A pastor posted this cartoon in a PC(USA) Leaders Facebook group recently.
I believe the OP (original poster) was hoping for a few giggles and a warm sentiment about a young person nobly choosing church over sports on a Sunday morning. But instead, I found myself going back to it all morning with strong emotions. As a person called to pastoral leadership and care for children and youth, this cartoon makes me CRAZY!
We, the church, are not sports teams and we don’t want to be. Our youth are often required to attend their Sunday sports commitment, and if they miss they face consequences for not attending. They have to show up for their teams. They are needed in that exact time frame for a game.
I do not ever, ever want to be a coach, I want to be these young people’s pastor. I don’t want to require youth to come and then shame them or punish them when they don’t. I don’t want to use guilt to make them show up, especially when these kids have absolutely no control over when their activities are scheduled. Sports can offer so much to our young people, but I have also seen sports wreak havoc on their mental health. We aren’t coaches, this isn’t a sport. We are called to be different than that.
Churches have got to get out of the mentality that we are “against” sports and in competition with them. When you compare attending a game to going to church, it feels like we are comparing a potato with a dog collar… they aren’t even meant to be compared.
We are the church, their pastors, their mentors, their community of faith. We are their safe place to show up as they are.
If the pandemic has taught us nothing else, it’s that God shows up outside of the Sunday morning experience inside a church building. We love people as they are and where they are. Personally, I love hearing stories of when whole families have listened to church online in the van ride to their tournament. Or when the family has to be divided the morning, one half at church and the other half at games, and they get to reconvene at dinner and share their days filled with stories of faith, teamwork, learning, and love. I have had youth attend virtual youth group meetings on the top of ski slopes and in the car rides home from soccer games. These are REAL examples from real families at Broad Street Presbyterian Church who are finding ways to worship and participate in sports and countless other extra-curricular activities.
In children and youth ministry, we need to take the creative spirit of the pandemic and creatively rethink schedules, rules, and routines of church and be the church for and with our young people.
If you are not under the age of 26 years old, you really don’t know what our young people feel like and the pressure they face.
We are not Gen Z youth right now; a generation facing adolescence in a pandemic and a renewed rush back into the busy culture of sports, music, college resumes, social media pressure, school expectations, etc. It is so hard.
Guilt and shame never win. Love these young people. Invite them into discipleship that looks like volunteering in the food pantry, playing noodle hockey, and making friendship bracelets, and continue to make worship engaging and welcoming to them when they are able to join us.
It is okay to miss them, it’s okay to feel grief and nostalgia. But Sunday sports culture has been here for almost 20 years now. So grieve, be sad and then get creative to love the heck out of these young people who are burdened with so many expectations. I am so grateful God loves them both at 760 E Broad St and on the field.
Next time you see a child or youth at church, what is a good question you might ask them besides the usual “how’s school”?
-Written by Brittany Porch
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