I've been around for a while…and to tell you the truth, there has been times in my life (like just about everyone, I guess) where popularity and "celebrity" was a personal goal. I don't know whether to be ashamed of that reality or simply to chalk it up to first half of life issues. Don't misunderstand me, it's not like I sat around and said to those I loved, "you know, I want to be famous"…but there was a hidden, part of me, that dark place clouded with delusions of self-promotion and aggrandizement that seemed to be fueled by visions of book sales, conference speaking engagements, and church "success" measurements of big attendance (to hear "me" proclaim the Gospel, God's truth, of course) and other monuments to my brilliance. Then the Spirit had to humble me…that's right, I prayed consistently for God to "have His way" with me and my life and, over time, that's exactly what He did do (of course, not according to what I expected)…He brought my life in alignment with HIS plan…that means, I live and do what He calls me to do no matter how many people even know my name. I guess celebrity wasn't in the cards…and that's simply fine with me. I enjoy the circle of relationships that God has blessed me with and the life that He has so graciously provided for me to live and experience His Kingdom. In a culture of consumerism and idol worship, everyone seems to want to have their proverbial 15 minutes in the sun…in fact, if you talk to students these days, you will hear the articulation of personal goals that have more to do with celebrity and cultural popularity than courage, character, or impact on the world at large. Whereas I heard kids wanting to be policemen, doctors, and educators in times past, now young people want to be rock stars, reality tv icons and billionaires.
As you imagine, the culture of celebrity has been something that has become part of the overall "church culture" in America. We have our "rock stars"…those who have throngs of followers, those who eagerly await the next concert, sermon, or book. Unfortunately, we all know the stories of the humbling of those who rise to the top of cultural fame…they have proliferated the headlines of newspapers for years. So, it shouldn't come as surprise that more and more people who follow Jesus are apt to point out the frailty of fame and what our obsession with celebrity does to the soul…no, not just to those being put on the pedestal but also on the hearts of those who live lemming lives.
Recently, I read a great editorial on Relevant Magazine that articulated some of the dynamics associated with this issue…I would encourage you to take a look at it…it is worth a few of your moments of concentration: RELEVANT MAGAZINE ARTICLE
And here's more from Mike Breen of 3dm ministries:
The idea of celebrity is deeply woven into American culture and values. All you have to do is look at the ridiculous nature of Reality TV and you see how Americans are constantly craving celebrity (either to be a celebrity or to find the next celebrity and stalk there every move). Now there is nothing dark or sinister about “celebrity” in and of itself. You can’t find an argument that says Jesus wasn’t a huge celebrity in his day.
However, there is a difference between being famous and being significant. If Jesus was famous, it’s because he was doing something significant. The problem with many pastors is they make decisions, develop personas and define success from the lens of what will make them a celebrity/famous (even if they don’t know it or see that they are doing this). So in American church culture, it’s pretty easy to become a celebrity: Grow a HUGE church. Now all in all, it’s not terribly difficult to grow to be a giant church if you have the right tools at your disposal…but that doesn’t mean the ends justify the means of getting there.
For instance, though Jesus was a celebrity in his day, he was willing to say things that ran people off in droves. In fact, the book of Mark chronicles the way (from about the mid-point of the book on) how people left Jesus to where, at the end, virtually no one was left. NO ONE wants to be associated with him for fear of the consequences. That’s a Charlie Sheen-esque flameout (obviously without the character issues!). That’s not something you see too often in American churches.
I suspect it’s because riven deeply into the American psyche is the desire to be a celebrity. And American pastors are very susceptible to this. Many subtle things happen in people who desire to this kind of celebrity status:
* They can disengage community and isolate themselves, setting themselves up for moral failure.
* They can make decisions that are numbers driven and not always Kingdom driven.
* They can skew to a shallow understanding of the Gospel as opposed to a holistic one that leads people to discipleship.
* They can put the good of their church (their personal Kingdom) over the good of God’s Kingdom.