A Spiritual Approach

By Dave Stant

The true goal of any church-based recreation program is to retain participants and attract prospective members. However, there’s another crucial element in delivering a successful program—providing answers to difficult questions. These lessons will not only assist during difficult times in one’s life, but may also encourage an individual to dig deeper into his or her faith when answers are hard to come by.

My role as a coach in the Upward Basketball League prompted my quest to answer these questions but more importantly to address Christian scripture and emphasize Christian values. When a few girls on our team posed questions that the other coaches answered only with examples from the Bible, I had the idea that a leader in a Christian program can and should feel empowered to delve deeper with the kids in the program. For some youngsters, simple answers don’t satisfy their mind’s curiosity. It was this realization that gave me the idea that activities—including sports—can be used to teach important lessons about faith and life in general. Such questions include:

  • Why do people suffer?
  • Why do bad things happen to good people?
  • Why is there evil in the world?     

The Power Of Free Will
It is a truth of existence that people suffer. So, if there is an “all good,” “all powerful” God, how can this possibly happen? The only logical conclusion is that God grants people the power of free will.  Although life on an individual basis and on the whole is bound to fate, we as people can make our own choices throughout our lifetimes. The web of these actions and outcomes inevitably will cause paths to cross in ways that explain that people do suffer, which is one of the greatest challenges that doubt presents. In this instance, I am referring to emotional and physical pain, and sometimes, untimely death. Fate can be explained by the fact that throughout history people have needed a system to function properly as human beings. The bad things that happen to good people are a byproduct of the current system, although we are moving forward morally toward the kingdom of heaven.

The Telephone Example
Activities that focus on decision-making and emphasizing how decisions affect other kids involved in an activity present an excellent opportunity to explain how free will causes the suffering that exists in the world. Discussing the story of Adam and Even can bring a Christian perspective to the activity. One example of an activity is to have kids line up side by side, to present the first child on one end with a message, and the others will pass the message down the line. By the time the last person hears the message, it will be entirely different. This is a fun way to show how decision-action-consequence scenarios become entangled when more than one person is involved. Point out that only a few kids were involved in the activity and ask what they think would happen if all of the people in the world were involved in the activity. This gives the children the opportunity to begin asking questions into the nature of the world in which they live.

Good Vs. Evil
So, the question must become, “Is God ’all good’ and ’all powerful?’” The solution to this cognitive dilemma is the introduction of an evil deity. I like to call it the balance. The balance exists both within and outside oneself. When looking at humanity as a whole, we conceive of this balance. There is always a war being fought that we witness, and at its core there is evidence of the struggle between good and evil. Within each of us, there is a struggle between our desires and our rational minds. Which wins out depends on how capable we are of allowing our rational minds to control and combat the tendencies of our bodies and egos. A person’s fate is not of his or her own choosing, but a reward exists for allowing “the good” to win out over “the evil,” and this is entrance into heaven.

The other primary goal of any Christian-based recreation program is character- and value-building. Creating activities that allow children to learn what is good and what is evil without scaring them or overwhelming them is a valuable way to explain why being a good person is important to the world. Any activities that focus on group participation and teambuilding, including sports, provide an excellent way to emphasize the most important lesson a child can learn. By emphasizing how individual attempts to break down team efforts is similar to how the devil tempts us, a leader can begin to explain the role of sin in interfering with group collaboration and personal development. After all, using sin to tempt us drives a wedge between us and our Lord, much in the same manner that putting oneself before the team disrupts the team’s performance.

Implementing Ideas
If you are interested in adopting my ideas for a program, here are a few key points to remember. First, you can't expect all of the activity leaders to be willing to take on this task. I was able to answer my own questions through research and life experience, which most activity leaders probably won't be able to do. It is for this reason that leaders should have a lesson plan with activities and explanations provided to them. Next, the activities I've described are geared toward a middle-school-aged child, whom I happened to be coaching in Upward. It may be necessary to simplify activities and answers, or make them more difficult depending upon the targeted age group. And kids will inevitably have questions that activity leaders still aren’t prepared to answer. Be sure to have a comprehensive training program in place that incorporates all topics and elements you would like the program to address, so that kids will get the most out of their participation.

These are only a few of the many questions that can be addressed in a Christian program. The truth is I've never had training in addressing any of the questions I've attempted to answer. Therefore, I must assume that a pastor or program director, or a combination of both, is limited only by their training and imagination. Using activities to explain the difficult questions that children will face should keep them interested and make them want to better understand the Christian faith. And let's not forget that the point of any recreation program is to have fun!

Dave Stant is a summa cum laude graduate in Recreation and Parks Management from Frostburg State University, located in Western Maryland. Although he is not currently affiliated with any recreation and parks department, he has been able to use his administrative talents throughout his career to assist in the development of new programs and projects. Reach him at dcstant@msn.com.