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May 26, 2014

Christian Celebrity

A dual temptation winks at every leader


Would you sell your soul to wield more influence, to become a Christian celebrity? I imagine that most of us would answer with an emphatic "No!" But the temptation is there.

Not long ago I read a very honest blog post by Preston Yancey. It was one of the first of his pieces that I've ever read. My friend Sharon passed it along. He titled it, "When This Is Some Real Talk About Blogging." In it he confesses:

What I do know is that for awhile now I have written content that gets all the shares but I'm not always proud of. I know that for awhile I wrote things that were designed to get people to share them, tweet them, like them, because what I really wanted was for people to like me.

He goes on to admit, "I have spent a lot of time writing posts to get hits. I have spent a lot of time being friends with the cool kids not because I was really their friend, but because I think I may have wanted something from them." I don't know Preston, but I know it takes courage to make these public confessions and to say, "I'm sorry." Owning up to feigning interest in others in order to amass more followers and in order to ride on the coattails of another's glorious influence, and then apologizing for it? That's repentance (as long as he turns and goes the right direction). And it's refreshing.

When we've made a habit of chasing after our own fame instead of God's, when we befriend people because of what we can get out of them instead of befriend them because we care for them, people can often see right through us. However, most are loathe to call us out.

They just walk away with a sour taste in their mouths. The cult of Christian celebrity damages our gospel witness. Such behavior is odious to both Christians and non-Christians. I am weary of it. The apostle James warns us:

But if you harbor bitter envy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast about it or deny the truth. Such "wisdom" does not come down from heaven but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic. For where you have envy and selfish ambition, there you find disorder and every evil practice (James 3:14-16, NIV).

Maybe our selfish ambition and envy of others who are more influential than us, along with our drive for Christian fame, is adding to the polarization and Christian tribalism within our ranks.

How quickly in our ministries do we forget that the way up in the kingdom of God is down. In his book Here and Now, Henri Nouwen calls this "downward mobility." The notion of downward mobility is what we must always keep before us lest we sell out. Jesus is our example (Philippians 2).

Another Temptation

At the same time, I've discovered that I am prone, and others are prone, to go in the opposite direction. We so fear being swept up into the Christian celebrity machine, or having others in the church think we are arrogant, as Jennie Allen mentioned in a recent Gifted For Leadership post, that we give into the temptation to bury our talents. Burying our talents is also sinful.

I think this temptation is especially strong for Christian women. We fear stepping up because it has been ingrained in us that we must step down—always deferring to men. While it's true that we should consider one another better than ourselves (Philippians 2:3), that doesn't entail burying our talents. We should never let fear have the final word in our lives. Otherwise, fear is calling the shots instead of God. That means we bow to fear instead of to God. And that is idolatry.

If God has allowed us to be in leadership positions, we need to take these things seriously. We need to pay attention to our motives. It is important that we take frequent retreats to examine ourselves to see whether we're chasing Christian celebrity or whether we are burying our talents in order to avoid being ensnared by the cult of Christian celebrity. Both are disastrous. We need to be willing to hear hard things from those who would dare be honest with us about what they see in our lives. Do we have people in our lives who'd risk being honest with us? If we don't, we must ask ourselves why we don't have those types of people in our lives.

We should understand that sexual temptations and failures are not the only moral failures. There are all sorts of other temptations to moral failure that Christian leaders, or those who seek to be leaders, face. I believe our churches, ministries, and souls would be in much better shape if we named these temptations and sins and then did whatever is necessary to address them. Preston Yancey serves as a good example for us.

God is eminently concerned with how we handle our influence, affluence, pride, envy, and power. How we handle these things will determine whether or not we are faithful in handling the good news entrusted to us.

Marlena Graves is a regular contributor to Her.meneutics. Her writing has appeared in Christianity Today, Relevant, The Clergy Journal, and other venues. Her book, A Beautiful Disaster: Finding Hope in the Midst of Brokenness, is forthcoming from Brazos Press.

Related Tags: envy, pride, public life, selfishness, social networking, stewardship


Very well said Marlena!

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