Teenagers, Competitions and the Sabbath

A youth pastor told me he was missing some of his core teenagers on Easter Sunday morning. They were playing in a school volleyball tournament. How did our culture come to this?

Plenty of parents take zero interest in their children and their activities. Youth leaders celebrate good parents who support their kids’ endeavors, hoping that worthwhile activities will give their offspring a boost in life. But for believing families, all such decisions fall under the command, “Seek first His kingdom and His righteousness” (Matthew 6:33).

Our crumbling culture increasingly will call teenagers to give their Sunday mornings to academic, artistic and athletic competitions and activities. For the moment, traveling sports teams are a special concern, often pulling teenagers out of church for six or more Sundays. Managers pressuring teenagers to work Sunday mornings also are an issue. All this should concern believing parents for at least three reasons.

Inconsistent with God’s Commands

The same God who said, “Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy,” said, “You shall not commit adultery.” Believers do not get to cherry-pick the commandments. Is sending a teenager to a tournament on Sunday morning any different from sending a teenage couple to a motel on prom night?

God created the Jewish Sabbath (and its Christian equivalent) to give mankind a weekly way to remember and honor Him. “If because of the Sabbath, you turn your foot from doing your own pleasure on My holy day, and call the Sabbath a delight, the holy day of the Lord honorable, and honor it … then you will take delight in the Lord” (Isaiah 58:13-14).

One of the central ways God chooses to be honored on His day is through the coming together of the church to worship, “not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another; and all the more as you see the day drawing near” (Hebrews 10:25). Sunday worship is God’s plan for all nations through all generations.

Jesus pushed back on the Pharisees and their legalism concerning the Sabbath. They had lost the fact that Sabbath observance was to give honor to His Father and provide occasion for His people to worship Him. Today, He likely would resist with equal intensity anything that takes eyes off of the Godhead and precludes the weekly assembling of the body of Christ.

Inconsistent with the Goal of Parenting

Believing parents have no higher goal than this: To see their children leave home to live lives that bring great glory to King Jesus. Children exist for the glory of God, so every parenting action and decision should directly support that purpose.

Parents know that college athletic scouts are more likely to study prospects on a traveling sports team than a school team. For lukewarm church parents, the fact that a traveling team plays on Sunday is less important than the prospect of a scholarship.

Transformed parents work toward and celebrate the accomplishments of their children. But when choices have to be made, they always come down on the side of decisions that glorify Christ now and into the future.

Wise parents explain their decisions to their children. But instead of saying, “Our family always keeps the rules, and going to church is a rule,” discipling parents say, “Our family loves and adores King Jesus, and keeping His day sacred is our way to show that.”

Of course, parents have to set the example with their own choices. For example, after a Saturday night meeting out of town, Dad may have to decide between:

  1. Catching a 7:00 a.m. flight home in order to worship with the family, or
  2. Leisurely grazing the hotel breakfast buffet and then flying at 10:30 a.m.

Kids absorb and pursue what they perceive to be a parent’s priority. Actions always speak louder than words.

Inconsistent with the Life of a Young Disciple

As with all believers, teenagers need their hearts connected to the heart of Christ by a double helix. They need a strand of intimate, warm love intertwined with a strand of adoration and awe (almost holy fear).

Godly parents nurture the “love” strand so that someday a 25-year-old would rather spend Sunday morning with his Beloved than anyone else. And parents nurture the “awe” strand so future young adults so honor God that skipping church never seems like an option.

Teenage disciples are called to “count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord” (Philippians 3:8). “All things” means all things—including a scholarship given by a college scout on a Sunday morning; or moving from JV to Varsity because coach saw a player working hard in the weight room on Sunday morning; or making first chair in the state orchestra performing on Sunday morning. All those things are good, but Jesus is better.

Teenage behavior patterns tend to last a lifetime. The boy who misses some Sundays becomes the dad who leaves his family at home while he hunts on Sunday mornings. Parents who allow their children to be inconsistent on Sundays need to look ahead. They may grieve when they try to call their future grandchildren, Sunday at noon, and discover they still are in bed.

Church parents sometimes look for excuses to help explain inconsistent respect for God and His fourth commandment. I have heard parents say, “I realize the girls are out five Sundays in a row, but you need to know the coach always reads John 3:16 before Sunday games.” God instructs His children to give Him their attention for a day, not for three minutes. He desires hearts united in worship, not a tip of the hat.

Such reasoning only appeals to those who assume church-going is a religious rule—and therefore any ritual performed satisfies that rule. This is similar to the church member who will not tithe, but drops a dollar in the plate. On Easter.

Parents who deeply desire to see lifetime disciples come from their home will instill love and awe toward King Jesus, toward His day, and toward the weekly gathering of His people.

Richard Ross

Richard Ross

Professor of Student Ministry at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary
Dr. Ross serves as Professor of Student Ministry in the Jack D. Terry School of Church and Family Ministries. He is married to LaJuana and they are parents of Clayton.
Twitter: @richardaross
Website: RichardARoss.com
Richard Ross