Cheerleading in Church

This has my name at the top, but in reality my father, George Parks, deserves the credit for what follows.  George is a retired English teacher who has filled just about every possible non-paid position in church and is someone who irritated me for years with his persistence that I use my brain. 

Recently I told my wife that, after all these years going to church, worship services have come to resemble cheerleading sessions which encourage feel-good attitudes.  As if we are trying to convince ourselves that we’re on the right track and God takes special care of us believers.  Our services seem to give off a rose-colored hue.

Now, to a great degree I understand that approach.  After all, just about all of us true, actively engaged and growing believers are completely aware that after a glowing Sunday service, we return to work Monday for the boss from hell while our youngest child still hates school, and we continue to battle our weight, and our company is laying off by the dozens when we have a mortgage that’s out of sight.  So it’s a bit of relief to be among other believers with similar problems and to ensure each other that all things really do work for our good in spite of all appearances of impending disasters.  I’ve never really endorsed the positive thinking approach as a substitute for faith in God, but then maybe I can benefit from thinking more positively in spite of what I know about life.

I listen to younger believers rave on about how God works in their lives and what he can do for the rest of us, as if we older Christians are new to the faith, and that’s all right.  It’s good to hear such vigor as yet untainted by life’s raw twists and cold rain that falls on us as well as the unjust.  I can sit through sermons designed to bring the lost to Christ even though I settled that matter decades ago.  The entire environment is refreshing compared to the world outside.

But may I add that such cheery optimism benefits little and possibly even harms if we give unbelievers and weaker believers a misleading impression about what to expect from the their faith or, for that matter, what the Bible tells us.  I recall preachers and traveling evangelists in town for two-week revivals going to great lengths to get sinners down the aisle to profess Jesus:  “Just walk this aisle, take this preacher by the hand, profess Jesus as Lord, and brother, you’re on your way to glory.”  Well, okay, but what about a believer’s obligations to repent, to commit himself to Jesus, to begin a life of obedience, to forsake his sinful lifestyle?  Jesus said, if you love me, keep my commands.  James would say, faith without obedience isn’t really faith at all.  So have we helped anyone with misleading hype? And I contend the church has traditionally failed to convey the full picture to would-be believers, possibly because doing so dampens the euphoria of the moment and discourages the would-be convert.  Maybe all we really wanted was a new convert to baptize.  Something to shout “amen” about.

Sometimes religious gatherings produce magnificent testimonies and assertions of all sorts.  A sort of one-upmanship develops, each believer stirred to one-up the last testimony about God’s work in his life.  Am I to believe that God does all that in the lives of others and not in mine?  And I try so hard!  So we are pushed to have some kind of spiritual mountaintop experience when in fact nothing is there but the raw realities of everyday life.   It’s easy to feel like a spiritual failure in the presence of such glowing reports from fellow Christians.

How often have I heard preachers rail about the glorious things God wants to do and about what believers can do in Christ?  But in my recent years, as I approach seventy, scarred and wrinkled by actual experience in the real world, I ask silently, where do you find scripture for all these claims?  And why is it that, for all the wonders that can be ours as believers, the apostles in their New Testament letters seemed to stress endurance and perseverance.  In my life glorious, wonderful works of God were never things to be endured.

I see through my experiences with the Holy Spirit that my blessings are mostly located in heaven, not in this life.  I will suffer alongside my lost neighbor, and upon our deaths, I’ll go to be with God while he goes to hell.  It has come to me that God’s system for perfecting me stems not from all the good things I enjoy but from my adversity, either by my own making or not.  Do we tell new and weak believers that?  You can be saved one day and fired from your job the next.  Jesus is still Lord of all.  Do we tell them that?

Preachers can preach their hearts out, and their churches can still diminish, even die, because of sin in our society.  It indeed can happen.  Missionaries can labor in foreign countries with only a trickle of any evidence of success in spite of gargantuan effort on their part.  And as long as churches and religious organizations clamor only for good reports that show glowing signs of growth and strength, I suspect that they are missing a vital point.  Yes, we want success (who doesn’t?), but once we get “good numbers,” can we honestly conclude that all is well?  Maybe so, maybe not.  Maybe we’re just cheerleading again.

