Our Part In The Problem of Christian Celebrity

Almost two weeks ago, I saw that a popular Christian leader’s name was trending. It’s an unfortunate thing that “trending” usually means bad news. At least it has lately.

I don’t know if the allegations against him are true or not (it’s looking more and more like they are). However, it has started some interesting conversations. Andy Crouch wrote a great article for The Gospel Coalition.  He says that we are part of the problem of Christian celebrity:

“We need profound change, and it starts less with our public figures than with ourselves. We will, paradoxically, need to expect less transparency from our public figures, less alluring displays of intimacy and “vulnerability,” and more accountability from the systems around them. We will need to put more energy into building systems, including systems that account for the temptations of power, that will last for generations. We will need to somehow quell our lust to feel close to people who can charm the camera and hold the spotlight—recognizing that the half-life of such leadership has always been measured in years, not generations, and now is numbered in something more like months or days. ”

(Photo by Oscar Keys on Unsplash)

Crouch is on to something. While each individual leader is responsible for himself or herself, the rest of us have a responsibility here as well.

We’ve let our favorite Christian celebrity become too important to our own faith.

I know this from personal experience. I didn’t catch the most recent news of Hybels as quickly as I normally would have because I had been taking a break from my favorite place to get news: Twitter.

I had needed that break because I knew it was feeding some unhealthy things in me. Specifically, I was spending too much time and energy trying to keep up with what my favorite Christian leaders had to say about everything.

I was running every new theological issue and current event through the filter of what certain leaders were saying. Sometimes it’s helpful to look to the opinions of others. This was not healthy. It was past the tipping point. When I’m looking through that filter for “everything” or “most things” it’s unhealthy.

We’ve elevated the popular stranger over the faithful neighbor.

It’s a relatively new thing that we have such easy, immediate access to the thoughts and lives (albeit curated) of people we will never meet.

They feel like they are our friends. And while some people do develop genuine friendships with well-known people they meet online, that’s the exception.

I think it’s right that it’s the exception.

Sometimes too much online connection correlates with very little local connection.

Local connection is where theory meets reality. It’s where we actually live out what we say we believe. It’s where we can sit with our pastors and friends and dig into God’s Word together and talk about what it means for our neighborhoods, schools, and families.

In Jamin Goggin and Kyle Strobel’s book, The Way of the Dragon or The Way of the Lamb, I underlined this quote that speaks to this: “The Christian faith is not an ideal divorced from reality. It is an encounter with Jesus that invites us to live with others in reality and humility.”

We say we’re following Jesus, but sometimes I wonder if we’re actually disciples of our favorite Christian celebrities.

The accessibility of social media has given us such easy access to any number of thought leaders,  authors and speakers. It has made it easier to elevate their position in our lives.

Have you felt that in your own faith formation?

During a conversation with my husband,  he said maybe these disappointments have to happen to remind us of who is central to our faith. We don’t want people to fall from their pedestals, but they do.  Some just trip a little before righting themselves, but some come crashing down.

Maybe your disappointment when someone you admire inevitably fails is actually a gift.

It’s time for a reminder of who it is that’s meant to be on the pedestal.

There’s something in us that longs to follow someone. Maybe one of the solutions to the problem of Christian celebrity is that we purposefully place Jesus back in the center of our faith.

Take a break from the voices you turn to too quickly- the voices that may be good, but can still get in the way of our time spent directly in God’s Word.

The more elevated Jesus is, the stronger our faith becomes.

“. . . Let us run with endurance the race that lies before us, keeping our eyes on Jesus, the source and perfecter of our faith. . .”(Hebrews 12:1b-2a)

With our focus on the right place, we’ll treat our more well known Christian brothers and sisters a lot less like celebrities. We’ll be less surprised when they stumble. We’ll be less shaken. We’ll actually be living out the words of Jesus when he talked about what his upside down kingdom actually looks like- a kingdom where the least likely to be esteemed get the best seats at the table.

It’s not a perfect fix, but it’s a pretty good start.

4 thoughts on “Our Part In The Problem of Christian Celebrity

  1. Oooh…. how accurate is this?! I don’t even know this person but can absolutely relate to being guilty of looking to these “Christian celebrities” for advice and guidance when things get tough. I look to them more for inspiration but it can easily tip too far the other way. What a great reminder that God is who we need to be looking to.

  2. Yes, yes, yes. Have you read Shrink: Faithful Ministry in a Church-Growth Culture by Tim Suttle? An absolutely excellent book that touches on this concern in megachurches. (Got the recommendation from Emily Freeman and it did not disappoint!)

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