Friday, 27 February 2015

Christian Celebrity Culture

I came across this Facebook post from Kris Vallotton last week. As of today, it has received over 1,500 responses. And as far as I can see scrolling down the first few hundred, they are all messages of thanks and applause.

But I have spent the last week struggling with it - feeling like I must inhabit an alternate universe. Because when I read this post, I didn't feel like applauding.

I was distressed!

Before I explain, let me clarify why I am sharing my response. This is not a personal attack on one man. And I do get the idea that he's encouraging people to work hard for what they want. I have no issue with that at all!

It's just that I was really disquieted by the first part of his post. It sounded way too much like the toxic celebrity culture that has done so much lasting damage within the 'church'.
My congregation consisted of about 11 people; 8 of which had Alzheimer's. When I would a yell a powerful point, (I used to preach with drama), several of them would pee the floor and the nurse would wheel them out.
This made me cringe. These were people. Real people! And yet this sentence de-humanises them. Turns them into a bit of a joke. They appear only as a backdrop to Mr Vallotton's preaching!

Which raises questions in my mind - questions I would ask Kris Vallotton if I could: Did your yelling bless those people? Did you think about the poor staff who had to clean up after them? Did it occur to you to change your approach to accommodate the particular needs of those to whom you were preaching?

Or were they just a means to an end - an opportunity for you to prove your faithfulness so that you could move on to the 'real deal'?
Bill Johnson taught me that if I prepared as if I was teaching 1000s, someday God would entrust 1000s to me.
It disturbs me that we so often reduce God to a slot-machine, and loving service to a formula. If I do X, then God must bless and multiply what I do.

Then we play the numbers game and equate 'success' with the size of our 'ministry'.

'Our' ministry becomes the focus - not simply loving and serving others. 
So I spent hours every week, reading, studying, and preparing my messages. As I prepared, I would envision myself in stadiums filled with hungry people, all listening to me preaching. 
It seems like the focus was all on the preaching. But was there any thought during those hours of hard work for the actual recipients of this preparation? What were their needs? How could they be blessed? Were they even in the equation at all?

It sounds like Mr Vallotton was so busy envisioning stadiums of hungry people, that he couldn't see the "least of these" that God had placed right in front of him.

I may be misinterpreting the man, but I've seen this attitude way too often to be anything but disturbed by even the suggestion of it.

It's the fantasy of having thousands of people all looking at me. Listening to me. Being fed by me. And as we have seen, that attitude of celebrity culture in our churches is toxic.

I hesitate to point out the obvious, but Mark Driscoll is a startling example of where that thinking leads: "Look at all the people I'm reaching! What's a few people being trampled underfoot (or run over by the bus!) when I'm doing so much good for the kingdom?"

The trouble is that most of the time the kingdom that is being built is not God's!
Many times I would preach at the hospital with my eyes closed...I was preaching to a different reality.
Again, I do not want to make assumptions about Mr Vallotton's motivation here, but this sounds too much like the celebrity attitude. "This lowly group is not my real destiny - they're just a stepping stone. I was born to preach before thousands!"

And yet, as I've said, these were real people Mr Vallotton closed his eyes to. People who apparently weren't a good enough 'reality' for him.

I have tried to make it clear that this is not a personal attack on Kris Vallotton here. What I am attacking is the toxic attitude that has so permeated our 'christian culture', that we applaud it without thinking.

In fact, we don't even recognise it because 'ministry' has become the goal - not people. 'Success' is measured by how many people we 'reach', not by how well we love.

The unwritten promise is that if we work hard enough, God will reward us with fame and fortune... or at least a 'real' ministry.

Too many western christians have bought into the celebrity fantasy and have forgotten that Jesus came to serve. And to die!
"Jesus got them together to settle things down. “You’ve observed how godless rulers throw their weight around,” he said, “and when people get a little power how quickly it goes to their heads. It’s not going to be that way with you. Whoever wants to be great must become a servant. Whoever wants to be first among you must be your slave. That is what the Son of Man has done: He came to serve, not to be served—and then to give away his life in exchange for many who are held hostage." (Mark 10:42-45)
Now, if Kris Vallotton had written about how he'd knelt down Sunday after Sunday and cleaned up the urine-soaked floor, that would have really been something!

