"God made me for a purpose, but he also made me fast and when I run, I feel his pleasure."
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A Christian Manifesto for Youth Sports in the United States, Adam D Metz, Eugene, Cascade, 2018The author is youth pastor whose family is very sporty. From that perspective he writes: “to help us wrestle with how we can participate in sports while maintaining faithfulness exclusively to God” adding “this book is written for Christians who feel unprepared for and at a loss to deal with a sports scene that seems to be spiraling out of control”.
He urges Christians “to take more seriously the implications of their involvement in sports” to see it as an opportunity for outreach, to consider how they can help redeem youth sports, recognizing that to do so we must take sport seriously.
There is a chapter called theology of sport which is more about play than sport. He concludes that for all the references to sport in the New Testament, there is a “high level of scriptural ambiguity towards sports and play”.
The author writes: “Ironically, as it turns out, the church has made a very intentional effort to utilize sports for the efforts of evangelism at the same time there has been a general neglect of the theological study of sports by the church”. While there is some truth in that, the bibliography suggests that the author is unfamiliar with some of the best published work on the subject.
The author concludes: “Sports are not inherently inconsistent with the Christian ethic or overtly sinful. However, Christians must acknowledge there are challenges to the Christian inherent in athletic competition and be more cautious and discerning in their involvement in sports”. However, I did not feel that the book gave much guidance on how to do this. And the author seems contradict himself when writing: “Many experiences within competitive environments do not promote an ethic consistent with the life of a disciple of Jesus Christ”.
The book examines competition by looking at a number of Old Testament references. I have never been convinced that OT situations help us understand sporting competition
The book also includes a large number of negative statements about sport:
• “I feel like my children’s sports schedules have a tendency to pull our family away from the rhythm of our church’s life”.
• “participating in a congregation that sees teenagers and their families routinely absent from the rhythms and routines of congregational life for the sake of the ball diamond or gymnasium makes confronting these powers head-on a pastoral priority”.
• “Sports have become the circus for many Christians today”.
• “Sports enthusiasts often champion the positive ways sports contribute to moral and social development in young people...few Christians have taken seriously the extent to which they can also become an idolatrous threat to the spiritual formation of young people”.
• “The question at the heart of this book is whether or not sports has usurped that core theological truth for another…in other words, these parents are raising their children with an identity primarily formed by their experiences as athletes instead of as faithful Christian disciples”.
Yet at the same time he asserts: “I believe unequivocally that the sports experience in the United States is better because of the active involvement of Christians”. Yet the assertion is not supported by evidence
His critique of youth sports is that it is too competitive too young and unhelpfully driven by the competitive instinct of parents. For the British reader the idea that American youth sports are significantly driven by the possibility of sports scholarships is hard to grasp. Similarly, a situation where churches are major providers of sports competition and where “high profile athletes using their platform to publicly endorse their Christian faith has become a staple of the sports scene in the United States” seem very far from a UK experience.
Many of his suggested solutions like: “church leaders must provide an honest assessment of the congregation’s general feeling towards youth sports...[and] incorporate a healthy theology of play into its lifeblood as well as to minister to its families who are involved in sports…Beyond promoting a positive theology of play within the congregation, church leaders must be committed to ministering specifically to the families with young athletes” and even “providing parents of newborns and toddlers with instruction classes regarding the purpose of play and the significance of free play…[to] help address the deficiencies on display in many youth leagues” seem completely unrealistic for the average church.
One glaring omission in the book is any reference to disability sport.
The author is honest about his struggles with the place of youth sport in the life of the Christian family. The result is that the book seems to contradict itself and argue both ways and is in danger of leaving the reader with more confusion and less clarity than he started with. There are more questions than answers.