Smells Like Teen Spirit
July 26, 2018
I recently wasted four of five minutes of my life watching a clip of a segment of a sermon by a well known mega-church preacher. Over the past five years, this individual has reinvented his preaching style. Once a more relaxed speaker, he now effectively works the crowd over with high energy, moral, unctuous, pseudo-biblical smarmy. Sadly, those present seem to be drinking it in. The congregation cheers every time he reaches a crescendo in his motivational rant--leaving the uniformed observer with the impression that the Holy Spirit must be at work in this man's ministry. The problem? To the biblically informed, the whole thing smells a lot more like teen spirit than the Holy Spirit. We have met the phenomenon of the pep rally preacher.
Sitting aloft the copious illogical practices at the High School I attended in the 1990s was the obligatory pep rally. Lost somewhere in the middle of a sea of teenagers who were either socially crushing it or who were being socially crushed, I desperately tried to make sense of the meaning of the pep rally. Had everyone's life bottomed out at 16 in an existential crisis of the reality of mediocrity? Where could one find the strength to summon up the energy to yell at the top of ones lungs for a team that was almost certainly going to lose the better part of their season? I distinctly remember a fellow student explaining to me that the team needed our spirit. Apparently, everything was riding on our ability to tap into a reservoir of manipulated existential excitement. One of our own philosophers captured the essence of the pep rally life when he wrote:
"With the lights out,
it's less dangerous;
Here we are now,
I feel stupid and contagious
Here we are now, entertain us."
The better part of professing Christians in America are living in the sea of a Christian pep rally. For many, "going to church" is less about worshiping the infinitely holy God who has redeemed a people for Himself by giving up His Son to the bloody death on the cross, as it is about getting a shot of motivational vitamin-B for existential significance. Rather than being called by God into His presence by the mediating work of His Son, "Here we are now; entertain us" becomes the liturgical responsive call to worship. After all, the success of the church is dependent on your excitement, isn't it? At the very least, your life will certainly forever lay stagnant in mediocrity if you can't tap into your spiritual teen spirit, right?
This is not a dour repudiation of the more vivacious. I've frequently criticized dry, lifeless, unanimated preaching that has marked many so-called "faithful pulpits" in our day. Rather, it is meant to be a call to encourage professing believers to seek out solid joys and lasting treasures through the biblical ministry of the means of grace in a local congregation of believers. What we need more than anything in life is to put ourselves under the weekly Christ-centered, expositional ministry of God's word. Emotionally charged soundbites of misinterpreted biblical phraseology won't get our souls to glory. God has promised to shape and reform His people by His Holy Spirit through the expositional preaching of His word, calling on Him in prayer, singing His praises, partaking of His Supper and fellowshipping with His people on His Day. Don't trade the often unimpressive work of the Spirit of God that occurs through the faithful preaching of the word of God by true ministers of the Gospel for the emotionally manipulated teen spirit aroused by motivational speakers. Life is far too short and high school was far too empty for you not to do yourself the spiritual favor of attending a true church rather than a pep rally.