How should believers go about deciding what extra-curricular activities their children should participate in? How relevant is this question to every believing parent!? I have heard this debated and heard so many very strong opinions on the matter. Basically, I have encountered two extremes, though, in which almost everyone seems to belong. First, there are those who involve their children in very little or no such activities at all, fearing that the sheer amount of commitment that is demanded today will keep them from being involved in church or family events. Second, there are those who involve their children in any and every activity their hearts desire, with little or no regard to sanctification or the cost the family must pay. In many ways, this area of life mimics the holistic view of how Christian should involve themselves in the culture, with most falling in one of two extreme camps: cultural withdrawal or non-critical assimilation. Both extremes can be dangerous, and often times we need to seek balance. We must also keep intentionality in mind as we try to decide these questions.
In thinking through this issue, I want to offer the following 9 questions to use as a family discusses this issue together. And families should be discussing these decisions together! When considering a child’s participation in a certain activity, the following questions can be employed in aiding the family to not only make a decision if such participation is wise, but also how the family can participate in mission through the activity and making sure to honor God above all. Look it over and tell me what you think.
Questions to discuss
It seems like a ridiculously obvious question, right? But, how often do we just jump into things because someone else is, or just to have something to do. The first thing we must nail down is why do you and your child desire for them to be involved in this specific activity? Is the answer to that question worth the investment necessary to participate? What is the outcome for your child? What do you hope he/she gains through participation?
2. What are both the explicit and implicit time requirements to participate in this activity?
Explicit requirements are the obvious ones. However, almost every activity comes with time requirements that are also implicit. These may have to do with the activity itself, and other times it just means that time needed for other things must be rearranged and rescheduled. Also, what does a commitment to this required time mean for other things that demand time in your life, such as church programs, family time, enough time for homework and studying, etc… These need to be thoroughly explored and discussed prior to making a decision to be a part of a specific activity. A family will seldom be surprised to find out the time commitment in the midst of an activity if this question is thoroughly answered up front.
3. What is the potential detrimental toll this commitment could have on our family? What steps can we take in order to clearly specify expectations and thwart these potential problems?
The family must not be sacrificed on the altar of busy schedules. Many times we can involve ourselves in activities without clearly setting and communicating expectations. Unmet expectations can be relationship killers. The family must clearly communicate these expectations and work to change those expectations prior to the start of an activity that might require such changes. One great question for families with multiple children can be, “Is everyone sharing in making sacrifices?” If a whole family’s schedule revolves around only one child, serious thought must be given to the effect that might be having on other family members. This could even be the case in families with only one child, if the abundance of time spent around that child’s activity leaves one parent completely neglected. Expectations need to be welcomed and clearly communicated in considering any new activities.
4. What is the financial cost (and potential costs) to participate in this activity?
Many times activities nowadays can carry a great financial burden. This can cause strain on a family that really cannot afford such a cost, and even deter a family from being obedient stewards in their finances. Both of these questions must be addressed. I am afraid that students participate in activities that strain parents all too often, without the student clearly understanding the sacrifice that is being made. How can the child participate in helping to fund this activity? Even a certain list of chores can help a child share in the sacrifice made for them to participate in an activity. If the cost of the activity will cut into obedience in the area of tithing and giving to God’s mission, how can God’s blessing be expected for that family in return? Also, what is that teaching the child in the first place? This is one of the areas of child-idolatry and families that become child-centered, rather than Christ-centered. Also, when children are able to simply participate without ever knowing the true cost for the parents, often the resulting attitude is one of entitlement and ingratitude. One final note on this…in the case of activities that involve fundraising, kids should be told up front what amount of that responsibility they should shoulder. Children should commit to participate in such campaigns as much as they can handle at their age.
5. What are the opportunities for the family to be on mission within this activity?
Everything we do is ultimately for God and his glory. Do we actually mean that, or is it something we just say? Every activity in which we participate affords our family the opportunity to broaden our influence for Jesus and his gospel. That must be our attitude in absolutely everything we do. So, this question must be at the heart of our exploration of any new activities. Ultimately, this new activity is not about the one participating, but it is all about Jesus. This offers us an eternal perspective, rather than a go-with-the-wind kind of thinking. How will this opportunity allow Dad and/or Mom meet new people and interact with them with hopes of sharing the gospel? How will this opportunity allow the child (if a believer) to share his/her faith and put on display the transformation the Spirit is making inside? Even if this opportunity causes all or some of the family to miss certain church programs for an allotted amount of time, the family can continue to grow while being on mission together. But, this perspective must be clearly spelled out and intentionally pursued…together. Here is a warning, though: DO NOT use ‘mission’ as an excuse to remove yourself from the Body of Christ completely or an abundance of time. I truly believe that Satan delights himself by making people so busy that they drift from participation and growth in the Body. He has deceived many with the lie that they simply do not need church, “this is only for a season,” or “this is important enough to focus all of our attention for now and we will get back involved after it’s over.” Like I said earlier, this is a danger that needs to be discussed prior to making the commitment. After all, what are we going to teach our kids is most important?
