Monday, October 15, 2012

On Christian Celebrity

I got a copy of this book recently—Embracing Obscurity: Becoming Nothing In Light of God's Everything. I was immediately fascinated because it was written anonymously! A book from a major publisher (Broadman-Holman, the Southern Baptist imprint) with a major marketing campaign around it (ironic, in a way) . . . and NO BIG NAME to help promote it. That's kind of the point, but in this day when you have to have a platform to even get published, I was simply intrigued. It tapped into things I'd been thinking about and personally wrestling with, so I wrote the following for Ministry Matters.

In college, there was a group I thought of as “the elite Christian crew.” They were the cool kids active in the bigger campus ministries at our formerly-Baptist liberal arts college. The guys wore Birkenstocks or flip-flops and some had longish hair and maybe a goatee. They were trying to look like Jesus, I hypothesized, with their sandals and suburban-hippie vibe.

They were great people, as far as I was aware, serious about their faith, and genuine in their desire to bring others into the fold. But they were still kind of a clique, and I wondered to myself at the irony of “popular Christians.” Among the general strata of "big men" and "big women" on campus, some were very religious and others weren’t; it wasn’t really the concept of Christians being well-known or holding campus leadership positions that seemed odd, but the idea that among the community of faith there would be a cream-of-the-crop that others couldn’t seem to touch seemed out of place for followers of someone as humble and egalitarian as Jesus.

Fast forward ten years and I work in “the biz.” Not Hollywood, not country music, but the religion biz. Christian media. And there is another elite Christian crew. There are celebrity pastors and mega-bloggers, and all those worship leaders and other cool kids still recovering from last week’s Catalyst conference. These days, it can feel as if “success” in ministry depends not just on love of God, love of people, and the ability to help those people connect to that God—but on coolness. On celebrity.

It can feel like the people who are really making a difference must be those with the overflowing auditoriums for all three Sunday morning services, or those whose books are hitting bestseller lists and being discussed in small groups nationwide, those with thousands of Twitter followers and Facebook fans.

Comparing ourselves to these “celebrity Christians” can spark feelings of inadequacy, defensiveness, resentment, cynicism, and misplaced ambition. They rear their ugly (green, monster-ish?) heads when we compare blog readership, worship attendance numbers, relative hipness of our worship style or personal fashion, compliments after the service, or even something as simple as “likes” on a Facebook status.

I was struck by the following confession I recently read in a book:

“I had taken pride in getting responses to witty things I’d post or compliments from long-lost acquaintances about my beautiful family or my relative 'success' in life.”

Reminds me of that tree falling in the woods. If something interesting happens to us and we don’t announce it on Facebook, did it really happen? Or worse, if we announce that interesting thing but no one else seems to find it interesting, was it really interesting? It’s no longer just my mother giving feedback on every element of my life and influencing my self-esteem—it’s 400 virtual acquaintances.

It’s easier than ever for our self-worth to be determined externally, and we find ourselves craving and chasing after the affirmation of people we don’t really even know.

Read the rest on Ministry Matters

1 comment:

Kim said...

We have this conversation a lot... there really is a "celebrity" status that comes with certain statuses. We've actually seen it destroy a man that we were very close with and so we always check ourselves and pray for humility, that we'll try not to compare and always just do this work for the glory of God rather than the status or recognition, but it's still hard sometimes. I love that this book was written anonymously... that's really pretty cool actually. Thanks for posting about this. I'm glad that others in the ministry feel that tension (and have to manage it), too.


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