Without a doubt, we live in a celebrity culture.
It’s interesting that we can be fascinated with people we’ll never meet and who likely have little desire to meet us. But we are.
And in the last decade, celebrity culture has taken hold in the church.
The burning question: is it good for us?
This is So First Century
Well, actually, before we get too far into the conversation, realize that none of this is truly new.
The Apostle Paul struggled with a first century version of a celebrity culture. Self-admittedly, Paul wasn’t the best speaker, and it seems the early Christians were eager to declare their loyalties to the apostles that they considered the best leaders/speakers—even to those who hadn’t invested nearly as much in the local church as Paul had.
A brimming popularity contest among church leaders is written all over 1 Corinthians 1-3 and significant sections of 2 Corinthians.
As long as there have been people, there has been the desire to assign loyalty to whomever you ‘like’ best.
How the Interwebs Changed Things
Fast forward to our day. Not only have we become a consumer culture, but we’re able to access media and personalities instantly and constantly.
Remember that just over a decade ago—back in the 1990s—you used to have to work to hear another pastor preach.
You’d have to drive to his or her church. Or buy a CD (or cassette…gotta love those tape ministries) and wait for the product to be delivered in the mail. Few people bothered.
But with the rise of broadband, wifi, podcasting and smartphones, suddenly it became possible to listen to both your local pastor (or worship leader) and the best preachers (or worship leaders) on the planet. For free. Anytime of the day or night. Any week. Every week.
And millions of people have.
The unspoken reality is that almost every local church leader is now being evaluated not against last week, but against the best communicators on the planet.
Don’t Shoot Your Phone (or the Preacher)
Now don’t blame technology. Technology isn’t good or evil; it just reveals and amplifies what’s already there.
Paul and the early church managed to struggle with this issue almost 2000 years before anyone even thought of dial-up.
I also happen to know a few people who might be considered ‘celebrity’ pastors today. Here’s what’s true about the people I know:
None of them set out to be famous.
None of them really like being ‘famous’.
They have influence simply because they happen to be very good at what they do.
They realize there are lots of local leaders who are also skilled and gifted at what they do but for whatever reason don’t receive the same attention.
While I’m sure you can find celebrity pastors who love the attention, who flaunt it and fuel it, the ‘famous’ or influential people I’ve met are just trying to steward the gift God has given them. They’re remarkably down to earth and are genuinely interested in other people and advancing the mission of the church.
As much as we shouldn’t, people will always put other people on pedestals.
The best leaders use whatever influence they have to advance a cause, not themselves.
So where does all this land?
Are there any pros to a celebrity church culture?
I want to offer 3:
1. It makes the sharing of great ideas possible. Hey, all these free messages and free ideas aren’t bad. I get to learn more from others faster. So do you. So does your church. Leverage it.
2. It makes us all work a little harder. One of the challenges historically for the church is that pastors tend to either be workaholics or (honestly) a bit lazy. Few of us are balanced. If it makes us all a little more diligent in fulfilling our calling, so be it. I know that I am working more diligently than ever to make series and messages count. Not for the sake of podcast-surfing Christians, but for the sake of the unchurched in our region. It’s made me a better leader and communicator.
3. Unchurched people never compare preachers. Don’t miss this. Comparing preachers is something churched people do, not unchurched people. Trust me, the average unchurched person is not sitting around evaluating preachers. If your mission truly is to reach unchurched people, this problem almost becomes irrelevant.And it can make you a better, clearer communicator. So just keep advancing your mission.
And naturally, there are some cons. Here are 3:
1. Too many local leaders want to be famous, not effective. More than a few leaders want influence before they’ve done anything to earn influence. And even then, influence isn’t the goal and should never be. Being an effective, humble church leader who helps your congregation achieve its mission is the goal.
2. Too many leaders are more interested in the details of the lives of celebrity pastors than their own people. Seriously, when you know more about Mark Driscoll or Andy Stanley than you people who actually attend your church, there’s a problem.
3. Church members place unrealistic expectations on local leaders. If you attend a church, one of the best things you can do is love and support local church leaders. Don’t place unrealistic expectations on them. Sure, they may not be as compelling/good looking/funny/charming/convicting/brilliant as your favourite podcast preacher, but chances are they are trying to faithfully live out their calling in your community. A community, by the way, which you favourite podcast preacher will probably never visit. Talk to the Apostle Paul about that one.
In the end, while celebrity culture may or may not be good for us, it probably is inevitable for us (we live on this side of heaven).
What do you think about celebrity culture? Any other way you can think of to leverage it for good?