Canadian Mennonite
Volume 12, No. 3
February 4, 2008


What's a parent to do?

Ross W. Muir

Managing Editor

Ross W. Muir headshot

In a July 2006 Associated Press story, it was reported that as Floyd Landis “crossed the Tour de France finish line Sunday, his devout Mennonite parents were riding their own bicycles home from church.”

Did they do the right thing, or should they have skipped church and made the trip to Paris to see their son become the darling of the cycling world?

This dilemma is played out in many Mennonite Church Canada homes and congregations each Sunday, especially in the wintertime, when “hockey fever” sets in across the country.

What are parents to do? Should they hold out against Sunday sports and insist that their children be in Sunday school and worship time with them each week? Or should Sundays be shared with their kids’ sports teams, if that’s what it takes for them to make the squad. This is a particularly sticky questions for families whose children are “elite” athletes, who are required to travel most weekends for tournaments. But it is becoming something parents of children of all athletic abilities will likely have to address as the growing number of participants in many house leagues requires expanding schedules across every day of the week.

Each choice has its pros and cons.

With the former, parents ensure that their children—and themselves by extension—are with their Christian peers each week, receiving spiritual nourishment on a regular basis and, hopefully, providing the same to those with whom they fellowship. However, depending on the availability of sports programs for their children the rest of the week, they run the risk of cutting their kids off from such opportunities altogether. Rather prophetically, “Outside the Box” columnist Phil Wagler stated recently, “If [parents] choose Jesus, those you love are forced to live with the ramifications of your decision.”

At worst, it can lead to resentment on the part of their children, who may choose to leave the church when they are older to pursue a dream that was forbidden to them in their younger years. This is what happened with Landis, who left the conservative Mennonite church of his upbringing when it conflicted with his racing career.

With the latter choice, children have the opportunity to broaden their horizons and witness to teammates by living out their Christian values. On the flipside, they also learn that there are other things that can take precedence over church attendance if there is a conflict. Is that what parents want to teach their children, however unintentionally?

Certainly, church attendance can be made into an idol. But neglecting such attendance affects not only the absent person, but the entire body of Christ. The famous verse in Hebrews about not “neglecting to meet together” (10:25) can be used to hit people over the head when their pew is empty, but it was really meant as call for the early church to persevere in its ministry. Church attendance, in the mind of writer to the Hebrews, was tied to “provok[ing] one another to love and good deeds” and “encouraging one another.”

This isn’t lost on sports coaches and trainers in many leagues, who insist on attendance at all games and practices. “You get kicked off a team if you miss practices,” says Steve Wiebe, a Calgary high school basketball coach and member of Foothills Mennonite, who understands the dilemma Christian athletes and their parents face. Commitment to the cause of sport is tantamount. Not so with church, though, according to Wiebe, who notes, “You don’t get kicked out of church for not coming.”

This is not to suggest that churches reinstitute shunning or the ban for those who miss church for hockey. After all, as MC Canada general secretary Robert J. Suderman writes in this issue, “The gift of Sabbath is not legalism designed to make life difficult for us. It is a gift that helps us enjoy what God provides for us.”

But maybe churches need to do a better job of letting members know what is expected of them up-front. After all, when parents take their Sidney Crosby or Hailey Wickenheiser protégés to sign up for hockey, they are handed a list of expectations for them and their children. In church terms, we call that discipleship.

One way that parents might consider exercising that discipleship is to explain why they are pulling their children out of sports leagues that refuse to take into account the impact of scheduling on Christian participants.

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