Youth Group vs. Sports? A false dichotomy.

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I’m still somewhat new to this youth ministry thing, but I see a recurring antagonism in youth ministry workers toward parents in certain areas. In the eyes of the students, the two parties are set at odds, pitted against each other and announced like a UFC title fight. And the topic to ring the bell is the matter of sports: the commitment to an athletic club that forces absence in youth ministry programs and events. And this includes more than the sporting events themselves; the practices, fundraising dinners, award banquets, etc. It’s often a twelve-week commitment of what youth workers sometimes interpret as godless activity – not inherently of course, but by way of exchanging the “things of God” for the “pleasure of man”. “Where are your priorities?!”, they challenge.

The students are dealt a life-lesson lecture, a duffle bag of guilt, and a dose of disappointment as they head into their tryouts. The mid-season run-in with the youth worker ensures expectations haven’t changed. And readmission to youth ministry when the season concludes is delivered with a tolerant grace, but sure displeasure.

Can I just say this makes me sad?

The students are being crushed. The parents are being treated unfairly. And the Kingdom is certainly not benefiting. Youth workers, we must get this right. In the contexts of discipleship and interests of the Kingdom, let’s adjust our perspective.

Imagine: a student announces their desire and decision to play baseball this semester as well as their successfully making the team. The parents agree to the cost and time demands. And the youth worker praises their gifts and talents for success at tryouts.

Then this happens: The student is encouraged and challenged by both youth workers and parents in their coming 12-week mission trip. Each and every practice, exhibition, fundraiser, and banquet becomes opportunity. Prayer is had before, throughout, and after the season. Communication is maintained and found crucial to the success of the mission. Teammates and coaches are discipled by the life-example the student brings to the team. Imagine.

So, youth workers… to be short and to the point: let’s relax, refocus, and prioritize. Let’s come alongside parents as they seek to disciple their teenagers. It is for the betterment of us all and the benefit of the Kingdom.

Matt, you don’t know what you’re missing.

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It was mesmerizing. I’d calmly sit, transfixed by his hand movement coordinated with the warm sound of fingerpicks and the squeak of fret slides. My gawking presence didn’t seem to bother my big brother too much. Rather, every few songs, he’d offer me an opportunity to try it for myself. I’d sheepishly decline. The instrument was a bit intimidating. “Matt, you don’t know what you’re missing.” he’d say with a smile. I figured he was doing a good enough job. Why slow things down, stop the music, just to get me up to speed? I liked the idea of playing, but despised the uncertainty of learning.

I’m both concerned and disturbed by the amount of people I’m coming to know who aren’t involved in their local church. Sure, they attend – legalistically so. They even tithe as Scripture calls for. Yet when it comes to moving beyond the Sunday morning motions, they tap out. I don’t believe it’s laziness. I don’t believe it’s even lack of desire. Rather, I trust it to be intimidation. Like the junior high boy who was fascinated with the guitar, but didn’t dare to give it a strum. He’s doing a good enough job. Why slow things down, stop the music, just to get me up to speed?

If you’re currently a sitter, may I challenge you to be a strummer? To join in the song?

I imagine the first thing coming to your mind might be your schedule. You know, that 9-day-week you’ve scheduled for the next three months. Or maybe it’s your lack of a Bible degree. Teaching the toddlers how Noah killed a whale with a sling and a stone – even the thought makes you nervous. Or maybe I was wrong and you are, in fact, lazy. 

The bottom line is we need you. That’s right. The rest of us playing the song need you. See, the church is comprised of all sorts of people from all sorts of places with all sorts of expertise. We are a body. His body. The arm needs the hand. The hand needs the arm. The mouth needs the foot. Oh, the irony. 

God has gifted you. And He has called you to use that gift for God’s sake. 

So… will you pick-up the instrument? Will you join the song? 

Pretty please?

I’ll leave you with this, my brother’s warning, “Matt, you don’t know what you’re missing.”