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Blog: Mind the gap - The Sunday sport dilemma through a mother's eyes

Date posted: 22/10/14

As the Christian mother of four children who love the Lord and love sport I find myself living through a very real dilemma. The structures of Church and the structures of sport seem to be poles apart and pulling in opposite directions creating a gap! The dilemma I face is can the gap be bridged? Or does sport, which competes for time on a Sunday, need to be sacrificed?

I find myself holding and trying to reconcile two truths: `

1. As those saved by grace through faith in Christ, corporate meeting as His body is vitally important. In today’s society the most obvious time when that happens is on a Sunday.

2. The Lord has created us all in His image with different gifts, our likes/dislikes etc. All these gifts are to be used to worship Him. So I take it that my children who love sport are to play to His glory. It matters how they play. It matters that they are a witness for the Lord in their various teams and clubs. So I assume that it is one of my roles as a mother to nurture those gifts and to help them to see all things as coming from Him and to be used for Him.

The rubber hits the road when children reach a certain standard (which seems to be different in different sports). They play in a team, they may be a key part of that team and the team’s key match is on a Sunday. We let them play, reasoning that to miss church occasionally is okay and there is the team to consider. This in itself is not an easy decision, however it gets harder because the better they each get the more each sport demands of them and the more Sunday becomes an issue.

I know many parents who have not let their children play because of the clash with church and I respect them for it. We must not become polarised into those who allow their children to play on a Sunday and those who don’t with each side “tut-tutting” at the other. On this issue we may decide differently what the wise course of action is but the bible urges us to respect, pray for and support each other in such matters (Colossians 2:16, Romans 14:5-13). All Christian parents want the same outcome – children who know and love the Lord. If we are to bridge the gap between church and sport for our children, it will certainly not be straightforward and will, I am sure, demand much work on our part as parents.

We are very fortunate at our church to have a 4.30pm service, so Sunday morning training is not an issue. Conveniently, my girls have ended up playing netball and my boys hockey. So at different times of the year different levels of commitment are required. However the higher up you get with a sport the more it becomes a year round commitment. I haven’t actually kept a record of how often each child misses church but it must be something like once every five weeks. At times a child might miss several in a row and then not miss any at all for a longer spell. However, I know that this does impact each child, their peers at church, their leaders and me!

For each child we can ensure that they get appropriate bible study. We can pray with them before training/matches. We can each be seeking to be witnesses for Christ, me on the touchline and them in their teams. We can help them to see God’s sovereignty in issues of selection and injury, to fight the battle for being godly in banter and gamesmanship. (I must train myself to be much better at praising them when I see godly behaviour on the pitch or court rather than just praising their skill or the result!) However, none of this gets around the problem of missing out on fellowship with the church family! It may mitigate it but it doesn’t get around it.

I know it runs the risk that despite what I say I may be sending the signal (both to them and others) that sport is more important than the church family. I also know that the effect on me is probably even greater. Each child misses some services but we have four children so I miss many more. My husband is on the staff team of our church so together with much thought and prayer we decided that it was right to let our children play and for ‘a season’, and for me to take a step back from some (not all) of my church commitments. Two years on and I confess it is a big struggle. Being part of the church family is so much more than mere attendance on a Sunday. I often arrive slightly late and have to leave promptly in order to drop off, collect or get children home and fed, often coming straight from a match.

You may be thinking, “well just call a stop to sport and commit to church!” The problem is that this solves some problems and creates others. It may be making a clear stance on the importance of church, but I am pulling them out of an area of gifting and passion. What does it say to them about seeing all aspects of their lives as worship to God? What about the opportunities they had to witness to their teammates and to grow in their faith on the sports pitch? There are no easy solutions.

In trying to work through how we live in this gap I know that the responsibility lies with me as parent. I have often heard people say (and been tempted to think myself), “If only the church would do...” However our church is a large, well-resourced city centre church and yet I know from the inside that we often feel that we are all clinging on by our fingertips. We are fortunate enough to have a youth worker and a wonderful team of volunteer youth and children’s workers, yet they have more than enough to do with the children that are there each week without chasing after my kids. The responsibility for working this through primarily rests with my husband and I.

As I said before, we do see living in this gap as being ‘for a season’. Our older daughter now plays adult netball, which is on a Saturday. It does seem that once children get to about 14 it becomes slightly easier; they may miss more church but it is easier to have other opportunities during the week to meet with other Christians. However the younger they are and the more talented they are, the harder it is and the greater the dilemma. As a family, as we seek to love and serve the Lord in every area of our lives, we continually need to “mind the gap!” (even if we haven’t yet found a perfect way to bridge it).

Julia Wilkinson, parent


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