There can be no doubt that celebrity culture has creeped its way into our churches like Wormtongue into the court of Théoden. Its more subtle than many other lies. It’s much harder to determine where the line for honor ends and celebrity begins
The difficulty lies with our controlling worldview. Celebrity is celebrated in American culture. I challenge you to perform an informal test. Ask a dozen or more children or even adults who their role models were growing up or who they wanted to be. Chances are you’ll get more than a fair share of rock stars, athletes, and the like.
If you don’t recognize this celebrity in the wider culture than chances are your churches will be susceptible to celebrity. I will argue for the most part that celebrity is created by the people like you and me. I’m sure there may be and have been people who started ministries to be celebrities but let’s give most pastors the benefit of the doubt. And to be honest if there were no adoring crowds there would be no celebrity.
I want to offer my own reflections on how to avoid the pitfall of being an evangelical groupie. What I’m not saying is that if you do one of these you are wrong but I would encourage you to search the motives of your heart. Ask yourself tough questions.
1. Avoid photo ops
I love attending conferences. For me they offer a great time to recharge and connect with brothers from all over the country. But one thing I never do is swarm a keynote speaker for a picture. My rule of thumb is if I haven’t cultivated a relationship with you in some way then the purpose of the photo is probably connected in some way to celebrity culture.
2. Don’t ask for signatures.
A signature is nice in a book. I have two or three fiction books with signatures but I’ve never asked a Christian author writing Christian books for a signature. Something about that smacks of celebrity.
3. Diversify your reading habits
We all have authors we love to read but don’t be afraid to diversify. If all you ever read is John Piper books (I love John Piper books, no dig there) and nothing else, you probably have fallen prey to celebrity. One way you can do avoid this is by reading dead guys. There’s less threat for being a groupie for someone who is dead. You can also read people you disagree with for perspective. And most importantly fight to keep your eyes on Christ.
4. Don’t give any man your blind allegiance.
I cannot count how many times I’ve heard pastors say that a good church member/Christian keeps his or her mouth shut and falls in line. This concept may be the most damaging and wrong-headed of all the possible pitfalls. There is a huge difference between being critical and offering much needed wisdom, insight, and sharpening. Carl Trueman points this out when he says, “A cultic devotion to a leader, combined with the kind of authority structures that churches necessarily have in order to function as churches, can prove sometimes deadly and always painful mix” (Fools Rush In Kindle Location 383 of 2549).
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard evangelical groupies defending something stupid someone said or did because they refused to at least entertain the possibility their favorite evangelical hero got something wrong. We need a humble acceptance that no one is perfect especially ourselves (Philippians 2:1-11).
First, we must differentiate between constructive criticism and hateful slander. Good Christians do not just fall in line. They are critical thinking, iron sharpening, Berean-minded, and always reforming. Next we must look at how the Bible talks about accepting hateful criticism and slander. First, Jesus tells us rejoice when people persecute us and lie about us (Matthew 5:11-12). Second, Paul says he rejoices even when people preach the gospel out of wrong motives (Philippians 1:15-18).
Too many Christians have a pity party for themselves when people are critical of them--rightly so or not. They mope about and act like a martyr for Christ when really its all ego. These statements may or may not be true but the question is whether the above response is the biblical one.
Again Trueman noticed this trend as well, “The compulsive need of some to be liked, to the extent that any criticism of them generates visceral and personal responses, speaks of a deeply insecure and immature section in our culture” (Fools Rush In Kindle Location 478 of 2549).
Preaching humility but answering critiques in this way fosters an atmosphere of celebrity. It makes oneself above your average Joe who receives criticism constructive or not every day.
5. Invest the bulk of your resources into your local church.
Go ahead and give to a ministry that has impacted your life for Christ but throw the bulk of your weight behind your local church. That means your money, time, and talents. The more you’re serving the people God has placed in your life and the more you’re ministering to the body in your sphere of influence, the less likely you will be an evangelical groupie.
I’ll address this from the flip side next week.
Mathew Sims is an average Joe who works a 9 to 5 and blogs on the side. He is an editor and writer for Grace for Sinners. He lives in Simpsonville, SC and loves spending time with his two daughters, Claire and Maddy, and wife of seven years, LeAnn. He has a BA in English/Creative Writing and attended Geneva Reformed Seminary for two years completing nearly 40 hours hours of an Mdiv program. He and his family serve and are members at Grace Church. He loves reading, writing, the outdoors, music, cooking, and is an Apple fan boy. You can find him on twitter @GraceforSinners and Facebook. Please email me with any questions or comment below.