How to Navigate Youth Sports as Christ Followers
Here at the Summit, we have an audacious goal of planting 1,000 churches by 2050. (By God’s grace, we have already planted 298!) One of the most bittersweet realities of planting churches is sending out your best leaders. One of the greatest benefits is getting to learn from them along the way. So we decided to ask some of our Summit Network pastors to give back a little and share some of what God has taught them.
Every Monday throughout the summer, check in here for a dash of wit and wisdom from some of our Summit Network church planters. To find out more about how the Summit Network equips leaders to plant, grow, and multiply gospel-centered churches, visit thesummitnetwork.com. Next up: Mike McKee!
–Chris Pappalardo, Editor
Over the past 20 years, sports have grown to new heights, with more opportunities and greater publicity than ever before. As this has happened, it’s made it more difficult for families to figure out how to engage in sports in a healthy way amidst all the pressures, potential idolatry, and never-ending opportunities at hand. We can’t expect a post-Christian culture to cater to Christians, so the question is, as Christians, how do we, with our kids, navigate the ever-growing sports landscape of today?
As parents, the first thing we need to understand is that our kids shouldn’t play sports in order to make it to the next level. Our kids should play sports because they love the game. If they progress to the next level, great! But that’s not the normal outcome, and if they don’t make it, that’s OK.
This perspective becomes jaded when parents view their kids as the truer and better them, assuming their kid will be and accomplish everything they couldn’t. When this happens, their kids become the parents’ identity and where they find their sense of value and self-worth. Parents begin to worship their kids and use them as a means to satisfy their idol of approval. As they develop a wrong view of their kids, they will make unwise, ill-informed decisions when it comes to their kids and sports in order to feed their idol instead of doing what’s best for their children.
We need to right our perspective and view sports as a tool, not a means to vicariously live out our dreams through our kids. When we’re able to do this, we teach our kids things like what it means to have discipline and how to set goals and work toward them. We can teach them leadership, respect, how to deal with failure, how to overcome adversity, how to be a team player, and how to be coachable. When sports are a tool, we can use them to disciple our kids toward Christ instead of something that pulls them away from Christ.
When sports are a tool, we can use them to disciple our kids toward Christ instead of something that pulls them away from Christ.
As parents, we also need to help our kids understand that playing sports is not a right but an opportunity to use the gifts and abilities God’s given them in a way that brings him glory (1 Corinthians 10:31; Colossians 3:17, 23–24). We get the chance to show them on a foundational level how to leverage sports as an opportunity to build relationships with people that we can engage with the gospel. Sports create a unique pseudo-family context that provides incredible opportunities to be missional. Too often parents are so concerned about their kids’ career that they miss the lostness in the team around them. Sports are not a means to an end; they are an opportunity to invest in a mission field. The more our kids see sports as opportunity, the less likely they will be to make it their identity (the same goes for us as parents).
Lastly, our kids have to see the priority of the local church from day one. For kids who end up participating in travel sports, this will be something that needs to be navigated with caution. Based on my experience at the D1 collegiate level and contact with D1 coaches, professional scouts, and agents, kids don’t need to start travel sports until they get closer to high school, and the decision should be affirmed by people in their specific sport.
In addition to that, we must have very intentional conversations with our kids. Here are some conversation points that I would recommend and have with my own kids:
- You can only pick one travel sport. Which one will it be?
- What’s this going to mean for our local church involvement?
- What are some specific and intentional ways we can consistently engage with our church family during the week?
- How can we leverage our time playing travel sports as missional?
Every decision we make when it comes to sports will have a lasting impact on our kids, so we should start with prayer. Remember, the goal is not to have a great and successful athlete but a faithful follower of Christ. Let’s not hold up the idol of sports for our kids to bow down to but instead show them a Savior to hold onto.
Mike Mckee is the lead pastor of Image Church in Atlanta, GA., a former baseball player at the University of North Carolina, and a member of four College World Series teams. Mike and his family were sent out from The Summit Church in 2017. He serves with his wife, Ashley, and their kids, Adalyn and Braxton.