Should children miss church to play sports?

April 4, 2017 | by Bob Russell

If you didn’t hear this during March Madness, you’re likely to as warmer spring weather descends on the nation: “Sorry, pastor, but we won’t be in services the next few weeks. Our son is on a traveling team and has games scheduled on Sundays. We hate to miss church so much, but we really can’t help it.”

Preachers nationwide will hear that rationale from formerly dedicated parents whose children are on athletic teams that are competing on Sunday morning. 

These squads are often reserved for more gifted athletes. So, parents rationalize that they have to participate in Sunday games if their children are going to reach their potential—maybe even get a scholarship.

Culture shift

There’s been a radical shift in our culture’s attitude toward Sundays in recent years. A century ago, “blue laws” made it illegal for sports to be played on Sunday. Many restaurants, service stations, and shopping centers were closed out of respect for a day of rest and worship. 

Gradually, as our society became increasingly secular, we transitioned from “The Lord’s Day” to “Super Bowl Sunday.” It’s doubtful we’ll be able to reverse the trend.

Still, followers of Christ should be willing to be distinctive from the world. As Romans 12:2 says, “Do not be conformed to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.”

Pastors, you may tread on a few toes, but ask parents of these gifted athletes what is most important: the ego-boost of bragging about what a terrific athlete their child is, or knowing God’s will for their lives? 

Taking a stand

Imagine if enough Christian parents declared their children would not participate in any Sunday games that require missing church. That could mean the child would get cut, but what a positive testimony! 

So, pastors, remind parents in your congregation that if every parent who claims to be a Christian took that position, Sunday games would soon be rescheduled.

Think I’m kidding? Consider the case of Sandy Koufax, who in 1965 refused to pitch in Game One of the World Series because it was Yom Kippur, a Jewish holy day. Instead, he attended synagogue in Minneapolis. 

As the Dodgers’ ace, Koufax still pitched games two, five and seven, throwing two complete-game shutouts. More than 50 years later, Koufax’s decision and his pitching brilliance remain a source of pride among devout Jews, even those who aren’t baseball fans.

If children are outstanding athletes, that will become obvious over time. There will be other opportunities to develop their skills. If not, pastors should remind parents that perhaps God has something better in mind than their child getting a college scholarship or becoming a major league pitcher.

Teaching a lesson  

When I was nine years old, I came home from Little League baseball practice, really excited. 

“Mom, Dad!  Our team gets to go to see the Cleveland Indians play baseball!  I get to go to a major league baseball game! It’s free! All I have to do is wear my ball uniform and take a sack lunch. A bus will drive us to Cleveland.”

My parents rejoiced with me until they looked more closely at the date. 

“Sorry,” they insisted. “That’s a Sunday. It’s the day we go to church.” 

No matter how much I protested, begged, whined and pouted, they stood by their decision.

On our way to church that Sunday morning we drove by as the team and coaches boarded the bus. My dad beeped the horn and waved. I slunk down in the back seat, embarrassed that my family was so “religious.”

Obviously, that decision warped me for life! I never forgot that lesson. My parents taught me that going to church and honoring God was more important than any baseball game.  

Trusting in God

When I attended Bible college in Cincinnati a few years later to prepare for ministry, I saw dozens of major league baseball games, including a World Series game or two.

So, pastors, remind parents that a good principle is to keep their priorities in proper order and trust God for the results. 

Advise them that, instead of worrying about what will happen to their child if he or she misses a game or doesn’t make the team, they believe the words of Jesus: “Seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well” (Matthew 6:33).


Topics: Commentary, Discipleship, Leadership, Ministry, Preaching, Teaching Resources


Bob Russell / At just twenty-two years of age, Bob became the pastor of Southeast Christian Church. That small congregation of 120 members became one of the largest churches in America, with 18,000 people attending the four worship services every weekend in 2006 when Bob retired. Now through Bob Russell Ministries, Bob continues to preach at churches & conferences throughout the United States, provide guidance for church leadership, mentor other ministers and author Bible study videos for use in small groups.
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