It was that simple and that publicly calculable: Complete a religious assignment and get a star. Those with more stars were more dedicated, more spiritual, more committed, and obviously more beloved by God. Those with fewer stars, well, their faithfulness was suspect at best.
When we engrain a competitive spirit into faith – a culture of public shame and reward – is it any wonder we end up with some really faith damaged adults? Adults that give up on faith all together; adults that hold God responsible for the way religious systems treated them; adults that grow nauseous at even the prospect of darkening the door of a church.
There is plenty to compete for and against in this world. There are plenty of winners and losers. But Christianity is not one of those things. Spiritual formation is not a competition. Faith is not – or at least it should not be – an instrument to humiliate those who just “can’t measure up.”
And then there are those of us who “won” the religious game, we who earned our bounteous gold stars with pride. We are no different than those who have given up on faith altogether, for we aren’t living a very spiritual life either. We are committed – let there be no mistake about that – but committed to what, exactly? Obligation? Checklists? To the fawning cheers of the spectators? To seeing our name high and lifted up in heavenly constellations?
Our religious efforts and activities to please, praise, or placate God can become the very things that actually distract us from God. For if Christian faith becomes a work-based, blood-sweat-and-tears, incentive-driven, reward-acquisition staircase that compensates the winners and shames the losers, then the focus is placed on us and our rivals, not upon Christ.
I’m all for spiritual instruction; a well-ordered method toward Scripture, prayer, and generosity to others. But we would be better served by approaching said disciplines with a non-compete clause squarely in place. The stars shine brighter in the sky than on the Sunday School wall.
Ronnie McBrayer is a syndicated columnist, pastor, and author of multiple books. You can read more and receive regular e-columns in your inbox at www.ronniemcbrayer.me.