Christian celebrity

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.

  1.  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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.

Who is supporting who?

Reading Stuart Murray’s Post-Christendom: Church and Mission in a strange new world, for my next assignment, and came across an interesting idea I hadn’t explicitly thought about before, though in practice I think I probably instinctively follow it.

He suggests that one issue with the church is that, even if we’ve rejected the idea of “clergy” and “laity” we’ve too often slipped into a model where the majority of the people are there to support the minority – the leaders – in doing Christian work.

He suggests that the Biblical model is the precise opposite, citing Ephesians 4:11-12, “So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, to equip his people for works of service…”

So it is “the people” who are to live and work for Christ’s praise and glory, and those in positions of leadership and responsibility in the church are there simply to equip them to do so.  What a difference it could make to our witness if we could really understand this!

What ministry is all about

I am convinced that ministry in the 21st Century has to be about more than just caring for those people who are already within the church, and keeping our current activities going.  We have to be reaching out, engaging with the local community, seeking to communicate the love of God in Jesus Christ in whatever ways we can.  And this week has been great as I have had many opportunities to get “outside the church building” (not that we have one!) and into the community.

Last weekend was the National Prayer Weekend, and our Sunday service included prayer stations to bring before God the needs of our community and the prayer requests which we had received from people living on the estate, local councillors, local businesses, and our MP.  A great opportunity to do something for our neighbours that has the power to change situations.

On Wednesday morning I was at the Primary School where our church meets, to give a 5 minute talk at their Key Stage 1 Harvest Assembly.  Different groups of the children sang for us, and I used the parable of the mustard seed to encourage them that however small they are they have the potential within them to do big things for the Kingdom of God.

On Thursday the “Beverley Guardian” came out, and I contributed this week’s “Views from the pews” column, writing about something that I really care about and I believe God cares about too, the refugee situation in Europe.  I used the Parable of the Good Samaritan to encourage people that we must help, even if we might differ on exactly what form that help may take.  I’ll publish the full text of my piece here in due course.

And tomorrow I will be conducting a funeral, for someone who I’ve never met but who used to be a member of another Baptist Church in the area.  A privilege to support a family through difficult times, and to speak of the assurance we can have that nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

In some ways it’s been a difficult week, as family illness has restricted the time I’ve been able to work.  But it’s weeks like this that I went into ministry for, as in all these varied ways I seek in God’s strength to enable his Kingdom to be extended and lives to be changed through encounter with him.