I’ve been praying a lot about this post. To be frank, I’m a little scared because I know I’ve had a modicum of fame, and I worry that I could become a Me Monster in fame’s aftermath. That’s why I have a prayer team who has been with me since 2004 before I was published. They have permission to rein me in if my head inflates or I start to isolate myself, or dismiss critics.
No one is impervious to the lure of celebrity. As an author, I’ve had the opportunity to rub shoulders with some pretty amazing folks (folks who are cool like you, who have struggles and issues just like everyone else). I remember sitting on a bus in Atlanta for the International Christian Retail Show. Harvest House Publishers was taking their authors to an event. Kay Arthur walked down the aisle, put her hand out to me, and simply said, “Hi, I’m Kay.” I loved her for it. No presumption. No entourage. Just plain Kay introducing herself.
So you can imagine how I might’ve felt when I watched this video last week:
I don’t know these men. I don’t know their struggles. But from the outside, from a superficial perspective, they represent this strange culture of the celebrity Christian.
We’re part of this problem because we gravitate toward celebrity. In an interesting article entitled, “Celebrity-Obsessed Culture Has Overtaken Marketing,” Al Ries shares about a book entitled Brain Bugs by Dean Buonoman where the phenomenon of monkeys and celebrity is explored. Ries writes, “…Rhesus monkeys were given a choice between a lot of juice or just a little juice plus a peak at a headshot of another monkey. Strangely, they preferred the latter. But this was only true if the headshots were of dominant males. They were willing to sacrifice some juice for pictures of individuals above them in the social hierarchy, but not below them.”
We like folks who are well liked by others. We admire high Twitter followings, bestseller status, TV appearances. We secretly wish we’d be celebrated in a similar manner. And to be utterly honest, I’ve had those longings too. When I’m weakest, and I’m forgetting how beautifully loved I am by Jesus, I want a substitute love from admirers. On my better days, I know that kind of desire is a terrible illusion, never filling but always wanting more-more-more acclaim.
Whether someone is a Christ follower and also a celebrity is not the issue. Sometimes folks become celebrities against their will. It’s what the celebrity Christian does with that fame that concerns me.
I’ve seen a pathway of destruction for some Christian celebrities–pastors, authors, sports heroes, singers, speakers. Everything starts out well, a longing for God’s fame and glory that eventually slips into a give-me-glory fest.
If you’re a Christian celebrity or have influence in one’s life, I pray these warning signs serve as a cautionary tale (me included), but also an invitation to live like Jesus, who forsook the glory of heaven for the grit of earth. Who stooped to consider the lowly (not so others would see Him, but because it was the right thing to do.) Who ran from crowds and considered His time with the Father as essential. Who rallied against the Pharisees and their show of importance. Who welcomed outcasts. Who died a thief’s death, and didn’t defend Himself. Who personified meekness. Who was deeply kind. Who poured His life into others.
13 Warning Signs for the Christian Celebrity
- You feel you’ve reached a certain level in your ministry that you’ve earned the right to be immune to correction. Instead you eliminate critics in your life, dismiss them as being jealous, or demonize anyone who disagrees with you. Proverbs warns, “If you ignore criticism, you will end up in poverty and disgrace. If you accept correction, you will be honored. It is pleasant to see dreams come true, but fools refuse to turn from evil to attain them.” (13:18-19).
- Your time is too valuable. You do nothing unless you’re handsomely paid for it. Consider this from Micah 3:11, “You prophets won’t prophecy unless you are paid. Yet all of you claim to depend upon the Lord.”
- You demand special treatment wherever you go, right down to modes of transportation, food choices, and accommodations. If you’re not treated “right,” you yell at those responsible. Proverbs 29:11 warns, “A fool gives full vent to his spirit, but a wise man holds it back.”
- You feel you deserve a lavish lifestyle because of your position as a spiritual leader. You’ve lost the ability to discern what is a need and what is a want. The almighty dollar has replaced simple faith in the Almighty God.
- You believe you deserve to be served. You no longer serve others unless they’re higher up the chain than you and can improve your standing. But Jesus said this about Pharisees: “Everything they do is done for people to see: They make their phylacteries wide and the tassels on their garments long; they love the place of honor at banquets and the most important seats in the synagogues; they love to be greeted with respect in the marketplaces and to be called ‘Rabbi’ by others.” Matthew 23:5-7
- You’ve removed the people in your life who have dared to tell you the hard truth. You lack accountability because the folks around you only tell you how awesome you are. Instead of seeing correction as a blessing to bring you closer to God, you close your ears to it. You have a filter that only hears others’ praise of you. Proverbs warns, “It is not good to eat much honey, nor is it glorious to seek one’s glory.” (25:27)
- You feel entitled to praise, special treatment, and fawning. Instead of empowering others, you demand others empower you. You create a culture around yourself that feeds ego and keeps you above others. This culture is akin to constantly commending yourself. From the apostle Paul, “When people commend themselves, it doesn’t count for much. The important thing is for the Lord to commend them.” 2 Corinthians 10:18, NLT.
- You live to be seen, lauded, recognized, celebrated, and honored. You have a hard time sharing the stage with someone else, and you’re jealous when another celebrity supersedes your fame. Jesus said, “Those who speak for themselves want glory for only themselves, but a person who seeks to honor the One who sent him speaks truth, not lies.” John 7:18 NLT
- You place more faith in your abilities to woo a crowd than in God’s power. You spend time and energy honing your craft (whatever the medium) but you neglect your heart and your relationship with God. The show is all that’s important. Paul warned, “For Christ didn’t send me to baptize, but to preach the Good News–and not with clever speech, for fear that the cross of Christ would lose its power.” 1 Corinthians 1:17
- You hire people to manage your reputation and image. Controlling how others see you is more important than becoming a person people naturally admire. If someone criticizes you publicly, it sidelines you and you obsess over it until you create a public response. You’ve forgotten how Paul moved forward despite criticism, “We serve God whether people honor us or despise us, whether they slander us or praise us.” 2 Corinthians 6:8a.
- Having power (over people, your destiny, your empire) trumps everything. You view your life as yours to manage, and as you get more and more power and money, the more you fear losing it all. You will exploit others to keep the power and prestige because the ends (power, fame) justify the means (demeaning and using “little” people). Abraham Lincoln warned, “Nearly all men can stand adversity, but if you want to test a man’s character, give him power.”
- You despise suffering and manufacture a life that avoids it all cost. You’ve forgotten that suffering is often what God uses to make us more like Him. Frederick William Robertson said, “Human nature seems to need suffering to make it fit to be a blessing to the world.”
- Pride marks you. Your theology is the only right one. Your way of thinking is the only correct way. You view others with differing views, personalities, ways of life, as beneath you or as enemies or whiners. But “God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.” 1 Peter 5:5.
I share this list for myself. It’s my own cautionary tale, a warning to keep my heart low, to depend on Jesus, to surrender my words, my platform, my books to Him. My friend Liz Babbs, a writer and speaker from the UK, once told me, “If any fame comes my way, it’s so I can point to His fame.” May that be so in all our lives, in all our spheres, in all the places we serve. May the applause we hear be redirected to the One who deserves it.