Recently I have read a couple of things which have made me ponder once again celebrity Christian leaders. The first was the Facebook post by Bill Johnson, Senior Leader at Bethel Church, Redding, California, defending his decision to vote for Donald Trump. He tried to do so from the Bible, and in my opinion failed miserably. Yet such is his celebrity status in certain sections of the church, his decision to back Trump will have influenced the voting choice of a large number of people across the US.
The second thing I read was by a leader from the other end of American Evangelical Christianity, John Piper. In responding to an email regarding a pastoral situation Piper also, in my opinion, was extremely poor in his use of the Bible. Even more concerning in this case was that Piper gave an abstract theological answer to a very real pastoral situation, about which he knew very little, and the potential for damage to that individual from his choice of language was huge.
This adds to the stories you read of the demands placed by some big name speakers on conferences and events who ask them to speak, and the large fees commanded for their appearance, to reinforce my feeling that the Western church has a big celebrity problem.
I am not a celebrity Pastor, and please God I never will be, but my reflections on this issue over the years, and particularly the past few days, lead me to the following practical steps to avoid such a temptation.
- Avoid the myth that size equals success. Reconfigure your church building so it will seat no more than 200. If it starts getting full, plant another church.
- Avoid the myth that popularity equals success. Don’t pick your speaking engagements on the size of the attendance or the fee offered. If you really are a gifted speaker the village church of 40 people may benefit far more from your presence than the conference of 10,000.
- Don’t try to provide pastoral advice unless you have taken the time to get to know the people and the situation. If issues of geography make that difficult, refer them to someone closer to home.
- Be accountable. Seek out those who will disagree with you and dialogue with them regularly, genuinely listening to what they say. Make sure this includes people who will challenge your character and attitude as well as your theology.
This is my list at this time, others may draw up a different list, or disagree with my premise entirely. But I feel it is important to have thought now about how to avoid the traps of celebrity, however massively unlikely it is to ever arise, because it seems all too easy to get carried along on the tide of “success”, only to be spat up on the shore and left high and dry.