This article is a little bit different than most — rather than a thorough Bible exposition, it is more of a personal testimony. It is the testimony of me and my father, both looking back at my experience in youth sports. Your experience may have been different to mine — but this story is offered in the hope that it might encourage you to look within and to continue to devote your time and energy to God’s household. Thus, as you read through these words, may our God bless both you and my father and me and we together seek to serve Him in sincerity.
And here are Jason’s thoughts, as complementary to the article in The Tidings (August Special Issue, 2012), which contains his father Gordon’s thoughts.
From the time that I entered elementary school to the time when I graduated from sixth grade, my life had heavily involved sports. Even today, it’s almost shocking to think about all of the different organized sports in which I participated during those six years — I took rollerblading lessons, waterskiing lessons, basketball lessons, tennis lessons, bowling lessons, swimming lessons, archery lessons, and volleyball lessons. I played on a soccer team, joined little league, snow-skied, learned karate, became a gymnast, and was at the top of my class in ice-skating. On Saturdays when there was a bit of free time, my family was typically going to one of my games — usually soccer or baseball — but if we weren’t doing that, oftentimes my dad would take me to a local school or park in order to help me practice my various skills.
It was a busy schedule, and many of the sports were uninteresting to me, but overall, I look back on my childhood with fondness. These sports were an opportunity to spend time with my family — my parents would take me to my games on the weekends, my dad would drive me to my practices during the week and also practice with me at other times. On top of that, I was able to learn about working towards a goal and building relationships with teammates — something which I never quite mastered, always wanting to score the points on my own. And, though many of the sports didn’t entirely prick my interest, there were those which were fairly enjoyable. I loved ice-skating and found that it was something that I did fairly well. Volleyball was always enjoyable too, though it wasn’t one of my better sports. It was even through sports that I met many of my friends.
I enjoyed my sport-filled life — perhaps because it was all that I had ever known, but nevertheless, I was happy. Yet something dramatic was soon to take place, although I would only recognize its importance in hindsight. One day, near the end of my fourth-grade year at school, I received an invitation to something called the “Christadelphian Boy’s Club of Southern California”. It was an event to which a number of different Christadelphian boys under 13 had been invited. We were to all assemble at the ecclesial hall in Simi Hills and we would spend the afternoon together — listening to a short class and working on a craft. The event was about 100 miles from our house — but my parents said that it was important for me to go. So we went.
That day began a change in my life which, thanks to my parents — and thanks to God — was a change for the better. After going to that first Boy’s club meeting, my family and I were invited to more meetings, which would take place in the subsequent months. Soon, the boys from the Boy’s club began to be my best friends. Little by little, sports began to take up less time, while ecclesial activities took their place. Eventually, my family would start driving to the Simi Hills hall every Sunday morning — and finally we would end up moving there. My time and energy spent in sports were replaced by time and energy spent in the ecclesia.
And now looking back on all of those games and all of those lessons, it’s fairly simple for me to recognize that while I learned a number of positive things from them, there was something that was missing. The sports taught that I should ruthlessly pursue my goal — but they never taught that the best goal was the Kingdom of God. They taught that teamwork was essential and imperative — but they never taught that the true teammates were the brothers and sisters in the ecclesia. In all of these experiences, one major thing was absent from all of the sports activities, but it was present in the Christadelphian Boy’s Club. That thing was God.
That’s the beauty of that turning point in my story — whereas sports had merely taught “life” lessons, the ecclesia taught those same things and taught the purpose of the life lessons. Whereas soccer had emphasized that the goal of the game was to work together to score more points than the other team, the ecclesia emphasized that the goal of life was to work together to help one another to the Kingdom. All of the lessons which were taught by sports were now being taught by “uncles” and “aunts” from the ecclesia — and they all had a greater, or eternal, significance.
And that’s the point. Where so much of my time and so many of my developing years had been spent on the tennis court or in the swimming pool, they could have been spent playing with my friends at the Boy’s club. Instead of Saturdays being taken by the next baseball game, they could have been occupied in the kids classes at the next study day. Whereas Wednesday nights were spent doing homework or at soccer practice, they could have been spent at mid-week Bible class — and thankfully, they eventually were.
And it was that change which saved my life.
It was that change of focus — in which sports were replaced by ecclesial events — which really made the difference. It provided opportunities to spend time with other Christadelphian children my own age, and thus build eternal friendships. It showed that things in the ecclesia take precedence over things in the world. It gave a Scriptural purpose to all of the lessons which I learned.
Thus, that is what is being urged in this article — to get involved in ecclesial life. Many times this will be to the detriment of athletic life. Involvement in youth sports so frequently calls for time on Bible class nights, CYC outings, and even Sunday memorial service. Yet it is in the ecclesia that the young people truly need to spend their time. Whereas sports will teach young people the values of the world, the believers in the house of God will teach them the things that truly matter. Whereas sports will help build friendships in the world, ecclesial life will help spiritual friendship to grow. Whereas sports will teach that glory and pride are important characteristics, the ecclesia will teach humility and grace.
Ultimately, God leaves it to each set of parents to decide what they will do — if they will consciously choose sports over ecclesial events. At times, this doesn’t always have to be the case. There are a number of Christadelphian children who are involved in sports and who attend all of the ecclesial functions in their area — but what choice will their parents make when the coach says that practice is on Bible class night? What about on Sunday morning?
As you make your choice, I hope that you can remember this story — and I hope that you can remember my gratefulness to my own parents for the choice that they made.
Jason Hensley (Simi Hills, CA)