Spring marks the highpoint of interest for fans of NHL hockey from coast-to-coast-coast. From the trade deadline, to the race to get into to the top-16, to the playoffs, to the Stanley Cup finals – the storylines are riveting and the action is non-stop.
The stories of players that have ‘made it to the show’ are legendary. The Gretzky rink at his Brantford home has spawned an entire industry of backyard rinks. The latest phenom – Connor McDavid – excelled through persistent practice and numerous sacrifices on the road to superstar status. He himself talks about how both he and his parents lost friends as he moved up the ranks.
These two players obviously had unmatched talents among their peers, yet they made their mark through hard work. And their parents had to have an unrelenting commitment to ensure their sons’ development progressed. Many times that meant moving to a different location and playing on teams above their age level.
Only a very small fraction of one percent of children enrolled in minor hockey in Canada will become Gretzky’s and McDavid’s, and perhaps a few more will make it to the NHL, yet scores of parents make similar kinds of sacrifices. And that applies not just to hockey, but many other sports.
So how should Christian parents navigate this issue?
I write as a pastor, as a parent who enrolled sons in minor hockey and as a hockey fan who is constantly evaluating whether my love for all things hockey and sports is crossing the line into idolatry.
The issue of sports and Christianity has many different angles. But let’s think specifically about how parenting and sports intersect and perhaps conflict with church involvement, particularly on the Lord’s Day.
For a Christian family, there are many benefits to having children involved in sports. Besides the obvious physical benefits, it also affords an opportunity for parents and children to be involved in their communities, rubbing shoulders with unbelievers. I remember one mom in our church telling me how she intentionally uses her son’s hockey games as an opportunity for evangelism with other hockey parents. Sports also keep children from other, perhaps more harmful, activities.
How then does a parent decide whether a child should attend a game or a practice when it conflicts with church?
This is where the issue now moves beyond the benefits of sports, to an issue of parenting. What sorts of values are we passing down to the next generation? What are we teaching the next generation about what is of ultimate importance?
There are no direct biblical commands on sports involvement vs. church involvement, but there are instructions on church attendance and there are instructions on parenting and there are instructions on what is of first importance. It is these instructions that all parents should wrestle with and use as a template in making these kinds of decisions. So consider the following verses and related diagnostic questions:
On church attendance:
It is clear from the New Testament that all Christians ought to be part of a local church and that they should strive to be present whenever the church gathers.
And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near. (Hebrews 10:24-25)
If you decide for hockey over “the meeting,” could it be that you are missing an opportunity to stir up fellow believers to love and good works? And could it be that you are teaching your children that “the meeting” is of inferior importance and the “Day drawing near” is not quite as urgent as Bible leads us to believe?
God has a very specific plan and purpose for godly parents, and that is to teach their children to put their confidence in God. Psalm 78 contains clear instructions, stated both negatively and positively.
We will not hide them from their children, but tell to the coming generation the glorious deeds of Yahweh, and His might, and the wonders that He has done… that the next generation might know them… so that they should set their hope on God, and not forget the works of God.” (Psalm 78:4,6,7)
If you decide for sports over church for your children, could it be that you are hiding from your children the glories of God and missing an opportunity to remind them of the works of God?
And finally, Jesus teaches on what should receive the most currency in terms of our values.
Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is there your heart will be also… No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other.” (Matthew 6:19-21, 24)
By choosing sports over church involvement, what are you teaching your children about what you value and to what you are ultimately devoted?
The Apostle John has a very terse statement/warning to end his first inspired letter. He simply says, “Little children, keep yourselves from idols.” John, being an elderly sage by the time he wrote this, was warning those believers that were coming behind him. I can’t help but think that this is one of those sagely maxims that all parents ought to teach their own children.
Sports have clear benefits. But they can also very subtly drift into the category of idolatry. As Christian parents, we must be very careful that we teach our children to value the things of God – especially the bride of Christ – over anything else that might threaten to de-god God.