I had gone to my local YMCA to work out. As I prepared to start my run on the treadmill, I noticed a big crowd gathering around a group of children. When applause and cheers filled the room, curiosity finally pulled me over to see what was going on.

As I squeezed in to see what the fuss was all about, I saw some chalk squares on the floor and a group of 8- and 9-year-olds hopping or skipping and occasionally doing a somersault. A kid would hop; the crowd would roar. The kid would look around, sometimes quizzically. “Typical playground stuff,” I said to myself. “What is all the cheering about?”

Finally, I decided to ask one of the staff what the heck was going on. She replied, “Oh, we are celebrating these children’s choice to be active and to exercise!”

“You’re applauding kids for playing like kids?” I blurted out. That comment earned me a scowl from the parents and staff within earshot.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I love kids. But really . . . applauding for kids hopping?

I was reminded of a conference at which I spoke recently. I learned that an evangelism award was given to a pastor whose last two churches she served had lost members. She had been moved three times in five years. A conference leader explained, “We thought it would be good to affirm her (the pastor) so she didn’t get discouraged about being in ministry and go do something else.”

The last I checked, the denomination was losing members left and right. Is the real issue that ministers don’t feel good about themselves?

Recently I discovered the research of psychologists who are rethinking the five-plus decades of “ego boosting” from the self-esteem movement that grew out of the 1960s work of Nathaniel Branden and others. Jean Twenge of San Diego State, John Reynolds of Florida State and others are calling for a dose of reality to our child-raising philosophies that combines realistic assessment of ability; honest, contextualized feedback; and skills of learning from experiences of failure as essential for growth, maturity, and the true joy of achievement.

I’ve always loved the way J B Phillips translates the Romans 12 passage on this subject: “Don’t cherish exaggerated ideas of yourself or your importance, but try to have a sane estimate of your capabilities by the light of the faith that God has given you.” Eugene Peterson connects the dots for us by reminding us that the resurrection is the only foundation for a realistic understanding of self. It is the resurrection that rescues us from small-mindedness of artificially constructed self-affirmation. “Anything we can come up with for ourselves . . . is purely miniscule alongside of what is already in motion in the cosmos, to the praise of His glory.”

Now that is an idea worthy of some applause and cheering!