America is obsessed. We’ve become so enamored with celebrities that an entire industry has been built around providing cosmetics, weight-loss products, and clothing lines to help the common person “look like a star”. We pay film actors the GNP of a small country, and like that’s not enough we hold awards ceremonies that take great effort to sit through without aging several years. Meanwhile, the names of the award winners are reported with the urgency of a presidential election. Why do we worship these people and why do we care so much about how they decorate their homes, take their vacations, or behave while having a night out?
The really troubling thing to me is not that the entertainment industry keeps churning out the “next big star” while incessantly celebrating itself. After all, it’s a business built on vanity. There’s no hidden agenda there. It’s to entertain us while making obscene amounts of money doing it. The thing that troubles me is the spilling over of the celebrity culture into christian ministry. We put on conferences and think hard about which “big name” to bring in, otherwise people might not come. We put up with demanding riders and pay large sums so that “the word can go out”. Young people line up for autographs after their favorite christian band has played and we even attaboy our favorite singers with their own awards show. Something doesn’t feel right about handing someone a trophy for a song they supposedly wrote for an Audience of One.
The disturbing thing about this trend is that it distorts the expectations of those called to christian service. Success in ministry stops being equated with obedience and fruit bearing and begins to mean getting your picture on a conference flier or landing a record contract. In other countries, stepping into ministry rarely means a paycheck and can often lead to losing your family or even your life. What have we done to the next generation of preachers, pastors, and minstrels by choosing to show favoritism, special recognition, and “star treatment” to this generation of celebri-ministers? I think we’ve unintentionally communicated that, unless your ministry is broadcasted, recorded, or performed in front of a large audience, it’s insignificant.
Occasionally I receive an invitation to step back into the “green room” at a conference or concert. The atmosphere is generally the same in each one. Friends and hangers-on of the various musicians and speakers all camped out, laptops open, cell phones texting. The band members and guest preachers are usually friendly and upbeat, but the aforementioned “support players” generally carry an air of self-importance that can’t be ignored. It’s a tangible arrogance that should be foreign among believers. I’m not alone in this perception either. A good friend of mine spent some time traveling with a well known Christian band and could hardly tolerate being in the green room.
In sharp contrast to the green rooms of christian conferences and concerts, I’ve had the privilege of being on the set of a couple of major Hollywood motion pictures. I stood next to some of the most well known actors and directors in the world. The difference? Everyone was so nice! With the exception of a few grumpy assistant directors, there was a general sense of comradeship. I vividly remember some great conversations and a genuine sense of caring as we swapped stories, sunscreen, and shared umbrellas. We were all working together to invest in something bigger than ourselves.
I think that’s where we in christian ministry fall short and succumb to a celebrity mentality. We’re building our ministry aren’t we? Fame means a bigger paycheck so we can keep doing our ministry so we can get another paycheck and keep doing our ministry and… you get the picture. Instead of humbly coming together and uniting under the greatest vision of all, we’re comparing units sold and venues played. Instead of seeing ourselves as blessed to receive the love and favor of God, we classify and rank ourselves by public recognition. It’s funny how we can borrow from the Hollywood way but not even get it right.
John chapter 13 tells a story about Jesus, the most famous and influential man who ever lived (not to mention almighty savior of the world). In this story He tied a towel around his waste and, one by one, he washed his disciples feet. It was a chore reserved for the lowliest of servants. When he was done he said, “I have given you an example to follow. Do as I have done to you.” I think maybe, just maybe, if we took His example and served instead of seperated, humbled ourselves instead of expected special treatment, we might just produce an epic together that’s greater than any story ever told through a Hollywood film camera.