Have you heard that one?
Yeah I've heard it too.
I want to be sympathetic because I get it. I was that over-scheduled kid too.
But less than 5 sentences later, this mother, who basically just told me church isn't worth the 15 minute drive on a Sunday morning, is telling me about how they drove 6 hours to get to her daughter's lacrosse tournament last weekend.
My outward response is understanding and sympathy. But of course, my inward response is seething with anger.
My mind is swimming with comments that I won't say out loud accusing the mother, "What priorities are you teaching your child?!"
I've heard plenty of ministers ramble off the same list of complaints. But Devil get behind me!
In scripture, often the word that is translated as the "devil" is "haSatan" in Hebrew, which is really more accurately translated as "the Adversary" or "the Accuser."
If our response, whether spoken or filtered, is to blame someone else, then we are doing the devil's work.
If we are to follow Jesus's teaching, then we are meant to remove the plank of wood in our own eye before we remove the dust from our neighbors.
We need to move past our initial anger response. Be slow to anger, quick to listen (James 1:19).
Instead of blaming these parents for having the wrong priorities, we need to do some self-reflecting, looking at the church. Maybe we're the ones with the wrong priorities.
If people aren't willing to wake up in time to make a 10am service, then maybe we need to start asking ourselves why church doesn't feel worth the 15 minute drive? Because eternal salvation seems like it should be more worth it than throwing a ball in a net, but apparently we have not done a good job making our case.
Instead of getting mad at the sports culture for stealing away our flock, instead of getting upset about sports culture encroaching on a Sunday morning, we need to learn from the successes of the sports culture.
It's just lacrosse. You can play lacrosse anywhere. There are plenty of kids between Connecticut and Virginia that play lacrosse. You don't have to drive 6 hours to find other people to play against. And yet there is something about that lacrosse tournament that makes it feel worthwhile.
If you want your church to start thriving, then you need to make it feel worthwhile. Because that waking up Sunday morning and 15 minute drive is a lot harder than we realize. The people in your pews woke up early enough so they could shower before the kids got up. Then they made breakfast for their kids, got them dressed, did their hair, survived their 3-year-old's tantrum, put them all in snow boots, strapped them all in the car, ran back inside because they almost forgot to bring their donation for the food pantry and their offering envelope, then had to scrape off all the ice from the windshield, then make that stupid left turn at that one obnoxious intersection, only to arrive 5 minutes late and have to park 2 blocks away, run with the kids down the street while one complains about needing to go to the bathroom. All of that in order to go sit with a bunch of grey-haired strangers giving them the stink-eye while they fight to keep their kids quiet so they can listen to some boring ass sermon and sing some outdated dirges that barely pass as hymns.
Is that really worth it?! Hell no!
To be honest, I'd rather drive 6 hours to a lacrosse tournament too.
So what is our lacrosse tournament?
What in the church makes the Sunday morning hurricane feel worth it?
I propose this: As a church, we need to stop doing theology.
Theology in its literal meaning basically translates to "talking about God."
We need to stop talking about God. We need to start experiencing God.
We need Active Experiences of God.
We need Theopraxy.
Etymology nerds, did I get that right? Theopraxy, "God Action"?
Whatever, I'm going with it. Theopraxy.
I want people to walk away from church not only having thought about God, but having experienced God.
And that was what we did.
When we went through a re-visioning process for our Middle School ministries, we kept that saying at our forefront:
"Active Experiences of God."
Our Middle Schoolers' experience of Sunday School would no longer feel like Sunday "School."
They're educational experiences would be just that: Experiences.
No more of this sitting around a table, read a story, and draw a picture.
Our Middle Schoolers now make short films. They go on trips to the Heifer International Farm. They go outside and do photography. They build labyrinths. They do science experiments. They go on hikes. They gather donations and deliver them to Animal Shelters. Not as some separate Youth Group program, but as an integral part of their Sunday School curriculum.
Across four grades (5th-8th grade) we went from an average attendance of 4-8 and overnight found ourselves with an average attendance of 15-30!
15-30 kids active in our Middle School ministry every week!
But more important than the numbers is the quality of the experience.
They are engaging with the world, engaging with each other, engaging with God.
And our sportiest kids will even skip softball practice on a Sunday morning to come to church.
Honestly, I don't blame those parents for choosing sports over church, because we weren't even giving them a choice before.
If Sunday School every week is just Sunday School, and my kid has a game, I'm taking them to the game every time.
If you look at it as having to choose between two teams, and one team has a practice as usual, but the other team has a game, you're going to the game no question.
Church has been in practice mode for too long. After all this time, what are we practicing for? We've got to start having games and tournaments to make all that practice feel worthwhile, meaning this: we've got to start making Sunday morning feel important, special. We've got to make it feel worth a 6 hour drive.
Think of Church as your best friend who you get coffee with every week.
You love your weekly coffee dates with Church.
You talk about life together, but that's all you do, talk,
because you don't really have time to do anything with your friend Church.
So you don't really experience life together.
You only really have an hour each week to talk over a cup of coffee.
After a while, you start to drift apart.
You have to skip this week's coffee date for a doctor's appointment
and next week's for a parent-teacher conference.
One day you realize it's been 3 months since you've talked.
You really want to reconnect, but it feels super awkward to call out of the blue like that.
And you just don't have the energy this week to explain why it's been so long
and you don't really feel like explaining that scare you had with cancer
and you're tired of talking about the drama with your kid's school.
Maybe next week.
Yeah. Next week.
You'll call and set up a date next week.
But then next week comes and goes.
One day you realize it's been 3 years since you've seen your friend Church.
This is why I'm proposing Theopraxy as the saving of the church.
Any true friendship, any true relationship requires common experiences.
If all we do is talk about God, then God just becomes some story.
If all we do is talk about God, then God just sits on the sideline.
If you want your church to matter to people,
if you want your church to feel worth the 15 minute drive,
if you want people to choose church of sports,
stop blaming them for their choices,
get up off the sidelines, and get in the game.