Celebrity and the Church


Does the church in the UK need more big name preachers? That’s the challenge that’s been circulating the internet over the past couple of days.

Why, when organising a big conference or festival are speakers imported from overseas, usually from the US, why are worship bands brought over from Australia? I do not think it is just because they are great preachers or worship groups. I think there is something slightly less savoury about it.

It’s because we want to ensure that crowds come, that we hit the break even point. I’ve been in a hall with over 2000 crammed in to listen to Rob Bell, I’ve queued for hours to listen to, and worship with, Hillsong United. If there’s someone with a recognised name on the flyer then it’s a more or less guaranteed way of filling the room.

I’ve travelled across the country, I’ve paid money, I’ve given time. All the symptoms of sacrificial worship. But what is it that I’m worshipping? Is it the God who created all things, or the celebrities on the stage? I’ve also watched in despair as teenage girls queue to have their photo taken with the latest heart-throb worship UK worship leader, and others run across the grass to catch the home grown speaker and talk to them. So that they can then relay through innumerable conversations about when they were talking to so and so.

I’ve criticised such an attitude, and I’ve been called out on it myself. I’ve been close at hand, and raised my eyes to the sky, when other fawn towards the well known names. And then recounted the tale: on one level just so my friends know my contact is superior to the type I’m criticising.

And even telling that tale here, perhaps parading my humility for your own compassion, including the information that I know people you might not, and somehow that puts me in a position of advantage.

Not a lot of people read this blog, but then I don’t know what classifies as a lot. Every now and then I post something which picks up quite a few readers, my post about Mark Driscoll did exactly that. I knew it would, written just hours after the story had first came out, pushed out on twitter and facebook, me doing what I could to encourage people to read my thoughts.

There’s an irony here that nearly knocked me cold as I pondered it last night. I posted Thursday evening just before my small group was about to begin. We were talking about greed and contentment, and all the time my phone was buzzing with tweets about the post, as things drew to a close I checked the comments, found a bunch and saw the stats had gone through the roof. I slipped away into a world of my own, more bothered about what other people were thinking about me and what I wrote, than about the very real relationships with the people in my front room.

I’ve done a little bit of preaching and public speaking, and it petrifies me. I was visiting a church for work and had realised it was a bit bigger than I’d expected, the night before I lay in bed churning over what I was to say, and how I would come across. I was worrying about what they would think of me.

My reputation, whether it is when I speak in person, or when I write is of too much concern to me. I wanted more people to read what I had written all the while discussing avoiding greed and seeking contentment.

So I was reflecting about all this last night while listening to the majestic new and final album from the Dave Crowder Band (buy it!). While wanting more readers I am at the same time uncomfortable with the idea that I am in my own ridiculous microcosm occasionally in a position of authority, not an idea I had really entertained to date. That means that there is a responsibility on me for what I say, how I say it, and how I interact with those reading or listening.

In my criticism of Mark Driscoll, was I fair, was I right, was I right to post it even if I was right in the content? Am I responsible for other people thinking negatively about a fellow Christian? How do I feel about many people I have never met reading my words and interpreting them in their own way?

I wanted the status of being highly read without the responsibility of being in a position of authority.

Surely the church needs the exact opposite, people who can deal with the responsibility of authority without the need for the status?

Ignoring Mark Driscoll

I may have said that when I write I have in mind what people want to read and that effects what makes into on the page. But some people take it a whole lot further.

Writing to meet your readers’ demands is one thing. Writing to provoke a response can have its place. Even courting a bit of controversy to get people thinking can be accepted.

But there is a line. We could probably even select a passage of scripture and create a grid of what we should and shouldn’t do. Maybe along the lines of what is permissible under the law, and what is helpful. I can see the attraction in that sort of approach, it would help us know where we stand. What is fine and what is beyond the pale.

Because someone who belittles men because of their personality or effeminate manner shouldn’t be paraded as a hero.

And hopefully we can agree that advocating fighting as an expression of Christianity is not the best way of imitating the suffering saviour.

Surely we can see that a book about marriage should have at it’s centre the model of Christ and the church. But instead spends too much time in crude, reductionist, interpretations of scripture.

Without a doubt we should know that encouraging a nation to intentionally raise up celebrity pastors is a step in the wrong direction.

Because when these sort of messages are pushed it harms the church. When these things are said it cannot just be accounted for and excused by looking to the following the author and speaker has, or the size of his congregation, or his place in the Amazon best seller charts.

It is not enough to say that because someone is popular and have had success in building a church they should be given license to say what they like.

It is nonsense to say that certain messages are necessary because men are leaving the church. The problem is not solved by taking lessons from the worst parts of a consumer driven, sex obsessed, violence glorifying, celebrity culture.

When such things are said by people with a following it is even more urgent that they are not allowed to get away with it. That they are corrected, and rebuked, and then in the future ignored. No more invitations to conferences, or interviews in magazines – then trailed to increase publicity, building second hand on his penchant for the controversial. Just left alone.

Maybe I should just man up, get on a flight to Seattle and pull him into the car park and smack him down. He’d probably have some respect for me if I did that.

But that would miss the point, because that’s not how I work, or who I am. Instead I’m just a granny in her pyjamas writing behind the invisible walls of the internet.

I’m not going to call anyone out in a fight to prove I’m right, after all, I’m not always sure I am right, especially about all this. If I’m wrong I’m sure Pastor Mark will be happy to help me out.

My hypocrisy evidenced in this post is duly noted.