6. What are the potentials for my child to begin to believe that this activity is for their glory, and not God’s?
This is a question that must be discussed. This danger must be clearly communicated, not only for the child’s benefit, but the parents’ as well. How, as a family, can the focus remain on Jesus and his glory, and not be misplaced? Many activities, including sports, cheering, dance, gymnastics, band, etc., have become win-at-all-cost and way too cut-throat. Unnecessary amounts of pressure are applied to young people to win or succeed, with failure portrayed as simply unacceptable. Many of these organizations will instill this way of thinking into students, often resulting in them having a distorted view of identity. Often coaches and organizational leadership will ramp up the amount of practices or rehearsals just prior to key events in their pursuit of success. Some of this may be necessary, but again, this needs to be clearly understood prior to making a commitment. Some organizations, though, take this to a very unhealthy level, especially for young children. I have seen students dealing with incredible amounts of stress in the days leading up to certain events, anxious about how they are having juggle all that is on their plates, and extremely fearful of failure. This is VERY dangerous, and as parents we have a responsibility to protect our kids from such ridiculous nonsense. Theses are extra-curricular activities, not life. Our students need to keep this perspective, and we as parents must take the lead in helping them do so. If a commitment is made, students should be fully committed, taught to “do all for the glory of God,” but sometimes coaches/leaders can take their expectations too far.
7. What are the potential dangers to my child’s sanctification that lie within this activity?
Who are the others that will be participating with my child? What kind of influence are they apt to have on my child? How can I prepare my child for that? How can I encourage my child to be an influencer more than allowing others to influence him/her? What are our expectations in this way for our child? What signs will we be looking for and at what point would we be willing to pull our child out of this activity? Who are the adult leaders/coaches? As parents, we need to be extremely careful about who we allow to be placed in the position of influence over our children. These positions of influence in these types of activities can be some of the most profound influences in a child’s life. Many times for our children, they become who they will try to emulate in their own lives. Are we ok with that?
8. What seems to be my child’s spiritual gifts, and how can this activity help to shape those?
Of course, this will be a question when dealing with a believing child. This question can help us in determining good things that our children can involve themselves in, and the best things in which to occupy their time. Life is busy. Children do not need to be occupied in activities just for the purpose of having things to do all the time. Seasons of rest and focus on family/church are vital for our children. Those that move from season to season, or occupy themselves in an activity year-round with no break can be potentially dangerous for them. Therefore, we need to make sure that what our children participate in actually counts and is ultimately aiding them in maturing…spiritually, physically, emotionally, etc…
9. How do we guard against displacing our hope away from Jesus and onto this activity?
Do we really trust Jesus? Are we teaching our kids to truly trust Jesus with their lives? Some parents are willing to completely reconstruct their lives in order for their kids to chase their dreams…sometimes the child’s dream…sometimes the parents’ dream. What does this teach our kids about where our hope lies? Whatever the activity is, and however excellent our child is in his/her participation, that activity is not life-giving or ultimately life-fulfilling. Our hope cannot lie in our kids’ success or failure in some activity or sport. That activity can never become the end-all for the entire family. Perhaps God will allow that activity to become a vital part of that child’s life as an adult, but perhaps it will not. A good question to keep in front of our kids is what happens if they are no longer able to participate in that activity? Would we be completely devastated, or would we continue to be satisfied in Jesus, even if we experience hurt for not being able to continue to participate? Sometimes I want to ask parents this question: “Would you be willing for your children to experience every dream they (and you) have in ____________________ (activity/sport) by the time they are 30, but still be lost, or at best, anemic in their walk with Christ?” As parents, we must answer this question with our actions, not our words, and we must be clear about this dangerous possibility as we discuss potential new activities.
So, these are my 9 suggestions of questions that should be discussed when considering what activities that children should participate in. What do you think?