Let us continue cheerleading in worship; it’s good for the soul.  Preach on, brother.  But let us not think that struggle for believers is a spiritual failure when we labor in a fallen world and when our God works all things to our good.   The godly life is not for wimps. Our rewards are in heaven.  We are called to endure for a reason, and new or weak believers need to understand that.  And that understanding, not the cheers, goes with us after we’ve turned out the lights, locked the doors of the church, and gone home to real life again.

Comments

  1. John Overton says

    George Parks is one of my dearest Christian friends and I am aware of the daily burdens he bears. I have never had to walk in shoes like George has and though I am assured Christ is always with me and will sustain me through whatever the realities of this life throw at me, I’m very doubtful if I could hold up as has George.

    Now that I am in my early eighties, I have discovered obedience to Christ results in wonderful and very fulfilling rewards now and I know that treasue is being stored up in heaven.

    Jesus never indicated that heavenly entry or resulting rewards would be based upon how many church services I have attended (or led), whether I thithed or not, how many people I have invited to church, or how many mission trips I have been on. He clearly informs me that my entry into eternity where He is will based upon my relationship with Him. I long to hear Him say, “Welcome, I have prepared a place for you.” rather than, “Depart from Me for I never knew you.”

    Thank you George for being such a dear Christian friend. John O.

    • says

      John! What a pleasant surprise. My mentor himself, a godly example if there ever was one. Well, as the end draws near, we rejoice with eager anticipation of the prize before us. And it occurs to me that life can so beat us and wear us down that our anticipation mounts and grows, making us anxious to see the Father and the Son who died for us. Peace at last. Peace at last.

  2. Jess Alford says

    Jeremy Parks,

    Growing old is not for wimps either, Anyone can be young but getting old is where the rubber meets the highway, I thought I would throw in that little bit of wisdom.

    Jeremiah 12:5. If thou hast run with the footmen, and they have wearied thee, then how canst thou contend with the horses? I would always tell my church that they might as well cheer up because it’s going to get worse.

    Health, wealth, and prosperity is probably not going to happen if you live for Christ. I tell them they might as well to get ready for some tough times, and chances are sickness will knock the stuffing right out of them.

    I tell the young folks they better enjoy blessings when they come their way, because there will be times that a blessing seems so far away.

    The truth is always the way to go, This is not Eden the garden of God.

    • Jess Alford says

      Sorry George, I got a little confused which is nothing new. What I have written above was addressed to you.

      • says

        Jess, you speak the voice of experience. Ah, I never knew, never even suspected what would come to pass here at this stage in my life. And I honestly believe at times that I didn’t really start learning and growing in Christ till my golden years began. You are right on target.

  3. Bob says

    I think this post is the type of discussion that needs to be happening on a regular basis between our generations in the church. As a 30-year-old, I know I am prone to go to one of two extremes: I either feel like I have all the answers and if everyone would just get in line we’d finally have everything solved – or – I feel like I have no clue what I’m doing and that there is no hope of ever getting anything in the church to come together. Both of these extremes are wrong and the one thing that helps me greatly many days is picking up the phone and calling my mom or dad, who are in their 60’s and have been faithfully serving in their church for longer than I’ve been alive.

    We desperately need the biblical community where neither age nor youth are despised, but age helps youth grow in wisdom and youth encourages age through its energy. I totally agree with our dear brother here that the Christian life is not a bed of roses – Christ never promises that. If anything he promises the total opposite. But I think the important thing for us all to keep in mind is what Jesus himself said as he prepared to go to the cross:

    “Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son that the Son may glorify you.”

    I hope that we all will be drawn back to the Scriptures and see that the trials and struggles of this world are often the opportunities where we can best magnify and glorify the name of Christ. When pseudo-Christians float along enjoying their prosperity the world really doesn’t care. But when blood-bought, born-again, slaves of Christ manifest the love, joy, and peace of God in the midst of their suffering the world will stop and wonder why. Identifying with Christ through suffering is our opportunity to make much of Jesus.

  4. Jon says

    I often think we struggle too much to appear happy and joyful each Sunday. We need to be ourselves, to be honest, sincere, and authentic. There are times when we are not “on fire” and that’s normal. Some of us may be going through deep pain or tragedy. Others may be unusually burdened or troubled. When each Sunday morning seems like a revivalist meeting, one can be tempted to put on airs. We need to just be ourselves. We need to sing hymns that speak to the full range of emotions and to hear messages that intersect our lives at each angle. We need what I wish to call ‘Real Christianity.’