Way back in the day, way back before high school basketball had a three-point shot, way back when I was in high school, my high school had an outstanding basketball team. We were a large school, playing the best schools in the state of Ohio.
In my junior year, we went to the final four, losing in the first round to the defending state champions.
My senior year was full of anticipation. Everyone expected the team to do better, not just the final four, but a state championship! If my memory serves me correctly, we had only lost one game all season. Our first game of sectionals was against a team that had only won one game all season. Well, our championship run ended the first game of sectionals as we were at the wrong end of a massive upset.
During those days, it seemed like we had a pep rally every Friday.
As a minister, I have chosen to be in church a lot. The adage, “Once a week and twice on Sunday,” is literally my minimum church schedule.
In my lifetime, I have experienced a lot of church services and a lot of high school pep rallies. Over the years, many church services have evolved into, by all appearances, nothing more than a high school pep rally.
As you enter and throughout the ceremony, the band (aka the worship team) plays blood-pumping music.
Cheerleaders (aka worship leaders and/or dancing praise teams) perform acrobatic/dancing moves to the crowd’s delight. At some point, the cheerleaders will get the crowd involved. In high school, this is usually something like – give me a T; give me an E; give me an A; give me an M; what do you got? TEAM! In the church, it results in singing, lifted hands, clapping and swaying back and forth.
After this goes on for a good while, the coach (aka the Pastor) approaches the microphone. He will praise each player on the team, tell the crowd of the struggles of basketball, and proclaim that our team can overcome any obstacle and return victorious.
Sermons in the church go like this — Start out with praise, either to the Lord or individuals, or both. Talk about difficulties, get the people to think you understand their problems. Mention that Christ gives victory, and we can overcome all obstacles.
When the coach is done speaking, the band erupts into the school’s fight song, and everyone files out with a new level of excitement that will usually disappear somewhere on the trip home.
Thousands of church services are spitting images of a pep rally. The music gets everyone excited; a speaker will get people thinking good about themselves with some praise to them and the Lord. The excitement reaches a crescendo as the Pastor proclaims victory in Jesus, walks off stage, and the worship team breaks out into toe-tapping sounds of praise. A level of excitement is within the people that dissipates long before the next church service.
Before accusations come in that I do not believe in music, let me say this – music is a vital part of worship. I wish every church had every musical instrument ever created at their disposal for every service.
A problem with many churches today is the belief that worship consists of only (or a vast amount of it) is music. Singing to God is worship, but not all worship is music. Reading our Bibles, telling someone about Christ, listening to a sermon, prayer, helping someone in need, shedding a tear for the lost, obedience to God’s Word, and many other things are all worship. Much of worship is not done in a church, it is done in our homes, at work, wherever we may be. Worship is something that should be a constant in a Christian’s life, not just when the praise and worship team starts strumming the bass guitar.
Pep rally sermons are also a problem. Yes, people do need a boost from time to time, but preachers do need to stomp on people’s toes occasionally as well.
Paul tells Timothy preaching should be “to the subverting of the hearers” (2 Timothy 2:14). Subverting means to overturn or overthrow. Think of this – the Apostle is telling the young preacher that his sermons should change people, make a difference in who they are. Hearing, “God loves you, have a victorious week!” Sunday after Sunday does not do that. Within a few hours, the excitement of the pep rally has worn off. The words of the coach (aka Pastor) has riled up the emotions but left no lasting effects.
The high school pep rally and church service appear to be identical, only the topic has changed from basketball to Jesus.