We live in a culture that is defined by fame. A culture that is saturated by fame. A culture that sees their worth based not on their financial security or social standing like previous generations had. Our cultural moment sees the acquisition of fame as the greatest good, we measure our value by followers, fans, and likes. If you ask most kids what they want to be when they get older they say usually say a YouTuber. That is not what kids said when I was young. When I was a kid most kids wanted to be the president, a businessman, a policeman or a teacher.
The lie that our culture has given into is that if I have fame I will be enough. Our culture has placed fame above power and money because those things in our information, social media-driven culture flow toward fame. Sadly this desire for fame is not absent in the church. We measure the success of our work as a pastor by weekend attendance and event participation.
What is more tragic is the people who are supposed to be a prophetic voice to the perils of culture have themselves turned the vice of fame into a virtue. Celebrity preachers wearing streetwear worth thousands, hanging with A-list stars proclaiming that they want to “Make Jesus Famous.” As the years have passed we have seen the reality is that those same celebrity preachers became more famous and Jesus became more distant. Because a heart that pursues fame as its greatest good can not pursue Christ. The way of Jesus is antithetical to fame. Jesus would regularly say hard things that were not popular because his kingdom is an upsidedown kingdom. Yet so often the temptation and the advice given to pastors is to avoid controversy. Don’t say things that will alienate anyone.
We have given ourselves and bought into the marketing lie that more is better than fame is the goal. The chasing of fame comes at the expense of our soul. You can not desire fame as your pursuit without fame taking its toll.
Contemporary pastors are tempted to measure their success, not to mention fulfillment, precisely by how well-liked they are.
M. Craig Barnes
The temptation to be liked and loved and famous is ever-present in the heart of a pastor. The temptation to be efficient with people is ever-present
Eugene Peterson commenting on the pastoral vocation said this:
The pastoral vocation in America is embarrassingly banal. It is banal because it is pursued under the canons of job efficiency and career management. It is banal because it is reduced to the dimensions of a job description. It is banal because it is an idol a call from God exchanged for an offer by the devil for work that can be measured and manipulated at the convenience of the worker. Holiness is not banal. Holiness is blazing.
Pastors commonly give lip service to the vocabulary of a holy vocation, but in our working lives, we more commonly pursue careers. Our actual work takes shape under the pressure of the marketplace, not the truth of theology or the wisdom of spirituality. I would like to see as much attention given to the holiness of our vocations as to the piety of our lives.
Basically, all I am doing is trying to get it straight, get straight what it means to be a pastor, and then develop a spirituality adequate to the work. The so-called spirituality that was handed to me by those who put me to the task of pastoral work was not adequate. I do not find the emaciated, exhausted spirituality of institutional careerism adequate. I do not find the veneered, cosmetic spirituality of personal charisma adequate. I require something biblically spiritual – rooted and cultivated in creation and covenant, leisurely in Christ, soaked in Spirit.
The toll that fame has taken on celebrity pastors and leaders over the past five years is staggering. We were not built for fame. None of us were. Jib Fowles, author of Star Struck: Celebrity Performers and the American Public (Smithsonian Institute Press), found that the average age of death for celebrities overall, was 58, compared to an average of 72 years for other Americans. His findings also revealed that celebrities are almost four times more likely to kill themselves than the average American.
Should a Christian seek to become famous? The short answer is no. Should pastors seek fame? No. The Christian life has no shortage of opportunities to seek fame at the expense of cross-centered living.
Our job as Christian leaders is not to make Jesus Famous it is to live lives of humility and lives submitted to God. It is to take up our cross and follow Jesus. Fame is not a goal to be obtained for the Christian pastor it is cancer to be eradicated.
About twelve years ago I started speaking at conferences more often. It was nice because people would come up to you and thank you for what you shared and tell you that you were amazing. The lure of disembodied ministry to the church is real. At a breakout, someone came up to me and asked how do you stay humble?
My answer was this:
Stay relationally grounded – I told them what keeps me grounded is sitting down with kids and their mom to help her tell them their father left them. What keeps me grounded is holding the hand of a dying member. What keeps me grounded is doing the wedding of kids I taught in pre-school. What keeps me grounded is standing with young parents as they say goodbye to their newborn baby who died way too early.
Have Accountability in your life – Everyone needs someone who can tell you no. We all need family, we need old friends and people who can speak into your life. You need people in your life who know you and who are unimpressed by you. The people in my church don’t know I speak at conferences, write books or have a blog because at the end of the day those things aren’t that impressive. What they do care about is how am I modeling Jesus in my everyday life to them and their kids. Am I showing up when they need me most?
- Have a strong theology of the Cross – A God-centered theology displaces the sinful tendency we have to place ourselves at the center of the universe. Martin Luther famously contrasted the theology of the cross with the theology of glory.
The theology of glory a theology of fame “is this idea that we are always improving, we’re getting better, and can get better. The more faith we have or the more work we put into our life, we will see the financial blessing, health, protection, and progress- it’s always about the progress of the Christian life. We’re moving up and onward, and the design of God is this very purpose: the more we put in by faith and obedience, the more we give to God, then the more God will bless us. The reason why it’s called a theology of glory is that it’s for our own glory- the more that we are doing, the more we’re advancing- it is pointing towards us.” – John Moffitt
The theology of the Cross is the exact opposite of the theology of glory. “When we are called into faith with Christ, we are called to die with him. Paul says in Philippians 2 that not only have we been called to believe, we have been gifted or granted to believe, but also to suffer for his sake. As we enter into this relationship with God, there is not a guarantee of our health being protected or our wealth being protected. Rather we are told multiple times by Peter and Paul that we are going to suffer for the sake of the cross.” – John Moffitt
My plea to my fellow pastors is to seek white-hot holiness over the banality of fame. Fame does not come easy and it does not come free. Fame like Shylock from Shakespeare’s Merchant of Venise always demands its pound of flesh.