4 Surprising Spiritual Lessons from Netflix's Cheer
- Kelly-Jayne McGlynn Crosswalk Contributor
- 2020 27 Jan
I know what you might be thinking. Aren’t cheerleaders vain, catty, and shallow? How could they possibly be the basis for deep spiritual lessons?
We'll get there. Although the makers of Cheer likely did not intend their show to be one big spiritual metaphor, it does seem like they intended their show to change the stereotype people have in their minds about cheerleaders.
The series is about the unbeatable cheerleaders of Navarro College in Corsicana, Texas as they train and ultimately compete at Nationals in Daytona. Cameras follow the team to their grueling practices, their hometowns, and their social media platforms as they tell the story of what makes them so passionate about the demanding sport.
Many of the members come from broken homes and troubled pasts, and therefore find their refuge on the team and under the care of their inspiring coach, Monica Aldama. As a surrogate mother-figure to many on the team, Monica emphasizes taking hard lessons learned on the mat out into the real world and into their communities.
Maybe it was this emphasis that got me thinking, or because I just love a good spiritual metaphor—but I couldn’t help but apply what I saw on the show to my life as a member of Christ’s body. With the right lens on, you could learn these 4 lessons, too:
1. The Church Should Be a Haven Where Outcasts Feel Believed In
Jerry, LaDarius, Morgan, and Lexi are a few of the series’ “main characters” that get the most interview and screen time. What they all have in common is how they found a second chance for meaning and purpose when they started cheerleading.
Because of their past rejections from family members, neglect, loss, or poor decisions, finding a family in Navarro and with Monica has renewed their outlook on life as they feel believed in for the first time.
Morgan, who was essentially abandoned by both of her parents growing up, shared about her first try-out for Navarro: “[I thought] I’m trash, I’m not gonna do it, I can’t. But Monica saw potential in me, and it felt like it was just the first time someone noticed me. It was like ‘I’m not just nobody.’”
Isn’t that how we felt when we first realized the Gospel in our hearts, that “we’re not just nobody?” That we were noticed, and seen, just for who we were?
Think how impactful the Church universal could be, if it were truly a refuge for the bullied, rejected, and forgotten—and not for people to just find family, but to find a glorious purpose for which they are fully believed in. I know that is the heart of Jesus.
Of course, our purpose as Christians, to follow in Jesus’ footsteps to seek and save the lost, is infinitely more valuable than winning a cheer competition. But, even so, we can learn from the example they set in welcoming outcasts and showing them who they could really be.
2. Our Debt of Gratitude towards Jesus Should Always Motivate Our Actions
It is very obvious from all the members of Navarro that their devotion is not only to the sport itself, but to Monica as a leader and as a person. Many describe that Monica is like a second mom, or even a first mom—and disappointing her hurts just as badly.
What stuck out to me is that this devotion wasn’t simply sentimental. Their hard work and rather risky stunts were not just for themselves or their team--they were for Monica.
In one episode, there was an injury that left the team scrambling to find a replacement. Monica asks Morgan if she can step in to do one of the most dangerous roles in their routine, to which Morgan says yes without any hesitation.
Even though Morgan expresses she has trouble feeling good enough for people, she shares “If Monica believes in me enough to put me in, then I should be able to trust myself. I would do anything for that woman. I would take a bullet for her.”
To be honest, Morgan’s devotion to another human puts my devotion to God to shame. All too often, when I feel God asking me to do something uncomfortable, I stop to weigh the pros and cons. I can make decisions on what makes me feel secure over what God is asking of me. My heart says “that looks too dangerous, God, I don’t think so.”
But just like Morgan is so grateful for what Monica has done for her, and lets the gratitude drive her towards trusting obedience, I want my relationship with Jesus to look like that 100-fold. I think to do that, I need to see what kind of family and purpose Jesus’ sacrifice brought me into, and let that gratitude compel me.
What could the Church look like if as believers, we always immediately said “Yes!” to what the Spirit is telling us to do?
3. Correction Should Be Said out of Love, Knowing Someone Can Be Better
The goal of protecting the team’s winning streak at Daytona was the absolute dedication of everyone on the team. And because of that common goal, and because they really believed their team could do it, corrections were made left and right to every member on the team. But instead of the critiques tearing the team apart, it led to greater unity, because they were so confident in their common goal.
There were many times in each episode where the team would gather in a circle, hold hands, and give opportunity to anyone that has something they want to say. These pow-wows ranged from encouragements to rebukes for how the whole team could be doing better. But the opportunity to be honest kept everyone from bitterness and kept the team unified toward the same goal.
Although there are 40 people on the team, only 20 of those would actually be able to compete in Daytona. In the episode where Monica is deciding who gets to be on the mat, she pulls Morgan aside and says “You know I’m rooting for you, so I’m going to give you some advice. If you don’t point your toes, you won’t be considered.”
I love that Monica’s correction starts with encouragement. “I’m rooting for you.” It would be amazing to see what our discipling relationships could look like if corrections were always started that way--if the people we mentored knew, without a doubt, that they were believed in.
And how could the Church look, if every member felt free to respectfully share what was on their mind? And if we felt this unified with the body, and this dedicated to the same goal? I think we would look a lot like the church in Acts 2:42, and be much more joyful for it.
4. We Should Always Remember We Are Part of a Team
It’s really quite amazing to see the team’s intricate routine come together for the first time: 20 different people on a 42x6 mat, performing different stunts, throwing people up in the air, doing backhand springs, weaving in and out of each other with grace and precision. The series lets you in on just how many mistakes it took to get there—but it’s such a moment of rejoicing when each member nails their part and the routine looks seamless.
One of their very last pep talks before the big competition, someone emphasizes that they simply focus on “doing their job.” If every member does their job, using both their gifts and their discipline, then their title would be secured yet again.
This made me think of what kind of “routine” God sees from heaven as the Body uses all our different gifts. The moving parts of those gifted in evangelism reaching out to the lost, those gifted in hospitality providing warm environments to invite people into, those gifted with exegeting the Bible instilling deep convictions in new and old believers alike: all with the ultimate goal of getting us to heaven. It must be a beautiful thing to watch.
But when we aren’t using our gifts, or we don’t show up completely ready to support our teammates—the pyramid crumbles and people can get hurt.
For me, this even translated to my sleep schedule and what I eat. When I’m not taking care of my physical body, I am irritable, selfish, and fear-driven. I want to view myself no longer as an individual (“Who else does it hurt but me when I stay up late?”) and instead see myself as part of a team of disciples, showing up to change the world (“Others are depending on me to be my absolute best.”)
So, did I read too much into a secular show? Quite possibly. And I won’t say this show is without its mature content (a few references to inappropriate pictures and some crude language). But, either way, I’m excited to see what the Church could look like if it took on these convictions, as we strive towards the ultimate, imperishable prize (1 Corinthians 9:24-27).
Kelly-Jayne McGlynn is the Family Editor for Crosswalk.com. She loves being able to combine her love for God with her love of writing, and highly enjoys being at a job where the debate over the Oxford Comma actually matters.
Photo Courtesy: Netflix
Kelly-Jayne McGlynn is a former editor at Crosswalk.com. She sees the act of expression, whether through writing or art, as a way to co-create with God and experience him deeper. Check out her handmade earring Instagram and Etsy for more of her thoughts on connecting with God through creative endeavors.