Every once in a while a blog post comes along that appears to be speaking directly to me. Such was the case with Pastor Keith Anderson's Pastors Stop Complaining About Sunday Morning Sports. If there's one common theme that has come up in youth ministry circles (with greater frequency) is the idea that we are in competition with sports, music, drama events.
At some level, we are. Young people have a finite amount of time to give to various activities. The extrinsic consequences for missing a basketball practice, for example, are greater than missing youth group. The coach can reduce playing time or even remove a player from the team if they appear to have a divided loyalty. The youth leader, by contrast, isn't likely to bench a young person because they missed youth group. At worst, the young person might get a "hey, we missed you" or "you haven't been to church in a while"...but nothing like what might happen after missing a practice/rehearsal.
It's like every activity-group is a plastic containers of food. Everything aspect of life is compartmentalized. A sports team is one container. Same for a music ensemble, drama troupe, academic club, social group, etc. Some containers are bigger than others. Many consider their faith-related activities to be in a similar container -- something they do when they're not doing those other things. Maybe, instead, we need to help people think of their faith life as the refrigerator; the appliance that keeps the food in the other containers from spoiling.
Pastor Keith points to the need of church leaders to emphasize vocation in their interactions with people. If, instead of becoming bitter about being on the losing end of our competition with sports/music/drama, we encouraged those young people to consider the way they approach those activities is connected to their faith life.
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Another fascinating concept Pastor Keith broached is this:
The emergence of Sunday morning sports is just a symbol of a shift that's happening in our society where the church is no longer accommodated or propped up by our culture.
I never thought about the church as being propped up by culture - but I have to admit there are a lot of ways it has been and continues to be. I've grown up in a time and place where almost all of my friends went to a Christian church. I knew some nones, but I knew even fewer people who practice a different religion than Christianity. Additionally, I recall a strict "no homework" policy at my school on Wednesday nights, because that was Church Night. Music contests, sporting events, and other extra-curricular activities took place on Saturday; never on Sunday. Lots of stores were closed on Sunday, some even explicitly indicating it was "in honor of our Lord."
As this trend continues, it's understandable that some church leaders will become depressed. It will also become easy for parishioners who long for the good-old-days to blame their pastor or youth leader for why young people aren't flocking to churches like they did in previous generations. (Something I touched on in this post.)
I have hope that an emphasis on vocation will renew our church members and staff to being about Christ's presence in the world.