Lisa Chisholm-Holms is the Baptismal Ministry Formation Missioner for the Anglican Diocese of Ottawa (Canada). This article was originally published in the Anglican Diocese of Ottawa’s “Community News” Volume XIV, No 9 October 2005. This version has been slightly revised and updated and used with permission. Lisa’s diocesan pages include Generation2Generation and Ministry in Daily Life.
Church school and youth ministry leaders often notice that children and youth who are active in hockey or other sports, may be absent from church programs for the sports season because the demands of Sunday practices and games draw them out of active church involvement for a time.
The question is: How can congregations creatively respond to this reality? How can they maintain an active and supportive connection with these youth, their peers who may have no church connection at all, and the adult coaches, chauffeurs and cheerleaders who support them in their athletic activities? For clergy, Sunday school teachers, youth and congregational leaders, this situation is often the cause for dismay. There is frustration that sports organizations typically show little or no concern for preserving time within schedules of practices and games for religious education and observance. There is disappointment that parents and kids seem to place a greater priority on athletics than they do on spiritual development. There is nostalgia for the good old days when the Sunday school was packed; the local church athletic league was in its prime; and a Sunday morning game or practice was unthinkable. Such responses are understandable; however, they are not likely to carry Christians very far in responding creatively to the new realities and challenges which face churches, youth, parents and coaches today.
The reality is that kids’ involvement in athletics is a good thing. I can’t imagine a church member who would honestly prefer that young people choose instead to remain constantly glued to their computer screens or television sets or to hang out aimlessly at the mall. Organized athletic activity can be a very positive outlet and channel for the energy and talent of youth and children. At their best, such activities promote and model team work, encourage kids to make and keep commitments, and to put their best efforts forward to achieve shared goals. Each of these elements is in harmony with and indeed contributes to Christian faith formation. Not only that but physical exercise contributes to human emotional and physical well being. It is one of the ways we honor God as good stewards of our bodies. Both lay and clergy leaders need to avoid the temptation of viewing this situation from a false either/or—church vs. organized sport or athletic vs. spiritual development perspective. What is needed is a win/win and both/and approach.
What message would be communicated, for example, if members of the Sunday School drew pictures and sent letters to budding hockey or soccer players letting them know that they are looking forward to when they will be able to join them again. Or better yet, what if the Sunday School class came out to one of their classmate’s games? Perhaps, they could gather for a short time of sports-related worship and reflection either before or after practice. Would it not be more meaningful to talk about winning and losing and what’s really important in life in that context?
Similarly, rather than complaining that a coach or a busy parent is only a “semi-active” occasional worshipper, what if congregations recognized and supported the ministry their members exercise in the wider world? Too often, as Bill Diehl has said, “The church speaks like an extrovert, but behaves like an introvert.” We talk about being “a ministering community of Christ’s people serving and accountable to God, to one another, and to the world around,” but practically speaking we have difficulty putting those words into action. [Norma Cook Everist and Nelvin Vos. Where in the World Are You? Connecting Faith and Daily Life (The Alban Institute, 1996) pp 91]. Why not identify, support and commission a coach or hockey mom or soccer dad to serve as an intentional seasonal minister on the congregation’s behalf for the duration of the sports season?
Suitable candidates may or may not already be involved with youth athletics, but would certainly require an interest in and aptitude for such involvement. They would be people who are compassionate, exercise good judgement, have a sense of humor, and who relate well to both kids and adults. They need not be Bible experts or theologians, but they would need to have a basic grounding in the Christian faith and show evidence of a desire to continue to learn and grow as a follower of Jesus. In addition, coaches may require specific training through their sports associations.
Just as overseas missionaries need ongoing support from the local church community while they are serving elsewhere, such seasonal missionaries to arenas and playing fields in the local community will need to be supported throughout their time of service. The trick will be to find ways for a coach or hockey mom or soccer dad to stay meaningfully connected with their community of faith. If they anticipate being absent from Sunday worship and other congregational activities, they may need to find alternative ways to get the spiritual nourishment and sustenance they need. Perhaps there is a mid-week or evening service which they may wish to try instead of the Sunday morning service they usually attend— or a bible study or small group they could join? Now would also be a good time to encourage them to either establish or strengthen a regular practice of personal prayer and scripture reading. Identify two or three people from the congregation who would be willing to stay in regular contact with the coach or hockey parent and to pray for them. Look for people with whom this seasonal missionary would have a natural affinity–other sports fans or parents of young children, perhaps. Ideally, at least one of the these ministry supporters would have a good grasp of the Biblical story and Christian practice (e.g. a lay reader, bible study leader, or other wise saint of the church) and feel comfortable praying out loud. This homegrown support team could meet together (over coffee or after a game) at the beginning, middle and end of the sports season to intentionally check in with the missionary and find out what they are learning, and what opportunities and challenges they face and any specific needs they are aware of, and then stay in touch by phone or e-mail as needed at other times.
The missionary’s task would be both to coach or support the kids on the team using their talent, time and energy AND to reflect on what they are doing in light of their Christian faith. This together with the insights gained through intentional conversation with members of their congregation will help them to grow in their understanding of themselves as a baptized minister who serves in Christ’s name. Their parish supporters will in turn encourage them to bring their knowledge of the hopes and hurts of the young players, their families and the world of recreational sport in general back to the congregation. This knowledge can in turn help enlarge the congregation’s perspective and shape its future ministry.
- Church-going Insider or Gospel-carrying Outsider? A different view of the congregations by Judith McWilliams Dickhart (Division for Ministry, Evangelical Lutheran Church in America), 2002.
- The Monday Connection: On Being an Authentic Christian in a Weekday World by William A. Diehl (New York, NY: HarperCollins), 1993. © 1991 by Riverbend Resource Centre, Inc.
- When the Members are the Missionaries: An Extraordinary Calling for Ordinary People by A. Wayne Schwab (Essex, NY: Member Mission Press), 2002.