It was a 6 page spread featuring the personal views and photos of a leader attacking ‘Christian celebrities’ in the February edition of Christianity Magazine that caught my eye and got me pondering the irony of the claim!
We live in Celeb-mad culture: game shows no longer cut the cloth without getting celebrities to do the cooking, dining, skating, dancing, enter the Big Brother House!
I’ve never really bought into the celebrity culture. I’ve never been interested in what celebs do in their private lives and I’ve never desired it for myself but I realised at quite a young age that I wasn’t typical of the majority of my peers.
The term ‘Christian celebrity’ is being used with disparaging overtones at an increasing rate. From royalty to street orphan, we are all equal in Gods eyes. The bible teaches us much about humility. To ‘walk humbly’ with our God and to ‘humble ourselves before the Lord’. It warns us about creating false Gods. ‘Celebrity’ is only a slip away from idolatry which sits very uncomfortably in Christian ideology.
However, there are levels of celebrity that we are happy to accept. For example, a headteacher out shopping could have celebrity status to a young child just starting Primary school.
It can be selective to your own interests: Footballers might not even notice a top rugby celebrity that sits next to them in Costas, and vice versa.
It can be counter-intuative: My husband was in Parliament when the popularity of MP’s reached their all time low. Despite the strong disdain for MP’s some would still be very excited at the opportunity of shaking hands and talking to one!
Some levels of celebrity are easier to refute. There are the idolatrous celeb chasers: self-made paparazzi who chase and digest the intimate lives of anyone who carry the tag of ‘celebrity’ for fames sake. The thrill of an autograph or selfie with a celeb far outweighs any knowledge about the person themselves.
So where in the spectrum does the term ‘Christian Celebrity’ fit in? Is it a contradiction in terms that makes it so distasteful and does such a thing even exist?
A calling into Christian ministry and leadership is no easy calling. Most people I know test and challenge it for a long time before committing their lives to serving Christ. This kind of leadership often comes with responsibility and personal sacrifice. I am quite certain the last thing that entices leaders into this world is their potential badge of celebrity status. Anyone intent on a celebrity lifestyle would be very misguided to embark on a life of mission & service to kick start their career!
And yet if by celebrity we are meaning ‘famous,’ some of our greatest Christian ‘celebrities’ have come from a life of devoted service; Mother Theresa being the ultimate example.
Is it aimed at Christians that enter their chosen profession or career and become successful? There are many Christians in Sport, Arts, Media, Politics and indeed all walks of life who shine their light from a taller pedestal than our own. Many are mindful of their status and use this to help promote good causes and lives of others. Of course cynics will sneer that this is merely part of their PR campaign!
Christian speakers that are gifted in communicating the gospel are sought after to speak at events and conferences, often with spin offs in books, & DVD’s etc. Does being passionate, successful and popular at what you do automatically qualify you as a celebrity?
Being able to communicate, engage, challenge and inspire others through public speaking is a gift few of us feel we have, and even fewer of us actually possess! Those that are truly gifted in public speaking should be encouraged to do so instead of sneering at their popularity. The hypocrisy of celebrity is that we love the underdog. We love to see people climb the ladder to great and greater heights only to kick away the ladder on a whim. We need to remember that all of us start at the bottom of the ladder!
When Christian leaders do become well recognised it can be hard to separate the message from the person. It’s perfectly biblical to go ‘to the ends of the earth’ to tell of the transforming love of Jesus. That’s quite a big stage for any speaker to fill! But the desire to reach a bigger audience shouldn’t be confused with blowing their own trumpet! To me, that just smacks of inverted snobbery. If we all make ourselves available to work with the gifts that God has apportioned to us, then it’s only right that these should be used to the full.
The biggest church community/conference event I’ve been part of is Spring Harvest. Popular and widely respected Christian leaders regularly speak at these events. At one level, these could easily be seen as ‘Celebrities’ . Preachers hold centre stage in front of thousands of people in a Big Top that is more akin to Wembley arena than a shabby circus.
I guess it comes down to intentions. All of the speakers I’ve heard there, some of which I know personally, are all Godly people who would be deeply troubled at any suggestion that eyes were fixed on them and not Jesus. I, like thousands of others have benefited from their humble, honest and inspirational teachings. To berate them for fulfilling their calling would be disingenuous.
Of course, any well intentioned action is always at the mercy of the receiver’s perceptions. It says more about those intent on throwing insults or trying to undermine peoples good intentions than the person they accuse. For example:
Confidence can be misconstrued as arrogance; Principled as Self righteous; Humble as weak; Encourager as flatterer; ambition as selfishness.
I’m still unclear as to what a ‘Christian celebrity’ is but it appears to be more about intentional attitudes of the heart. Only God knows what these are so I’m happy to let God be the judge!
Maybe after all of this, celebrity is just in the eye of the beholder?
On one level I guess it really doesn’t matter whether you see leaders as ‘popular’, ‘successful’ or ‘celebrities’ but when the tone is designed to be more disparaging we need to take care. Let’s encourage one another in the gifts that others have and cast aside our cynicism.
Therefore encourage one another and build each other up…