questions, we have stood critically on the sidelines. FYI, I will be presenting a seminar at the MC USA convention in Orlando this summer and am open to visiting any congregation to present a perspective that I believe can help all of us achieve a balance. Dave King, Director of Athletics, Eastern Mennonite University

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