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It’s October, term is in full swing, and the calming effect of the pandemic on busy families’ extra-curricular schedules seems now to have largely vanished.
We are back. With a vengeance. A complicated timetable of classes, groups and teams. A complex procedure for drop-offs and pick-ups, lift-shares and bedtime duties.
Much as many of us protest that we don’t want to become ‘THAT’ parent who ferries their kids around from activity to activity, we HAVE become them, like it or not.
Suddenly, our weekly allocation of 168 hours which seemed far too generous during the spacious days of lockdown and homeschooling now feel too tight. How are we supposed to give our precious darlings the opportunity to excel in sport, music and drama with a meagre 5 hours between the end of school and bedtime?
One solution, of course, is to save these activities for weekends. And why not? All the swim schools, dance studios and sports teams run in duplicate at the weekend what they do during the week – in fact, they may offer more times and venues on Saturdays and Sundays, so popular are they with families running at breakneck speed from Monday to Friday.
The problem comes, of course, for Christian parents who long to give their kids as many opportunities as anyone else, but who also prioritise the importance of being part of a church community, many of which still meet on Sunday mornings.
It’s a debate which frequently circles the Christian Facebook groups I’m in, so I thought I’d share a few thoughts after over a decade of juggling the extra-curricular activities of my kiddoes.
We all want our children to enjoy life and discover their talents.
Most of us, I imagine, are not holding out hope that our child will become an Olympic swimmer, an Oscar-winning actor or a Premier League footballer. I imagine most of us simply want our kids to have fun, learn a new skill, and not spend all their time on screens.
And as Christian parents, we have a God-given mandate to care well for our children, since we believe they belong to God and that He has graciously put them in our care. If we can afford to offer these opportunities, why not? After all, perhaps our investment in music lessons will turn out to be an investment in worship leaders of the future, or our investment in sports coaching will eventually develop a future camp leader, leading children to Christ through sports and activities?
The problem comes when we associate ‘good parenting’ with ‘extra-curricular activities’. Whilst in our culture, these things can seem incredibly important, there are many families around the world – and even in our own villages and towns – whose kids will never learn to swim or perform in a show. These things are “extra” in every sense of the word. They are not essential components to an enriching life.
No amount of worldly accomplishments can compare with the eternal hope of knowing Jesus as Lord and Saviour of our lives.
And I suspect we all know this and believe this. Yet here’s the point in the debate where people often say:
But you don’t have to go to church to be a Christian!
Of course you don’t. You don’t need to pray or read the Bible either. We’re saved by grace, not works.
But there’s clearly a Biblical precedent for all of these things. and meeting together regularly with other believers is mentioned throughout Scripture.
Jesus encouraged it in Matthew 18:20 (“where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them”), and we see in Acts 2:46 that every day the early church “continued to meet together…broke bread in their homes and ate together”. The writer of the letter to the Hebrews also encourages them in “not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another” (Heb 10:25).
Church is a significant part of our children’s discipleship.
It shouldn’t be the sum of it. But neither is it unimportant. Church isn’t simply another one of our child’s many extra-curricular activities.
It is church where our children build helpful relationships with other Christians of all ages. Church where our children learn the value of belonging to God’s family, which extends beyond their nuclear one. Church where our children learn to serve, develop an understanding of the gifts God has given them and are released to use them in ministry.
If our children aren’t a regular part of a church family, what makes us think that they will prioritise this into adulthood? Why should they?
But my child needs the opportunities provided by a group which only meets on Sunday morning!
Do they? Do they really?
My son is a talented footballer. Our local children’s football league – like many – trains and competes on Sunday mornings. Naively, I used to believe that if we could get enough Christians together, we could start a Saturday morning team. But because the league plays on Sunday mornings, any Saturday morning team would have no others to play against, so this wouldn’t work either.
Mister was first invited to join a local team when he was 7 – he’s now 12. For five years, we’ve all grappled with the pull between football and church. Fortunately – for now, at least – he loves coming to church. But it hasn’t been easy at times.
What’s interesting, though, is looking at how Mister’s football skills have developed. He may not have been part of a Sunday team, but he’s attended weekly (at times twice weekly) training since he was 6. He’s had brilliant coaching in skills and strategy, learnt to play football with his brain as well as his feet, and taken part in drills designed to improve every part of his game.
I’m no expert, but it seems to me that kids who play football matches young don’t often have a clue what they’re doing! Mister, on the other hand, when he has had a chance to play a match, has impressed those around him, because he’s had so many years of being trained up.
Now he’s at secondary school, and we’re praying for opportunities for him to play midweek matches. We don’t feel like he’s missed out – if anything, we’re delighted that God has provided this excellent training for him over the last few years which he’s been able to do without missing church.
Putting our children into God’s hands – including their gifts and talents – is always best.
If we really believe we can trust God with our children, we need to be prepared to trust that He will protect, bless and grow them, without sacrificing the opportunity to be part of a church community – much as we trust Him to provide income when we don’t work on Sundays, or food when we don’t shop on Sundays.
Proverbs 3:5-6 says “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight.”
Where our “own understanding” might make Sunday activities seem inevitable, submitting to the Lord will result in straight paths. Not an easy life – but one with clarity, purpose and the joy of having Jesus at the centre.
But what about the occasional Sunday party invitation? Or one-off sporting event? I don’t want my child rejecting Jesus because they believe he’s all about legalism!
Absolutely. And while I’m happy to be a strong voice in favour of our children being a regular part of church, I’m unhappy to make a hard-and-fast rule about occasional Sunday events because – as I said earlier – we’re saved by grace, not works and definitely not by legalistic rules made up by a big-headed blogger.
Instead, I’m going to give you a few questions to ask yourself when these situations come up:
- Is this truly a one-off activity? Or is there a chance it might slip into being more regular? (For example, Monkey and Meerkat are part of a gymnastics squad, currently being trained up for competitions. If one were to occur on a Sunday, we’d consider allowing them to take part. But if competitions were only on Sundays, we’d have to say no.)
- Is there any alternative? (If it’s a party invite, could your child do something special with the birthday child at a different time?)
- How important is it to your child? (This is important to ascertain, as our perception of how important something is may not match our child’s! Is it a special friend having a birthday? Or an event which their whole class is involved in? Or does it actually matter more to you than to them?)
- Can your child get to the activity without disrupting church attendance for other members of the family? (Is it fair that no-one can go to church because of the activity of one member of the family? Or can they get a lift with another parent?)
- What has your church attendance been like over the past month or two? (Sorry that this sounds legalistic. I’m just aware that habits are made and broken very quickly for children, and it’s very easy to feel like we’ve been at church every week when actually there’s been an illness, a weekend away, and so on. If we want our children to truly feel part of a church community, it’s important to have consistency.)
- Where is your child in their faith right now? (Hard as it is, try to take a step back and ask yourself objectively: how is this going to affect my child’s faith? Maybe they have a strong faith, and taking part in a different Sunday activity will have no impact. Or perhaps they’re wavering, and really need the consistent input church brings.)
This is not an easy question for any Christian parent, and I hope this post has given you some thoughts to mull over. I’m going to leave you with the reminder that Paul gives us in Philippians 2:12, to “continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling”.
Isn’t it good that we have a gracious, loving God, who doesn’t set rules for us to follow, but calls us to put Him first in everything we do, working out our salvation in awe of Him? It’s my prayer that all of our children will grow up to make this decision for themselves.
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