Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Christian Celebrity (Part 1)

I feel an immense amount of pressure to become a Christian celebrity. Ever since I chose to enter full-time ministry (or ever since it chose me), I have struggled with how I should define success in ministry. I know that Jesus says, "Anyone who wishes to find his life will lose it, but whoever seeks to lose his life for my sake will save it," but does that really apply to the Western world? Aren't the truly successful pastors in the US those who have the most podcast listeners, who are invited to the most conferences, and who have published several books with Zondervan? It doesn't seem like the truly successful pastors are exactly disappearing into obscurity in an effort to lose their lives for Jesus' sake.

I don't mean to knock today's pop-pastors because many--and certainly not all--are outsanding men of integrity. The great irony in all of this is simply that my favorite speakers, writers, thinkers, and theologians did not choose to be celebrities, but their popularity is somewhat indicative of their effectiveness. In fact, it would be nearly absurd for someone like Mark Driscoll or Rob Bell to simply give up their place as a public leader to pursue a life of private service. Can you imagine the difficulties their churches would face if they just up and left one day because they were tired of being celebrities? What about all their hard work and tears shed over their congregation and their city? Isn't that worth something?

I feel that my generation is facing an unprecedented challenge in the allure of Christian celebrity. Sure, there were Televangelists in the 70's and 80's who made megabucks off of millions of viewers, but my generation is different. The Christian subculture is growing rapidly and is effectively creating a potent cultural atmosphere within the surrounding culture. Relevant Magazine, Christian radio, Christian publishing, and Christian podcasting has helped fashion the Christian subculture as a planet in its own orbit. It is, therefore, incredibly difficult to ignore the potential for publicized success in the world of Christian ministry.

Lately I have had minor panic attacks when I realize that I may never have podcast listeners or write an article in Relevant. I am 26 years old and I already feel like somewhat of a failure. I have not yet planted a church in a major city that can grow into a mega-gathering of hipster Christians who write down my words in their journals on Sunday mornings. If I'm going to attain celebrity status, I need to get started early and so far I am moving at a snail's pace.

In fact, my upcoming trip overseas for two years seems like a step down the ladder. I always assumed that I would start speaking at youth camps after grad. school, gaining a cult-like following and making a reputation for myself. Then, at a moment's notice, I would get the call. "There's a church that needs to be planted in the heart of a major city and you are just the guy for the job!" Soon thereafter I would write a tell-all book about my harrowing experience and how God moved in my city. Of course, none of the stuff I've just mentioned is inherently wrong! The only evil in all of this is my desire to accomplish it.

Instead of wanting to enter ministry to see lives changed by Jesus, I want a wireless mic and an interview on Larry King Live. Rather than a small community of faithful servants, I wanted a burgeoning metropolis of tattooed and talented twentysomethings. These are the thoughts that bombard me. I know that I can teach and I love Jesus, but somehow my definition of success is terribly intertwined with that of the kosmos (see 1 Jn.). Instead of saying, "less of me and more of Jesus," I'm saying, "Let's see how big Jesus can really make me." So far, these are simply confessions and there are plenty more to come...