But we want to avoid the part where Jesus calls us to serve the "least of these", and we become so obsessed with trying to be 'somebody' that we fail to grasp the fact that in Jesus we already are somebody?

This world really does not need even one more celebrity - but it sure as hell could use some servants!!!


  1. Living Liminal

    What a great line. What a great summary of your post. :-) 😃

    “This world really does not need even one more celebrity -
    but it sure as hell could use some servants!!!”

    1. Thanks A. Amos. It's good to hear from you :)

  2. I had the same reaction to the first paragraph. I've done plenty of public speaking to groups varying from 5 people to several hundreds. One interacts differently with small groups. I pictured the writer preaching to a group of a thousand people who WERE NOT there while ignoring a small group who WERE there. How dissonant.

    1. That's a really good point Anonymous. Thanks! :)

  3. Living Liminal

    Much agreement when you write...
    “It's the **fantasy of having thousands of people all looking at “me.” Listening to “me.” Being fed by “me.” And as we have seen, that attitude of “celebrity culture” in our churches is toxic.”

    Seems most who take the “Title” Pastor/Reverend are desiring “Celebrity.” To be known.
    That seemingly innocent “Title” comes with something - “A Little Bit Extra.”
    Power - Profit - Prestige - Honor - Glory - Recognition - Reputation etc...
    ALL those things that become “Idols” of the heart. All those things Jesus spoke against.

    And the Bible warns us to “hew down “the graven images” of their gods.” Deut 12:3 KJV.
    But, instead, we make the “Title“ Pastor a “graven image.” An “Idol.”
    “A Graven Image” on Diploma's and Denominational licenses, placed on office walls.
    “A Graven Image” on business cards handed out, books, Conference Ads, tracts.
    “A Graven Image” on office doors, secretarys desks, church letterhead,
    “A Graven Image” on Sunday morning bulletins, church street signs, , etc, etc...

    And anyone who reads them knows who “the Pastor” is. Yes? ...
    Isn’t that - “He who speaks of himself seeks his own glory?” John 7:18 KJV.
    Isn’t that - Marketing self? Honoring self?
    Isn’t that - Desiring “Celebrity?” Desiring “to be known?”
    Isn’t that, “if I honor myself my honor is nothing” John 8:54 KJV

    And these “Idols,” carried in the Pastors heart, are unseen to the natural eye, extremely difficult to lay down an walk away from. They become an addiction. And like most addictions - you never have enough - you need more Power - Profit - Prestige - you always need more and more to satisfy the addiction. You think you’re in control, tell others you’re in control but the addiction controls you. You’re in bondage to an addiction - and a lie - and you don’t know it.

    In my experience - With having been ordained, in leadership...
    In my experience - With the “Title/Postion” - pastor/leader/reverend...

    “Titles” become “Idols” ..................... (“Idols” of the heart - Ezek14:1-11 KJV)
    “Pastors” become “Masters”............. ( A big No, No. Mat 23:10 KJV)
    “Leaders” become “Deceivers”......... (Isa 3:12 KJV, Isa 9:16 KJV, Mat 15:14 KJV)

    Power corrupts - and absolute power - corrupts absolutely.

    What is popular is NOT always “Truth.”
    What is “Truth” is NOT always popular.

    1. Yes, the tendency to think more of yourself when you have a 'title' is insidious and lethal. And the desire to have power and position in the 'church' is the antithesis of all Jesus modelled.

  4. The closing your eyes and preacing to a different reality is what got me. If that was what he was doing, he could have stayed home, locked himself in the closet, and done that.

    Your audience (which itself is a distortion of the body) should be informing your message, not just a passive group you are talking at.How can you preach to a few elders, when you are really speaking to a mega church?

    How do you spend 17 years ministering to the "least of these" and still not get it.

    1. How, indeed! Now that I am outside the toxic christian culture we have allowed to develop, I am astounded by what we not only accept as normal, but hold up as laudable.

      Can you imagine Jesus taking this attitude!?