Sports on Sunday

I love sports. I was an athlete in high school. I appreciate the discipline it takes to be successful on the field. I believe people need to have the experience of being on a team because it builds character and teaches a person many skills that will help them in life. I also believe when it comes to sports we have gone too far.

Our replacement of the sacred aspects of Sunday with sports is yet another indicator that we are a secular culture. God commanded the people of Israel to keep the Sabbath day holy.[i] Their activity on the last day of the week, Saturday, identified them with their God who rested on the final day of the week. For Christians, the principles of Sabbath apply, to some extent, to the first day of the week, Sunday. Because Jesus rose from the dead on the first day of the week the early church set a new precedent by purposefully gathering on Sunday to identify with their risen Lord.[ii] Whether it was the last day, or the first day, it was a matter of identity. The people commemorated the definitive activity of their deity; they took time to identify with their God.

Sport is good for the soul, but for people who profess to be Christians, trading in Sunday worship for sport is not. I have a good friend who came to America from a former Soviet block country. In a conversation with him about athletics he made a statement that has really caused me to think. He said, “In our country, you can either be a Christian or an athlete, you can’t be both.” In his nation the practice of sports has no consideration for the practice of faith. There is only time for practice and competition, no time for worship or discipleship, no time for the practice of faith.

Many local athletic organizations in America are sending the same message to the Christian parents and children in our nation, there is only time for practice and competition, there is no time to practice faith. Those that organize community athletics are forcing families to choose, you can either practice sports or faith, you can’t do both. As a Christian pastor, my first call would be for local athletic youth organizations to refrain from practice or competition on Sunday altogether. Such practice creates a clear boundary and leaves no room for question. At the very least I would ask that sports be moved away from Sunday mornings and well into Sunday afternoons.

My daughter is a swimmer. For my wife and I the choice is very clear. Our daughter will compete as a swimmer, but swimming will not compete with her faith. I hope she wins, but not at the cost of losing her soul. “What does it profit a man if he gains the whole world, but loses his own soul?”[iii] So what if you win a tournament but lose it all! Swimming will teach my daughter many valuable lessons, but it cannot give her what she ultimately needs, salvation. For me as a dad, when you weigh sports and faith in the scales, it is no contest.

[i] Exodus 10:8
[ii] Acts 20:7, 1 Cor. 16:2
[iii] Luke 9:25


Nick Calcara said…
Our son is passionate about soccer. He is in a competitive league and he is very good at the game. I struggle with how much they push these kids. On one hand, I know he wouldn't be as good as he is if it wasn't for practice three times a week. But on the other hand, all of that practice interferes with his homework and time to just be a kid. His league has two or three tournaments in a season which requires him to play two or three games a weekend. This makes things hectic (especially since our 8 year daughter plays now too) and it does get in the way of church. I had to make a stand at the end of the fall season and we are taking a break from sports during winter. Thanks for the post and the reminder of our responsibility to exercise our faith first.
Anonymous said…
AMEN Brian! I'll never forget my son playing soccer and then finding out they would have to play a "make-up" game on a Sunday at 11AM. I complained about it interfering with church and was told he really needed to be at the game. I said NO that God comes first, he didn't play, wasn't cut from the team, and guess what....WE SURVIVED to live another day!
Joe Gunter said…
I agree that sports are way over-emphasised in our culture and they demand too much from an ever younger age group of children.

I also believe that the benefits of sports are way overstated. Certainly there is the value of teamwork and physical activity, but there is also the drawback of obsessing over victory - a meaningless victory. Because of that obsession, sometimes kids (and parents) develop a win at all cost mentality that leads to many problems - only some of which end up on the news.

Probably, it is like most things - everything in moderation. It all comes down to setting priorities and God of course must come first.

Our chosen team scoring more than someone else's chosen team - very low on the totem pole.

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