Every fall kids head back to school, churches kick off their fall programming events, and fall sports teams start their seasons. Some church leaders may be unaware of the kid-athletes in their church. Others may carry resentment and harbor a critical spirit towards sports families who allow their kids to play on Sundays. Both of these positions can mean missed opportunities for ministry to the sports families in our churches. As kid leaders we need to prepare our hearts and shape our ministry strategies so that we can serve the families who play as well as the families who stay. Here are three tips to help you win whether your athletes are home or away on Sunday.
- Engage – Engage with your sporty kids by taking an active interest in their athletics. Ask them for a copy of their game schedule so you can pray for them as they play. If they are gone one weekend, remember to ask them questions about how their team did and how they played the next time you see them. If you are able to go to one of their games, go. Kids feel honored and valued when church leaders make an effort to go to a ballgame to cheer them on. If you don’t understand the rules to their sport, ask them to teach you what you need to know. In an appropriate setting, consider celebrating the accomplishments of your kid athletes. It’s OK to let them know that you miss them while they are away, but do it in a way that reinforces that you love and support them regardless of their attendance record.
- Encourage – Encourage your kids to honor God as they play their sport of choice. This can mean being an influence over others through being an excellent player and being a godly example of good sportsmanship even when the calls don’t go their way. It can also mean simply remembering to play their game to the glory of God—using the athletic gifts that He has given them to return honor to Him, not gather it for themselves. Being an outstanding athlete can be a great platform for bringing glory and honor to God. Tim Tebow does this very well, but kids need encouragement to have a testimony with their team. Be the one that speaks a blessing over them as they represent the Savior to kids on their team who don’t know Jesus.
- Equip – The Deuteronomy 6 model of family ministry depicts parents and children talking about God’s ways as they rise up, lie down, and travel along the road. We have an awesome opportunity to equip sports kids and their families to have spiritual conversations as they go. This may mean sending home copies of activity pages and information on your Bible lesson in advance of your typical Sunday schedule. Encourage kids and parents to listen to an audio version of the Bible passage or story as they drive to and from the field and provide them with discussion questions for the minivan. You might even consider sending along extra copies of activity pages for your player to share with his or her teammates, along with a friendly invitation to visit your church when they are back in town. Many sports families are open to activities for their kids to do between games, especially if shared by a teammate.
Be careful to not discourage, disparage, or disengage from your kid-athletes. Most sports seasons are just that: seasons. They come and go quickly, and your travel sports kids will be back in your Sunday services before you know it. When we can look at athletics as an opportunity for ministry instead of a threat to it, we may find creative new ways to engage with kids and families on a deeper level.
By the way, the principles that we have used here to talk about ministering to sports kids apply with equal validity to any child or family that spends seasons away from your ministry. Some due to travel associated with a parent’s job, or with families of divorce where kids are only present every other week. We as kids leaders need to learn to minister to our kids in a consistent way whether they are home or away.
Chuck Peters is Director of Operations for Lifeway Kids. A graduate of Columbia Bible College, Chuck has served vocationally & voluntarily in Student and Children’s Ministry for many years.