Catechesis

No More Cheerleaders

I hate the most of the "Men's Sessions" or the "Guys' Talks" that I've heard for high school students.

Men's sessions are too often led by cheerleaders. They appeal to the emotions, which soon wear off, and give no solid foundation. But men do not need cheerleaders.

Think about it for a moment: who are the cheerleaders for? The players? No, cheerleaders perform for the sake not of the players, but for the spectators. Their role is to get the spectators engaged and fired up and cheer and that's it. They don't want super fans to be so inspired that they take to the field in their fancy, officially branded t-shirts. They just want the spectators to get a little bit louder here and now. Tomorrow doesn't matter.

Christianity does not need any more spectators. We desperately need participants, those committed to "running so as to win". We need players, not fans; participants struggling to win, not spectators comfortable in the stands watching others' actions decide the outcome of events.

Are our retreats like this? Are our Men's Session like this, too?

Are we satisfied being cheerleaders for teenagers, getting them fired up while on retreat, having them shout, clap, sing, cry, laugh and go home with a smile on their face, and not be transformed? No youth minister, retreat leader, or speaker would be happy about that outcome, but our methods continuously produce this result.

When it comes to approaches, ditch the cheerleader and become a coach.

Like the standard sportsball movie, the coach walks in the locker room with a mixture of passionate anger and love and dives into this epic speech that challenges, confronts, and encourages his players. We want to give a talk like that, but two things exist prior to that coach's rousing speech that are crucial: a relationship with the players and a ton of actual coaching prior to the big game.

But not us. We ascend the stage with the bright lights and focused attention from a room full of men. We think we are going to be the coach, but really we act like cheerleaders offering only the emotional ploy. We miss out on imparting the knowledge that these young men will need eight weeks later when the retreat feeling has worn off and they are on their own.

Cheerleading created a tragedy: a generation that is not just a religious consumer, but worse, a religious spectator. It's like we have traded Christian window shoppers for reality TV show fans, and yes, that is much, much worse.

Teens are emotional beings and in order to sustain real change they need emotions behind the knowledge that will lead to action. But knowledge is first. If you want men to leave the room transformed and not just loud, they must KNOW and COMMIT first and foremost.

And that is what the coach already has from his team. The rousing speech just reminds them of their knowledge of the game and of the opposition, and rekindles their commitment to win the game. The zeal ignites a fire, but the fuel must already be there. 

If we want a generation of Christian spectators, then sure, be satiated with emotional appeals. You will have great job security as the guys go home feeling great without choosing to be great. They will hi-five you and their parents will praise you. Temporarily. But if you want true and committed men, it's time we took a second look at how we've been giving our talks lately.

It is time we all became coaches.