Idolatry in a Christian Celebrity World

Oct 29, 2015Kingdom Uncaged

As an unpublished author, I attended my first major Christian writers conference. Author Randy Alcorn keynoted. Having always admired him for his humility and dedication to the kingdom of God, I soaked up his words, particularly when he shared, “The greatest danger of notoriety is you start thinking about you. People then exist to serve you. This is exactly the opposite of the servant mentality. Jesus came to serve, not to be served” He exemplified graciousness and demonstrated a beautiful forgetfulness about himself. It’s stuck with me.

In the past ten years, I’ve written thirty books in varying degrees with several publishers (and some self pubbed). I’ve spoken around the world. From the outside looking in, I have achieved that “fame” I saw when I first met Randy Alcorn. And I pray I can continue that avenue of humility.

But I have also seen the underbelly of fame, and not merely within the author and speaking community. I’ve seen celebrity entice pastors, ministry leaders, and performers bend beneath celebrity’s pressure. Folks who demand special treatment, live lavishly and recklessly, silence their critics by demonizing them, and surround themselves with people who only sing their praises.

God’s kingdom starts to look a lot like a personal kingdom, an empire to one leader, a cult of personality that exists to further the agenda of one. And sometimes those structures oppress their followers.

It’s a warning we all must heed. No matter what our sphere, how large our following or platform, none are immune to pride. We may convince ourselves we’re about God’s work, so we do everything we can to build that empire, forgetting the servant nature of Jesus. We demand to be served instead of choosing to lower ourselves and serve others.

It’s heady. And it’s wrong.

As one who has lived overseas, who has viewed the American church from afar, I never would’ve seen this culture of celebrity had I not ventured elsewhere. We are a commodity and fame-based culture down at our core. We flock to gurus, project our needs onto them, and latch on those who dine at the cool table. We contribute to this culture of celebrity by simply needing, demanding and feeding it.

And sad to say, we have sometimes replaced our pursuit of growth with our pursuit of someone else who has packaged a growth program. It’s easier to follow a step-by-step system than it is to do the hard work of pursuing Christ.

[Tweet “We have replaced our pursuit of growth with a pursuit of someone else who has packaged a growth program”]

But what about impacting the kingdom of God? What about having famous people meet Jesus, using their gigantic platform to woo people to Jesus? While it’s not inherently wrong to have fame or to have thousands of followers, it is shortsighted to think that only famous people can “make Jesus famous.”

The kingdom of God is upside down, counterintuitive. Jesus stooped. He left the nirvana of heaven to hang out on this dusty earth. He made Himself nothing (though He is everything) in order to rescue us. And His kingdom didn’t inaugurate via star preachers and ministers and authors and speakers and singers and actors. No, it began with ordinary men and women who had been turned upside down by the Preacher who had no place to lay His sacred head.

Jesus takes broken folks, messed up people like me, to show the world that He is amazing. He doesn’t need celebrities to do that. Consider the wise words of the Apostle Paul (who certainly had a modicum of fame):

“For consider your calling, brethren, that there were not many wise according to the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble; but God has chosen the foolish things of the world to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to shame the things which are strong, and the base things of the world and the despised God has chosen, the things that are not, so that He may nullify the things that are, so that no man may boast before God. (1 Corinthians 1:26-29, NASB).

Of course, it’s great to see more books, more messages, more sermons given about the greatness of God. But we must be careful that we believe these are the only avenues for God to shine His greatness. And we must examine our hearts if we seem to “need” a celebrity in order to know Jesus.

Idolatry is wrong, even if the object of our idolatry is another Christian. Should we honor our leaders? Of course. But we should not pedestalize them, worship them, or believe them perfect. That does a huge disservice to them.

Singer and songwriter Michael Card wrote this in his book, Scribbling in the Sand, “Never cease praying that you will not become a star or a celebrity. Donald Davidson has said, ‘Our culture places an absolute premium upon various kinds of stardom. This degrades and impoverishes ordinary life, ordinary work, ordinary experience.’”

It’s time we get back to praising the ordinary folks, dignifying those who serve unseen, to honor those who quietly worship Jesus.

Sometimes I think about the end of time, about the long line of believers awaiting entrance into their eternal reward. And I think I’ll be surprised at who will be first and who will be last. Folks without fame may be the most affluent on the streets of gold, and those who sought recognition here left their reward on earth’s shores.

I hope and pray I won’t be the latter.