By Allison Zehnder

Landon squinted as the sun peaked over the edge of the stadium and shot blinding rays into his eyes.. He looked around the stadium and remembered the days of tryouts he went through last week. Just he and one other 6th grader had made the middle school football team.

As the coach called for them to huddle up he jogged over to the sideline feeling excited and nervous. He wanted to prove to coach that he had made the right choice in picking him.

“Landon, you will play quarterback,” Coach instructed showing them an iPad with the play on it.

Landon squinted again trying to memorize exactly where he should throw and where his teammates should be. It looked so easy on the iPad; all the black Xs and Os lined up perfectly.  The lines and  arrows showing the exact places to run and where the ball should be was really neat and tidy and made perfect sense.

But, as Landon found himself out on the field, all of those crisp arrows and lines started to fall apart. No one blocked where they should, the guy catching the ball ran in the opposite direction to avoid getting tackled, and Landon’s throw sailed way over the receiver’s head, far from where the ball was supposed to go.

It was a mess.

Landon couldn’t wait to get off the field. He found a bench and hung his head. How could he be a part of the team if he couldn’t even follow the playbook? Coach joined him on the bench.

“What’s the matter Landon?”

“I can’t follow the plays. It looked so simple and we made it into a big mess. I’ll never be able to be on this team.”

Coach sat quietly for a second. Landon was in agony. This is when he would be asked to leave. He just didn’t have what it takes.

“Landon,” Coach said gently but firmly, “we don’t have a playbook because I expect you to follow those plays perfectly. Sometimes they work, sometimes things happen and they don’t work. Sometimes it will be your fault, and sometimes it won’t. Even though they won’t always happen perfectly, I still need to show you what it looks like to play on this team. You and your teammates need to know what you are trying to shoot for.”

After another pause Coach added, “You aren’t learning the plays in the playbook to try and earn your way on the team. There are no more tryouts. The playbook is only to show you what it looks like to be a player on this team.”

Nervousness and anxiety trickled out of Landon as he heard these words.

Coach wasn’t mad at him for making a mess of things. He picked up his helmet and then gave Coach a fist pump.

He was on the team. He belonged.


As we look at the habits of Jesus and talk about habits with our kids, it can be tempting to approach it like a play book. Targets and arrows, crisp and clean on the page, seem like a fool-proof plan.  How hard could this be? Seems simple enough. One challenge at a time.

But often I can feel like Landon on the field. Life does not fit in neat boxes and plans don’t follow crisp arrows and lines: kids don’t cooperate, schedules get busy, time slips away and the task of discipling our kids seems impossible.

It can be tempting to see the targets as bullseyes that we have to hit in order to feel like we are doing okay as parents. Heaven forbid someone see our kids throwing a temper tantrum or tells us we have the “rambunctious child” in Sunday school. I can slip into using targets as marks of my own performance rather than a picture of what God intended for his people.

The starting point for parents is always an understanding of your own position; our faith is a gift and we belong because Jesus earned it for us. Faith is given by God alone, therefore you cannot earn or give faith to your child.  Salvation isn’t dependent on something you do, rather, it is something you were given.

My husband and I just wrote a book that gives targets for kids to shoot for in their faith.  And as important as it is to shoot for targets…and, it is important to know what to aim for…

The most important thing we can do as parents is to remind our children that they are ALREADY on the team. They don’t have to hit a target, complete a challenge, or follow a playbook in order to get accepted.

We belong because someone else executed perfectly what we could not. Jesus hit every target perfectly, he executed every play accurately, and he followed every arrow precisely.

You know that he appeared to take away sins, and in him there is no sin.   1 John 3:5

Because he lived a perfect life and died and rose again, we are able to be on the team. Nothing can separate us from God. Following the habits of Jesus doesn’t help you get accepted, you follow because you have already been accepted.

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.     2 Corinthians 5:17

What Jesus did changes everything for us.  And now we want to aim to be just like Him, but we understand that even when we fail, we are still on the team. We still belong.

Being Challenge Kids is now available for pre-order here.

Many parents know that they are the number one spiritual faith formation person in their child’s life, but few have an intentional plan to help disciple their kids.  This is a book that will give your child targets to shoot for to help them grow in their relationship with God by being just like Jesus.