“Overplayed” is a theme I hear often.
Sports are a big part of life in our American culture, and noting the Olympics this past summer, our global culture.
However, I think that the biggest downside is not that we are “overplayed” as much as we are “underplayed.”
I’m not disagreeing with the title or thesis of King and Starbuck’s book – I think it’s a truly timely and prophetic piece. Instead, for this blog post, I simply want to remind us to actually play more often. Sports are something we play, but in the sense of structured play. I think we need far more of the free play that many child psychologists, studies and my own childhood refer us to.
In some ways, the US has become a place to structure everything in your life. There is less and less room for creativity and “wasting time” in unstructured ways. We program so many athletic, academic, hobby and faith activities, that there is no breathing room in our schedule. Too often if I ask a youth or adult what they do in their spare time, their responses are connected to obligations (school, sports, social groups, church, chores) and still feel like structured time to me. Maybe not structure group time, but obligation structured solitude. Where has all the free-time gone? Where has the unstructured play time gone?
When I read the Bible, I do not read of a structured God. The priests and kings might have thrived off of structure, but the God of the prophets and of Jesus was a bit more playful and surprising. Prophets didn’t anchor on weekly or yearly liturgies. They might use them to their advantage, but they also went beyond the boundaries of structured rituals, structured roles, or structured spaces. God inspires on God’s time. I wonder if there were other prophets God tried speaking too that were too busy and formal to listen.
Today I think a lot about the busy and fragmented life of middle class U.S. None of the youth in my church come every Sunday. Youth trips rarely have ½ our group, and average ¼ of our group. We spend less and less time together. We are also an urban church and spread out far and wide. What I’ve noticed, is the less time we spend together, the more we “have to” structure our limited time together to do what’s “important.” This next year we’ve decided to change things, but talking about the Bible a little less, and playing a bit more. My curriculum now includes a kick ball, football, and basketball. I’ve added a few coloring books to each class, and I intend to use our three projectors for a game system sleepover. I don’t fear a lazy church anymore. I fear a church that doesn’t play together, that doesn’t have free-time together, and doesn’t enjoy each other anymore.
If I have one prayer for the churches of tomorrow, it’s that they have more and more play time. To be honest, I think we’ll have to change a bit to play together. I see a church that focuses more on how to bond, and frets less about schedules. I wonder if we’ll spend less time driving to a church, and more being a church with people we enjoy. I hope we start valuing the spiritual practice of play more than the spiritual practice of fulfilling obligations.
I pray that we become a church that is overplayed – not by structured sports, but with the freedom and creativity that God gives and Jesus showed.
Tory Doerksen is the Pastor of Children and Youth Faith Formation with First Mennonite Church of Denver. He has two children, 4 and 6, and is starting his journey with structured activities with both of his children. He works hard to keep his full-time job to average 40hrs a week so he can enjoy his children with all his “spare time” riding bicycle, having tea parties, dancing in the living room, fighting with pillows, and simply cuddling on the couch before and after school. His wife is a full-time music teacher, and together they do their best at wasting time with Netflix, walks to the coffee shop, and long chats when the kiddos are playing outside.