I imagine I must have looked like a pretty grouchy 10-year-old, as I slumped into the church pew on a cold winter morning. There I was, stuck listening to a boring sermon while the rest of my hockey team was pursuing glory on the rinks of southern Alberta. Even though my parents had reached a kind of compromise with my brother and me, where we could go to Sunday games half the time, the thought that I was missing any of the thrills and excitement of my favourite sport for church was almost more than I could bear.
Why go to church when there are more exciting ways to spend a Sunday morning? As the father of a young hockey player, this question has, rather ironically, come full circle for me. Whether we are kids or grownups, there is no shortage of recreational options for us from 10–12 on Sundays!
Perhaps one of the reasons we continue to go to church is because worshipping regularly with others is one of the ways we are formed as followers of Jesus. Almost 2,000 years ago, Paul wrote these words:
I pray that, according to the riches of his glory, he may grant that you may be strengthened in your inner being with power through his Spirit, and that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith, as you are being rooted and grounded in love (Ephesians 3:16–17, NRSV).
Of course, I didn’t see it this way at the time, but perhaps God was somehow using those Sundays where church trumped hockey to incrementally make me more like Jesus. Perhaps, even amid my complaining about the injustice of it all, God was using the community of faith to strengthen my inner being, to make my heart more receptive to the dwelling of Christ.
God doesn’t hate sports. I happen to think God likes hockey, and that physical activities like this are good gifts to be gratefully received. But whether we play hockey, soccer, checkers, or some other thing, we are all people who need to be formed in the image of Christ.
So why go to church when there’s a game to be played? Because just as becoming a better hockey player takes hours of repetition and drills on the ice with other players, so becoming more like Jesus – rooted and grounded in love – takes practice. And it takes a team! Going to church is one of the ways God helps us collectively get in shape for the game.