The number of well-known Christians is constantly growing. We buy their books, listen to their CDs, and hear them speak at large scale events. But are Christians falling into the trap of celebrity culture?
American culture tends to view celebrity in a positive light. It’s unsurprising that the nation that gave us Hollywood would revel in a culture it has largely helped create and promote. But here in the UK, we’re less concerned with fame, or at least we like to think we are…
There is an internal debate happening in the Western Church surrounding fame and celebrity. Should celebrity be avoided? Are Christians too concerned with famous pastors views? Are we in danger of worshipping the worship leader?
Mega church Seattle based pastor and preacher Mark Driscoll
The recent controversy surrounding Seattle mega church pastor Mark Driscoll highlighted one aspect of this debate.
In an interview with Christianity magazine the outspoken pastor said: “Let’s just say this: right now, name for me the one young, good Bible teacher that is known across Great Britain. You don’t have one – that’s the problem. There are a bunch of cowards who aren’t telling the truth.”
While taking issue with his final sentence, much of the British Christian world merely shrugged at Driscoll’s first sentence.
Popular blogger and Executive Director: Churches in Mission and England Director for the UK Evangelical Alliance Krish Kandiah wrote:
“To write off a whole nations worth of preachers based on the criteria that they need to be ‘well known’ is unhelpful… It plays to the celebrity culture that Driscoll has become enmeshed in”.
Krish is one of many Christian leaders that hold a negative view of celebrity culture. The concern is if a ministry or movement becomes based around one person, glory is not given to God. Therefore we shouldn’t encourage church leaders, authors and musicians to become national celebrities. America can keep their celebrity pastors.
"We elevate people"
There has been almost unanimous frustration about celebrity culture seeping into the church. Even the Christian celebrities themselves dislike it: “The church is so impacted by society and society is all about celebrities,” Tim Hughes protests.
The popular worship leader believes the church elevates people (c) Igor Demba
“We elevate people,” he admits. “When it comes to worship… We remind people on a Sunday, what we’re here for is not to hear a fantastic talk, although we hope you do, you’re not here to hear great music, although we hope you do. We’re here to worship God. We need to keep pointing people back to Jesus.”
“It’s not about a band or musician, it’s about Jesus. The challenge for us is if we leave a place and we haven’t impacted, encouraged, prayed for and blessed a city then we’ve really messed up.”
Krish’s and Tim’s views are popular. It’s difficult to find anyone advocating a Chrstian celebrity culture.
But what are we to make of the web page with the title “brushes with Christian Celebrities” which is full of individual pictures of one man with Chris Tomlin, Vicky Beeching and “Girl from Hillsong United”? Have we reached a point where Christians are desperate to have their picture taken with famous Christians, regardless of whether they know their names?
Rather than merely admitting celebrity culture is wrong, some believe the church needs to actively reject it. Many words have been written on some church leader websites that suggest practical ways to reject Christian celebrity culture. Pointers such as "speak the name of Jesus more than your own" and "stay on your knees" are given to help pastors avoid pride.
"Making Jesus famous"
There are even concerns that our choice of vocabulary could be contributing to an unhelpful attitude of fame within the Christian world.
Glenn Packiam, a Christian author and founding member of Desperation Band is concerned that the slogan of wanting to “make Jesus famous” has been misused to justify a pursuit of fame.
“I have heard people say they want to make Jesus famous. That sounds wonderful, but I’m not sure Jesus wants the help. The irony is, while He was on earth, Jesus had plenty of opportunities to become famous, to leverage His influence for the Kingdom. And yet, He resisted. He repeatedly told the people He healed to be quiet about the miracle, or to simply present themselves to the priest for confirmation of their cleansed state.”
The author and musician speaks out on 'making Jesus famous'
Arguing that being “famous for Jesus” has become an idol in today’s society, Packiam believes it’s not enough to do God’s work. “We must do it in God’s way”.
“I suggest we value fame—we call it 'influence'—too much. I suggest we value size and scale too much. I suggest we care more about systems and efficiency in our churches than we do about the personal and the communal. And I think it’s time to mend our ways.”
A humble celebrity?
It’s a bold call, and one which an increasing number of Christians are listening to. But before you delete your favourite pastor’s podcasts and tear up that author’s books, listen to this quote from Vicky Beeching on marketing and promotion:
“I see photoshoots, or interviews, or anything plugging my CDs, as the way I honour God – he’s given me the songs, so I can’t just make a CD and leave it at that. My responsibility is to tell people about the music, so they can get it.
“People often equate photoshoots or marketing with arrogance or self-promotion, but I believe it’s actually about humility – being humble enough to endure the awkwardness of having cameras in your face, and giant pictures of you blown up on adverts.”
“And answering questions about your deepest thoughts and personal life, in scores of interviews. It's about humbling myself and getting past my shyness and awkwardness. It’s as much part of my worship, as singing the songs themselves.”
It seems there is a difference between blindly adoring everything your favourite pastor or worship leader says, and respecting the influence they have gained. As long as “Christian celebrities” remain uncomfortable with their title, the danger of hero worship is minimalised. It has been said that "everyone worships something". The challenge for the church in an era of celebrity is will it choose to worship God, or one of God's people?
April 4th, 2012 - Posted & Written by Sam Hailes