Pray for fame: lure of Christian celebrity

Posted by Sam Hailes  ·  3 visitor comments

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?

Mark Driscoll

Mega church Seattle based pastor and preacher Mark Driscoll

Cultural Differences

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.

Tim Hughes

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.”

Glenn Packiam

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?

4th April

April 4th, 2012 - Posted & Written by Sam Hailes

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Mari Howard

Mari Howard

Posts: 4

This is timely: as the article points out, the bent of society is towards the adoration of man not God right now. It's so easy to do, with all the media we have. And when community breaks down, a kind of unity is achieved by all adoring the same person: mention a name - big Pastor - also big footballer, singer, movie star, soap star, Olympic winner - and you can have everyone in the office smiling and nodding and chatting together. And if that person is also a Christian... Tempting to think it may have an evangelistic effect. But, all of us are flawed: to be a public example of faith is an enormous responsibility - even for the 'lovely Christian doctor' at the local practice: much, much more so for the big celebrity. The potholes are legion, not the least affairs, money problems, and (less juicy gossip for mags & papers), burnout. Good if celebrities are genuine Christians: good for them in the same way as for the rest of us. Not good to say, it's okay to make someone into an idol, as long as the idol's humble! NB How often did Jesus point us to the Father?

Thursday, 5th April 2012 at 10:02AM

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Adrian Mckay

Adrian Mckay

Posts: 1

As a church we get what we desire. If we did not want celebs then we would not have them, simple. I mean we are a rich church so what else should we spend our money on but making our brothers and sisters rich in the process of supporting their much needed ministries. As for well known Bible teachers, depends on what Mr Driscoll considers young. I know N T Wright is a well known and respected bible teacher on both sides of the Atlantic.

Tuesday, 10th April 2012 at 11:06PM

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Mychael Fergus

Mychael Fergus

Posts: 1

This debate is very interesting, but I think there is not enough focus on the bible the fact is, however people try to "make" themselves humble, people will always elevate them, or seek to crush them, its a trial of life. People say I am of Paul, no I am of Mark Driscoll. Problem being that it is not rooted solely in the way one presents themself but the falleness of human nature. Even the girl of divination, whom Paul rebuked sought to elevate Paul under demonic influence (Acts 16). So it stands to reason if these people were under demonic influence trying to get people to worship the men of God of their day that it would happen now. The way it is being discussed however is a very general way of looking at things. Where are the specifics? Where are the instances of pride? We engender confidence in the flesh by this way of talking, and create an atmosphere where "people can see" who is about fame and who is about Christ without Christ (i.e. no need for an understanding of the bible, and His Spirit - discernment) when in actuality we are expected to test the spirits. And this is affected by whether we have by reason of use trained ourselves to do so (Heb 5:14). On a side note Mark Driscoll can preach truth with little tact, but if you hear him he preaches Gods word. So do we disqualify him because of his church size and media attention alone? Let us not judge God's servant (Rom 14:4). If you ask me it's an attempt on our part to make things easier, making labels instead of studying the bible and knowing each person and situation by the fruit and the Spirit they walk with. Ultimately the question really is can we end this by being more humble (and what does that mean without any specifics?), will society be healed if we are just more humble (what is this humility as it is not defined to even be able to criticise it). No, society (Christ's church and the world) will be healed if we have more of Christ (i.e. not trying to deal with a perceived imbalance with an imbalance - Proverbs 11:1), Christ was not just humble he was bold, courageous, joyful, persistent, etc. The only way that this problem is solved is if it is not about us. If He is promoted. But in order for Him to be promoted someone must lead. It's all the way through the bible, people struggle with themselves and who they lead but they must lead (Moses, Jonah, Elijah). If it is that the person who leads is humble then those that follow will be the same. Mordecai and Esther. But it still means there is a leader. I do not believe that the humility eluded to is biblical, it seems to suggest one can lead by shouting odds from behind a wall. But if you read the bible in Acts the word of the disciples spread (fame) and people were trying to touch Jesus's garment because they had heard of who He was. We cannot hide ourselves whilst trying to promote the truth. Even persecution is negative fame, we cannot escape it. The whole point is that our lives need to be on display in our service to God (Mark Driscoll is openly rebuked by his church board, as have other high profile evangelical ministers been). Our good and bad, but we determine whether we glorify God or not. We are not to hide (this is again confidence in the flesh) whilst trying to promote Christ. We have no power to do anything except He give it to us, and we must be both willing and bold enough to seek His fame. Whether we like it or not. If we humble ourselves before God (use the gifts he has given us to further His kingdom) He will exalt us (give us greater opportunity to use those gifts) and to try to then hide, instead of humbling ourselves (do what God wants) we miss it. Finally the example of Jesus telling people not to promote him, was not because he was being humble but in context was because "it was not his time", there was a specific purpose and context in which it is said in the bible. The questions of; Should celebrity be avoided? Are Christians too concerned with famous pastors views? Are we in danger of worshipping the worship leader? Needs to be tempered by What does God say? Is the way we follow pastors biblical? Is God or men getting the glory for what is done? Otherwise we develop fearmongering and create a situation where the questions put forward will never be answered. And all we ever put forward is our own thoughts rather than the truth and thus Christ the one who makes all arguing cease through correcting and helping us to disagree agreeably. For ultimately we are seeking His glory.

Friday, 13th April 2012 at 8:43PM

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