NASHVILLE (BP) — It was 1990. Our daughter had just hit the ball off the tee. The ball trickled into the outfield between first and second base. She was the final batter in this “every girl bats each inning regardless of the number of outs” T-ball game. As she rounded first base, then second, then third, the girls on the other team kept mishandling the ball. Excitedly, I leapt up and yelled, “Run, run, you’ll be the winning run!”
A mother from the community turned to me and said with a mild rebuke in her voice, “Brother Sing, we don’t keep score in T-ball.” Well, I did! And so did every other dad there. And a lot of moms. Somehow or other, it’s just in our DNA.
From childhood, we taught all three of our daughters to strive for success, to set goals, to achieve and, when it came to competitive sports, to win. We also made the choice that their core church activities would take priority — Sunday worship and small groups, discipleship training, children and youth choir ministries, GAs and, as they got older, Acteens, youth group, and numerous local ministry and summer mission trip opportunities.
Our oldest daughter traded her softball glove and cleats for ballet shoes after only a few seasons of summer league. When she was in the eighth grade, her math teacher asked her to teach her Algebra class while she (the teacher) rehabbed from an ankle injury. That same year, her ballet teacher had her training the younger girls.
Motivated by these adult role models, she leveraged their encouragement into a passion to earn the right to give the valedictory address as a high school senior, a goal she achieved. Fourteen years and two university degrees following high school, complemented by several summer missions adventures (Alaska with NAMB, Ukraine with IMB, Centrifuge with LifeWay) and a three-year stint in Europe with IMB, she is in her eighth year as a high school math teacher. And, she was recently selected by her peers as the lead teacher of her small group at church.
Our middle daughter, after pitching and playing second base for more than a decade, hung up her glove and cleats to pursue tennis and recreational running. The training she did for a half-marathon during her junior year in college, coupled with her vibrant, servant-hearted faith in Jesus Christ, gave her the physical, mental and spiritual stamina to push through a significant health issue during her senior year.
Following graduation, she had to put her goals on hold for the next year while she recovered her strength. Undaunted by life’s adversities, she enrolled in and completed her MBA. Now a stay-at-home mom, she serves alongside her husband in church ministry and is raising a highly energetic 3-year old daughter and active twin 1-year old sons.
Summer league travel ball particularly beckoned our youngest daughter. However, having made the commitment that sports would be number two in our daughters’ lives, the frequent Sunday travel requirements led us to decline on her behalf. Not necessarily happy with our decision at the time, that decision did not stand in her way of striving to excel. She was eventually selected MVP of her high school softball team two successive seasons and was selected as an All-District player her junior and senior years.
During college, she served as the student athletic trainer for several of her university’s teams, including the NAIA ladies basketball national championship team. Through these experiences she began to sense the Lord pointing her to pursue medicine. She is now a medical doctor and the mother of two daughters — a 20-month-old and another due in November. She and her husband are active members of their church, involved in all aspects of church life.
When our daughters were born, my wife and I made a commitment that every age and every stage of their lives would be the best. We chose to focus on the Wonderful Ones, the Terrific Twos, the Thrilling Threes, the Fantastic Fours and so on. We would enjoy every moment of their lives, living with no regrets. That was our commitment.
We also made a commitment that activities with eternal value would be our priority. We are both highly competitive and focused. The lure of more and more sports was often very strong. What sports-minded parent doesn’t want their children to excel on the field of play?
But as active followers of Christ, we knew the importance of finding balance in our own lives and teaching a healthy balance to our children.
I think the apostle Paul may have loved sports. He definitely used a lot of sporting illustrations in his writings. Perhaps none is more powerful than 1 Corinthians 9:24–27. Recognizing the character values that sports instills in children and young adults — perseverance in the face of hardship, repetitive training exercises, mental toughness, playing through pain — he urged followers of Christ to bring those same values into their service for the King. He knew the crucial difference between the temporal crown of winning a sports competition and the eternal crown of serving Christ.
Leading our children to participate in sports is a commendable choice many parents make. But the far more important decision is to make sure our children are not only exposed to the Gospel, but to serving the Lord through every ministry opportunity possible. Serving the Lord alongside Mom and Dad is the ultimate “stickiness factor” of authentic discipleship. It is the Gospel in action.
Roger S. Oldham, formerly pastor of First Baptist Church in Martin, Tenn., is the SBC Executive Committee’s vice president for convention communications and relations. Get Baptist Press headlines and breaking news on Twitter (@BaptistPress), Facebook (Facebook.com/BaptistPress) and in your email (baptistpress.com/SubscribeBP.asp).