Last week, during a conversation about kids and sports, a young mom made the following comment, “My child doesn’t like to practice.”
I’ve been thinking about that comment. Sports definitely entail a lot of practice. With team sports, kids practice in groups. They have a coach who gives direction, teaches skills, and usually tries to make it fun, at least when the kids are young. For sure, the children learn that it takes practice to gain enough skill to play the game. They also discover the fun, the support, the strength and the challenge of playing as a team. Solo sports, like skiing and horseback riding, also require practice, instruction that often takes place in a group.
Group practice opens up the opportunity to be challenged and receive praise from your peers. You learn to work as a team even as you learn to accept the uniqueness of skill and personality of each member of the group. Members missing practice are missed by the others. They lose out on opportunities to improve.
We don’t often think about practicing our faith. As in sports, we respect those who have become skillful in living a life of faith. These people find tremendous strength, confidence and wisdom for living because they have a spiritual connection with God. Often these same people are totally committed to caring for others, not just in their church family, but also in the wider community. They appear to have endless energy. How do they do it?
I suggest that faith, like sports, requires practice and self-discipline. When we participate in a church family by coming to worship on Sundays, we are practicing with a group led by a minister or coach. Learning from others, being part of a team, practicing are essential for a strong, healthy faith life. Within the church family, we find support when the going gets tough, together with those who celebrate our successes and grieve with us in sorrow.
Without the coach and our teammates to challenge us and offer new ways, we do not become the best player we can be. Without our church family to challenge our thinking and offer new ideas we do not become the most faith filled person we can be.
Yes, you can teach yourself a sport. Yes, you can learn to play the game, sort of, without practicing with your team. Yes, you can teach yourself about God, sort of. Yes, you can care for others competently without practicing with your church family. But you will miss out on the joy, the opportunities, the support and the growth that can come when you are part of the team. That’s why we gather together as Christians every week at the church. That’s why we practice our faith together. We know that group practice will not make us perfect, but it will push us to grow in faith.