by John Stoltzfus
When our oldest son was 13, he wanted to play in the park football program. Despite some misgivings about the benefits of youth football, my wife and I decided to let him play hoping that he would find a sense of confidence and purpose in a team sport. However, when the schedule came out indicating that some games may happen on Sunday mornings, we knew we had some additional discernment to do. So we engaged our son in conversation about what we would do.
Tim Bentch’s article “Are We Driving Our Children Away from God?” asks some important questions related to the values we as parents are modeling to our children. A frequent refrain among youth pastors is how to do ministry among the “busy schedules” that dominate the calendars of our youth and families.
A recent book, Overplayed: A Parent’s Guide to Sanity in the World of Sports, by David King and Margot Starbuck, asks some of the same questions. They address seven myths about youth sports that are deeply entrenched in our culture. What are the unintended messages we pass on to our children about what we value regarding performance, success, family, community, and justice and equity? What are alternative ways families can positively engage with youth sports culture?
They do not give a one-size-fits-all suggestion. Each family will need to make their own tough calls based on their priorities and values and responses to these questions:
- What do we want to be doing with our money and our time?
- What relationships are most important for us to honor?
- What are three to five values we want to name as being important to us?
As parents and/or youth workers it is important that we help keep the focus of our youth on Christ and being disciples. Identifying family values in advance gives you tools for decision making about athletic and other types of extracurricular commitments. As youth workers and pastors we can help keep these values at the forefront for our youth when we see them making decisions. These values may lead to limited or no engagement in certain extracurricular activities, or as seen in a previous Intersectings article, “The Everyday Missionary,” you may find a way to help make disciples for the Lord through extracurricular activities. Either way engagement should be based off the values your family holds.
Here are some guiding values for us to consider as communities of faith. What would you add?
- Sabbath. We need to be grounded in a Christian community committed to the sacred balance between work and rest. A life that incorporates Sabbath rest helps us to be more aware of the Spirit of God, more dependent on the providence of God, and more available for relationships of love. What does Sabbath look like in a world where choices abound and technology surrounds us? Sometimes our church youth programs buy into the “more activities and choices are better” mentality and only compound the problem. Let’s confront one of the diseases of our time: we are distracted from the “better” things often hidden among many “good” things.
- Accompaniment. How can we come alongside our youth in their journey of discipleship? Our task is to initiate young persons into mature Christian faith through relationships with adults who join them in living the way of authentic discipleship. As elders we can offer youth friendship, guidance and listening ears as they make the passage through adolescence into spiritual maturity. This is the work of the whole church and not just a youth pastor or a few youth sponsors in the congregation.
- Discernment. We need to be guided by prayerful discernment attentive to God’s living Word. We practice and teach the discipline of discernment with our youth so as to be responsive to the movement of God’s grace and mission. How can we be less anxiety and fear driven and more Spirit led in our ministry with youth? Involve youth in the decision making process in congregational life. Be open to how God is speaking to and through them to the larger church.
- Multigenerational: Make church multigenerational as much as possible. In some of our attempts to do great youth programming we may be unintentionally disconnecting them from the larger body of Christ. Young people at multigenerational focused churches are more likely to remain connected to the faith and become active church members as adults, because that’s what they already are and always have been. When my wife and I were looking for a church home, we were not looking for a church with a dynamic youth program as much as we were looking for a community of believers modeling an active faith that included the nurture of children and youth.
- Authentic action: We seek to engage youth and adults in authentic actions that reflect God’s mercy, justice and peace. Most studies of faith and youth point to parent’s faith as the key factor in their children’s faith. What is the shape of our faith that we are passing on our children? What is the one radical thing we are doing because of our faith? Our youth need to see the connection between life and faith.
- Baptism: Let’s reimagine baptism and its role in Christian citizenship and discipleship. What does baptism look like in our current context? To early Christians, baptism meant a decisive step of leaving one’s civilian life behind and accepting the commitment of becoming a “living sacrifice” for God’s service. How can we as adults make more of our baptismal promises and journey? How can we give space for the baptism instructional experience and ritual to be more fully robust and transformational?