A Parent’s Duty

Editor’s Note: Throughout the month of June, The Lutheran Witness will be sharing print articles from the past few years on topics of marriage, family and sexuality. Check back for more content each week in June, and view these and other articles here.

By Jeff Schwarz

I am writing this column after watching our oldest child play what might be his final college basketball game. I have always enjoyed competitive sports. I love watching, playing, coaching and encouraging. Our son was not our only child to play on a college team. Our eldest daughter did too. I once worked on nationally syndicated sports talk shows. So please do not take my words as a rant against sports. And even if your children, grandchildren and godchildren do not play sports, the concerns in this column are still for you.

In our increasingly hostile culture, I am confident that more and more activities will eventually be competing for our Sunday mornings. Satan is no dummy. He knows that the Word of God always threatens his hold on people. He will do whatever he can to get people away from where that Word is proclaimed, away from faithful attendance at the Divine Service.

A biblical foundation

Below are a few Bible passages and catechetical references to consider on the subject of Lutheran families and sports:

Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord. (Eph. 6:4)

I will open my mouth in a parable; I will utter dark sayings from of old, things that we have heard and known, that our fathers have told us. We will not hide them from their children, but tell to the coming generation the glorious deeds of the LORD, and his might, and the wonders that he has done. He established a testimony in Jacob and appointed a law in Israel, which he commanded our fathers to teach to their children, that the next generation might know them, the children yet unborn, and arise and tell them to their children, so that they should set their hope in God and not forget the works of God, but keep his commandments. (Psalm 78:2–7)

The First Commandment and Explanation

You shall have no other gods.

What does this mean? We should fear, love, and trust in God above all things.

The Third Commandment and Explanation

Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy.

What does this mean? We should fear and love God so that we do not despise preaching and His Word, but hold it sacred and gladly hear and learn it.

When our two oldest children played Amateur Athletic Union (AAU) basketball and club volleyball, they played most games on the weekends. We tried to contact local Lutheran churches to inquire about service times and to inform the pastor about our intention to attend the Divine Service. My wife recalls one Palm Sunday service when the GPS app informed her that they had arrived at their destination. They went inside. After being the only ones who recited the doxological ending of the Lord’s Prayer, they realized that they were in a Roman Catholic church. They were extremely thankful for the historic liturgy.

But what do you do when your game is scheduled on Sunday morning, and you do not have an option to attend a local Lutheran church service? The coach really wants your child to play in this crucial game. Your child’s teammates are relying on him or her. And you paid for them to play in this tournament. There were times when we simply told the coach, “No.” Other times, our children missed the Divine Service. We repent.

An eternal treasure

Why take this stand? Why would we do something that could potentially hurt our children’s opportunities to get scholarships for college? In “A Sermon on the Estate of Marriage,” Martin Luther writes:

It is of the greatest importance for every married man to pay closer, more thorough, and continuous attention to the health of his child’s soul than to the body which he has begotten, and to regard his child as nothing else but an eternal treasure God has commanded him to protect, and so prevent the world, the flesh, and the devil from stealing the child away and bringing him to destruction. (LW 44:13)

Souls supersede sports.

Sports, like nearly any other interest and passion, can readily become an idol. Jesus said that where our treasure is, there our heart will be also (Matt. 6:21). Consider how much time and money are spent on practices and games and travel to and from these activities. Think of the treasures we invest in them.

Parents, let us never pass down to our children a love for our favorite sports teams or activities that exceeds our love for Christ and His Word. Let us not “despise preaching and His Word”; instead, let Sunday morning church attendance be our top priority. That little word “despise” does not mean to hate, but rather to think little of, to consider something unimportant. Do our actions communicate to our children that we “think little” of the Divine Service and of God’s Third Commandment? Do our children clearly understand that worship of God is a nonnegotiable, a top priority?

Christian protest

In a culture clamoring for “safe space,” there is no safer space for Lutheran families than in the holy ark of Christ’s church. In this place, heaven touches earth and Jesus feeds us with His Holy Word and Sacraments to create, sustain and increase our faith and trust in Him.

Dr. Carl Trueman, author of the new book The Rise and Triumph of the Modern Self, writes about the importance of 21st-century Christians becoming a community engaged in protest. He said, “You can be a protest simply by exhibiting in the way you live your life, a very different way to the lives of the people around you … The Church can be an example of protest within the culture.”[1]

Protest against what, you might ask? Against making a god of what is no god, against looking for good from what can only finally disappoint, against teaching our children to value a passing pleasure and skill more than luxuriating in God’s boundless love in Christ. We frequently remind our children to pursue faithfulness, not happiness: “Be faithful unto death, and I will give you the crown of life” (Rev. 2:10).

My wife and I have decided that our three youngest children will not be playing on a select or travel sports team. We have no regrets. We want them above all other things to value what finally matters. Sports are great in their place. When they displace divine worship, however, they are dangerous and have no place in the Christian life. The same goes for any other passion or interest that disconnects us from Christ and His Word.

This article originally appeared in the May 2021 issue of The Lutheran Witness.

For more resources on marriage and the family, visit the LCMS Family Ministry page.

[1] Carl Trueman, “The Churches Protest,” Issues, Etc.

2 thoughts on “A Parent’s Duty”

  1. Frederick M. Reinhardt

    Ah – an article dear to my heart. I second this motion. Something horrible has certainly happened to Americans’ priorities in general since Sunday mornings have been taken over by all sorts of sports endeavors and other things, when that exact time slot should’ve continued to be reserved for gathering ourselves together in the house of The Lord. With prayer and earnestness and polite suggestions and possibly some letter writing and other gentle persuasion, I hope that this state of affairs may one day be overturned. It’s a great article for the stated category to be sure. Remember The Lord’s Day – to keep it holy!

  2. John J. Flanagan

    Excellent article. I agree with the idea of “Christian protest.” If we identify with the world too readily, with the pride and the vanity of it all, we easily fall into a compromising state of mind, and there is no doubt it affects our lives as Christians navigating in a pagan land. John Bunyon called it living in the town of “Vanity Fair.” Somehow it seems that “comfortable Christianity” is less attainable when one lives in a culture that daily confronts us with social values alien to Biblical truth. Raising families in today’s America is more challenging than earlier centuries. If we forget that Christ went to the Cross for our sins, and separation from the philosophies and ideas of society is needful, we will never be able to live apart from it, but we would be absorbed by it at the expense of our witness and to the detriment of our souls. Soli Deo Gloria.

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