Every parent lives with a deep-seated fear that they are going to screw up their kids. Admit it! Parenting brings out all our insecurities. We worry about being too strict, or not strict enough. We want to give them everything, but don’t want them to be spoiled. We worry that our kids will end up washing windshields for spare change or living under a bridge.
The fear of our kids being unhappy or underdeveloped or having a baby in middle school is always at the forefront of our minds. Everyone wants the best for their kids, but sometimes our insecurities cause us to do things that inadvertently do more harm than good. We follow cultural parenting trends and listen to bad advice and accidentally screw up our kids.
In recent years I’ve noticed that a lot of parents I talk to have bought into some huge lies. They believe these things because they think it will help their kids. I want to shine a spotlight on one of these destructive lies and encourage you to stop believing it!
Parents, stop believing the lie that sports build character!
“Sports don’t build character, they reveal it.” A guy named John Wooden made that statement. John was an athlete and a coach. He was a man who spent a lifetime devoted to sports and had seen plenty of young athletes come and go. He had seen enough to know that sports do not build a person’s character. I know that sounds like heresy to many of you but I’ll say it again…sports do not build character!
Parents fervently believe that sports or other extracurricular activities are the key to raising well-rounded kids. They believe that those activities are what will teach them right from wrong and keep them away from the bad kids. I’ve actually heard parents tell me that keeping their kid busy will keep them from doing drugs.
Sports aren’t bad. They do teach kids how to be a team player and how to follow directions. They help with muscle development and physical fitness. But they don’t teach morality and ethics. They don’t teach right from wrong. Kids might learn how to be good ball players, but they won’t learn how to be good people.
A study put out by the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University found that kids who eat dinner with their family less than twice a week were twice as likely to abuse alcohol and 3-4 times more likely to use drugs. Do you get what that means? If you have over-scheduled your children in a vain attempt to keep them off of drugs and are too busy to regularly share a meal together, you are actually increasing their likelihood of doing drugs!
It turns out that sitting around the dinner table every single night is incredibly powerful. It is where kids get to be heard. It is where you find out what is going on in their lives. It is where they develop greater trust in their parents. It is where values can be communicated. If you have sacrificed the family meal because of baseball and ballet and track and volleyball and band and a million other extracurricular things then you are hurting your kids more than helping them.
What are we teaching?
As a pastor I have seen the sacrifices that families make to their kids’ activities. One very common sacrifice is church. I haven’t seen too many parents who have taken a stand and determined that they will not allow sports to compete with worship. Now, I’m not into legalism and there is no minimum Sunday attendance requirement needed to qualify as a “good Christian.” Missing church isn’t the problem; devaluing church in the minds of our kids is the problem.
Families spend years inadvertently teaching their kids that church attendance is optional, but the sporting event is mandatory. There is way more time and money and energy spent in devotion to the hobby than there is in devotion to God. Kids are smart; they learn to identify our values pretty quickly.
Every pastor has seen parents who elevate sports over church during their kids’ teen years and then grieve when they wander away from the Lord during college. But the reality is they didn’t wander away during college, they’ve been gone since little league started in the 5th grade! If church isn’t important to you when they are young it won’t be important to them when they grow up.
Proverbs 22:6 says, “Train a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not turn from it.” This verse is not supposed to be used as a comfort to old parents whose children have wandered away. It is supposed to be a reminder to young parents of the importance of teaching their children to love God. The problem is that training our kids in the way they should go is hard work. It is way easier to just keep them busy with stuff.
The sad irony is that parents often sacrifice home and church because they believe the old lie that sports build character, when in fact it is the home and the church that will build true character in our kids. Church and home is where they learn right from wrong; where they learn how to love God and serve others; it is where they build the foundation for a life lived with purpose, and it is where your children will learn to appreciate and adopt your values.
Parents, we have a biblical mandate from Ephesians 6:4, “…do not exasperate your children; instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord.”Here are a few practical ways in which you can accomplish that goal…
- Pray with your kids– Pray during mealtimes. Pray before bed. Pray in the car. Pray when something good happens. Pray when they are worried or afraid. Train them up with the understanding that God is always there to hear them and help them.
- Read the Bible with your kids– Read through the different stories and answer their questions. Ask them about what they learned in Sunday school. Get them plugged into Bible clubs or VBS programs. Always remember that it is your responsibility to train your children up in the instruction of the Lord.
- Serve with your kids– It’s natural for parents to make their kids the center of their universe. All those sports and activities have a way of teaching our kids that life revolves around them. But what would it look like for your family to live in a way that revolved around God instead. What would it take to show your kids how to be selfless and how to sacrifice for others? The best way to do that is by serving together as a family. Train your kids up with a Christ-like heart of compassion for others.
- Show your kids that church is important– Don’t just tell them, show them. When you choose sports over church you are teaching your kids that sports are more valuable. You might not be saying it with your words, but kids will learn from your actions. Determine to set one day aside that belongs solely to God and then refuse to let anyone or anything take what belongs to God. Train your kids up to have a deep love of spending time with God.
The world out there wants you to believe that the more activities your kid is involved with the more successful they will be. That is a lie that we need to stop believing! I love sports and the arts and I love to watch my kids play and perform. I will encourage them to try different activities as they grow. But my job is not to bring them up to be talented athletes and musicians, but to bring them up to be faithful followers of Jesus.
About Andy Flowers
Andy has served as the senior pastor of Calvary Baptist Church in Woodland, California since 2007. He graduated from the Doctor of Ministry program at Western Seminary in 2016. Andy is the author of Leading Through Succession: Why Pastoral Leadership is the Key to a Healthy Transition.