I wrote this post in 2011 as an associate pastor in Bristol, UK! Back then, I remember feeling uneasy with the Celebrity Culture in the Church sphere. Little did I know how much more prevalent this would become a feature of Church business – because to use a crude word for a spiritual community, that’s what it’s become chiefly – a business. Since I originally posted this article, I moved with my family to America and have spent the last ten years working in the evangelical Church in the USA. Recently I stepped off my church staff team (a church I still attend and love) as I sensed my calling evolve to pursue the unknown of what I feel the Holy Spirit urging – a reformation of the Church. And I realized this summer as I randomly jotted down five things (mainly to remind myself) that I think need changing within the Church;
- Celebrity Culture
- The Sunday Show
- Spiritual & Sexual Abuse
- Unethical compensation of staff and unhealthy use of volunteers
That the little itch of discernment is still there – maybe way more than an itch now? There is something very wrong with Christian celebrity culture. So to re-read this article from 35-year-old me is satisfying. I’m grateful my spirit saw this back then. I still have numerous questions about how we act in light of this – but it’s there, 11 years later, my concern with this status quo. God, give us wisdom and help us make the change!
The Christian Celebrity Culture (2011)
A couple of weeks ago, I was spending time in the presence of God, and I heard the Holy Spirit speak to me. He said in an internal voice, “there’s a bad smell in the house.” I began asking Him what He meant (hoping it wasn’t a personal word of prophecy!) He put on my mind and heart the oddity of the Christian celebrity culture.
His words reminded me of an incident we had in our house where one day, I came home only to be greeted by the vilest smell. A few days later, the smell was still there even though I’d washed and cleaned everything. Finally, we’d figured it out – we had a dead mouse rotting away under our floorboards.
For anyone who’s been in the same position, you will know that you have four options ahead of you:
- Move to another house (only for the rich and famous)
- Try to hide the smell (apparently, microwaved lemons work)
- Live with the scent (no dinner parties then)
- Be prepared to pull up some carpet or cut through a wall to get to the source.
I’ve been asking for revelation on this subject, and it’s like pulling up that carpet, digging around underneath the floorboards. There’s a bad smell, but where it is and what it is have been the questions on my mind.
I want to attempt to separate and identify the good from the bad. It’s certainly not a have-a-go at well-known Christians – many are just as opposed to this culture infiltrating the Church as other people. Instead, I’m hoping we can get some maturity on the matter – working out what heaven’s culture looks like and what bits of the culture of the world we are currently mirroring that we shouldn’t be.
When I grow up, I want to be a…
It used to be an astronaut, the president of the USA, or a superhero. Thanks to a conglomeration of X factor, talent shows, and reality tv, now the iconic status to reach for is ‘celebrity.’ Kids nowadays want to be famous, and I don’t blame them. If they can manage to be recognized, they open the door to a life of wealth, excitement, and public affirmation. We’ve picked a few things we value as a society; looks, fashion, films, and sports, then we’ve given unprecedented amounts of worship to those few who walk in their corridors.
The drive to be a celebrity has never been so alive in society than now. It’s a substantial part of our western culture, and the Church, meant to be bringing heaven’s culture on earth, has got to ask some serious questions regarding this topic.
Do we have the same drive to be celebrities in our ministries? How much of this culture are we mirroring in the Church?
Is there anything wrong with famous Christians?
When most people refer to the Christian celebrity culture, they are referring to the fact that we have famous Christian leaders in the subculture of the Church. Worship leaders, preachers, teachers, youth leaders, pastors, authors, prophets, and evangelists can become very well known on a local, national, and even international level.
At this stage, we’ve got to ask a question. Is there anything wrong with famous Christians?
One of the most important things to answer this question is to look at the bible.
My biblical understanding of the Church is that it’s a community of different people with different gifts, all loved by God equally. It would be unbiblical to say that we are all meant to be the same or that we are all equal in gifts and positions—there are well-known ‘famous’ leaders in scripture, people chosen by God to stand out and play an essential part in His unfolding plan.
