Feb 24 2014, 5:35pm CST | by Forbes
Looking at what those involved in attracting children to organized religion have to say, youth sports is winning the competition against God so thoroughly, it might be time for sports invoke a mercy rule on His behalf, instead of the other way around.
The latest lament I’ve seen comes from Stephen Ingram, a youth minister at a Methodist church in Birmingham, Ala., who also serves as a youth ministry consultant and has written one of the more intriguingly titled books I’ve come across: “Hollow Faith: How Andy Griffth, Facebook and the American Dream Neutered the Gospel.” (I don’t know if Andy Griffith was a gospel-neuterer, but any sheriff who wields a guitar more than a gun sure seems soft on crime.)
Ingram’s open letter to parents about how stressed and overscheduled and “in a bad place” their kids are struck a chord with me, mostly because of this line: “Your kids are probably not going to play a professional sport, and that is ok.” With a little tightening, that might work as a blog title. Ingram was talking in general about all the worldly pressures keeping children from a balanced life that includes church and youth ministry, but sports got a special mention:
Now, do not get me wrong the lip service is there. ”I want to be at youth on Sunday night but I have too much homework” “I wish my child could go on the mission trip but they have football” “I really want them to be in church but they just have too many things going on right now”
Lets stop playing the game.
If you really want them there, you can make it happen. If a student really wants to be at church or youth group homework will not get in their way, it doesn’t get in the way of basketball, show choir or act prep classes.
Because we value those things, we love those things and we are committed to those things.
Ingram’s solution: parents, band together and take action. Football team taking too much time? If enough of you pull your kids from the football team, then that’ll show the coaches they can’t monopolize your child’s time anymore?
Of course, even Ingram has to know, deep down, that’s not going to happen. There are too many trends working against organized religion. The big trend is that, as some religious scholars say, only 20 percent of Americans regularly attend church (and I doubt the numbers for other houses of worship would bump up that total much), so a lot of those parents Ingram wants to pull their kids from the football team are already long gone. In fact, many church leaders are already, if unwillingly, waving the white flag in the worship vs. sports battle. If the family isn’t going to church, they’re probably not too worried about youth group.
Another big trend is why families are willing to spend a large amount of time on homework, school activities and sports, but not so much on church. In an age of high middle-class anxiety, with fears that not keeping up with the competition 24 hours a day is a guarantee of slipping into poverty, those other activities provide the promise — however false (in the case of sports) it may be — that kids will at least stay at the income level of their parents, if not exceed it.
The percentage of children in my older kids’ high school who are eligible to receive free or reduced-priced lunches jumped from 29 percent in 2009 to 51 percent only three years later — a number that has stayed the same for 2013. In my younger children’s elementary school, the totals jumped from 28 percent in 2010 to 53 percent in 2012, and up to 54 percent in 2013. And, remember, the housing market stunk, so people weren’t moving. In this environment, people are going to gravitate to whatever holds the promise of a rosy financial future, which may explain why the prosperity Gospel is a particularly popular form of Christianity at the moment.
My family is actually among the 20 percent of regular churchgoers, with my busy children participating in youth group, including out-of-state mission trips. It’s a challenge, to be sure, and sometimes when the schedule stretches too much, the kids, particularly the older ones, get to sleep in on Sundays. The church itself sees a value in its children being involved in their communities in many ways, including sports, and for two years it’s even sponsored youth baseball and softball. But that might end, in part because there might be a better way to use our resources, especially with exactly zero people coming to our church because they saw the name on the back of some kid’s jersey. Maybe for the reasons I already stated above.
Other church leaders have responded to laments like Ingram’s by saying ministers shouldn’t see outside activities as competition, and maybe bend the schedule a bit to fit into the other things that kids do. Clearly, sports and activities are not going to invoke a mercy rule to ease up on their affect on houses of worship, except for maybe whatever is happening in this recently released Kirk Cameron Christian baseball movie that is called, in fact, “Mercy Rule.”
Source: Forbes Business
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