Some people can overreact to this topic by suggesting that there should be a Church-by-committee approach in which there are no ‘upfronts,’ no ‘visual leaders . When people offer this as a solution, I feel misplaced because I am one of those in public ministry. Deep down amongst the clutter, I know these gifts of leadership and communication in me are from Him and can be used to add value to the Church. Disempowering those in public ministry is not the answer.
In my opinion, the foul smell of Christian celebrity culture does not come from the fact that some people are ‘known’ or are remarkably gifted in some public regions—these are the things we should embrace and celebrate. Instead, it comes from a distorted system of rewards that we are copying from the world’s culture.
We reward what we value.
God’s system of rewards is contrary to the one we see modeled in the western world. The celebrity culture we live in tips people for being good-looking, popular, and talented in a select few trades like acting and music. But the bible paints a different picture of a God who sees the private accomplishments and rewards according to an alternative set of values; sometimes it doesn’t make sense, sometimes it’s unfair and often unexpected. It’s clear that some rewards get received on earth while others are waiting for us in our future eternal home, and Jesus doesn’t leave us in doubt about what he thinks we should be storing up for ourselves.
As Christians, we must do two things regarding this matter:
- Understand the way God rewards us and live according to that wisdom
- Copy God and reward the people around us the way He does
Firstly, the lesson of ‘how God rewards’ is vital for us to know and understand. It’s crucial because it shouts about what He values. Unfortunately, because of a lack of understanding of this issue, we have Churches full of people insecure in their gifting, defaulting to a consumer role that feeds the celebrity ecosystem. Often people can feel like they are in someone else’s shadow, never exceptionally as gifted as the person they see in front of them. When we begin to unpack how God rewards and realize what He values, we know that He values every single person in the body of Christ. There is cosmic anticipation, an excitement brewing where the whole of creation is on tiptoes to see the release of Christ’s body (every single Christian) flourish to their full potential. Together we make Jesus fully known to the World.
It’s vital that those in public ministry get a firm grip on this reality. As a prophetic leader, much of what I do is public. I know God rewards me through this ministry: favor with people, influence, opportunities, and gratitude. However, I’m also aware that these are rewards I’m receiving now – on earth. For me, what’s helpful is to make sure now and then I give myself a spiritual health check. It’s simply a series of questions:
- What proportion of my spiritual life is public, and what is private?
- Is all my revelation from God out there on the internet/pulpit, or is there something I’m treasuring in my heart?
- Are all my prayers for people done with them there, or am I praying for people without them knowing?
- Am I studying the bible to get something more to say, or am I genuinely excited about growing more in love with Jesus?
There is a subtle but genuine danger for those in public ministry to have most of their rewards on earth.
Secondly, we need to copy how God rewards. We give rewards all the time to people we deem essential or valuable. Our attention, our time, and affection are some of the prizes we offer. Who we consider necessary or beneficial is crucial and is why God’s reward system differs from the world’s. If we get carried along with the tide of western culture, the people we see as important will usually be the celebrity types (in Church terms, those in public ministry.) But if we allow ourselves to get swept up in God’s perspective, we begin to see value everywhere in all sorts of people.
The reality is that there are gifts/treasures in every single person in the Church; young, old, rich, poor, charismatic, shy, eloquent, or rough round the edges. We are God’s children, and as God’s kids, we have incredible value. When you walk into a group of God’s people, it’s like walking into a sacred treasure cave; prophecy, wisdom, strategy, practical wisdom, kindness, healing, knowledge, understanding, encouragement, and innovation are just some of the treasures that are in people waiting to be used and given away. When we copy the world’s celebrity value system, we seriously insult what’s available in the body of Christ and often miss the gifts and answers God is longing to give us.
When we comprehend this, we have the opportunity to revolutionize culture. Can you imagine a world where God’s system of rewards was at large? We broaden the celebration of people, encouraging people everywhere to walk into their true destiny.
I’m aware of only having scratched the surface of this complex topic of humanity. Getting more revelation will take a fair bit of soul searching. Some significant challenges for those called to the public ministry involve daily accountability of inner motives and a constant return to authentic servant leadership. Also, some crucial lessons for the rest of the church are in how to deal with ‘known’ Christians, seeking to honor but not idolize or worship them.