How celebrity traps Christian leaders

By May 14, 2012Culture, Faith

Did you want to be a winner?
Did you want to be an icon?
Did you want to be famous?
Did you want to be the president?

Spiralling” by Keane

You may not know the bridge of this Keane song, but you know the feeling it conveys. Too often, we seek leadership because they want to be winners. We want to be icons. We want to be famous. And we think a leadership position is the way to get there.

The sad truth is that this happens inside of church world just as much as outside of it. Young leaders can far too easily fall into the celebrity trap because we have let this mindset become a pattern inside the church.

Mike Breen writes about this epidemic in the book Multiplying Missional Leaders (which is now available):

It doesn’t matter if you’re at a mega-church or a church of 100. The pastor is a celebrity. Mega-churches just have more famous celebrities.

And honestly, here’s what we must see: The American church thinks this is OK.

Recently I was at a conference with 14,000 leaders in one room. The guy on the platform said this: “Three years ago, I sat up in the cheap seats at this conference, sitting up there in the upper decks, and I prayed that God would put me on the main stage. And here I am. I am proof that God makes dreams come true.”

There was a pause, and then everyone started to write down what he’d said as if there was absolutely nothing wrong with it.


Literally 14,000 people just took it in, wrote it down, and prayed that one day they would be on the main stage.

I was sitting there thinking, “Ummm, are we OK with what he just said?”

This statement sounded normal to all the Americans in the room, but as an outsider who grew up in another country, I’m thinking, “I don’t know about you, but I’m thinking the emperor is showing all of his private bits right now!”

He was embracing the idol of celebrity and everyone accepted it as OK and perfectly normal…

The trap of celebrity plagues all of us. One of the reasons it is so dangerous is that it can cause a leader to chase celebrity over anything and everything else.

As a result, a leader will try to climb over others to get to the top of pyramid in the organization or the church or even the subculture. That climb can lead us to compromise. Mike Breen explains:

In American church culture, it’s pretty easy to become a celebrity. You just have to grow a huge church. Now all in all, it’s not terribly difficult to grow to be a giant church if you have the right tools at your disposal. But that doesn’t mean the ends justify the means of getting there. Although Jesus was a celebrity in his day, he was willing to say things that ran people off in droves. In fact, the gospel of Mark (from the middle to the end of the book) chronicles the way that people kept leaving Jesus to the point where, by the end, virtually no one was left. No one wanted to be associated with him for fear of the consequences.

Being willing to say things that run people off is not something we see too often in American churches in our day. I suspect that’s because deeply imbedded in the American psyche is the desire to be a celebrity. American pastors are very susceptible to this.

Many subtle things happen with people who desire this kind of celebrity status. They can disengage community and isolate themselves, setting themselves up for moral failure. They can make decisions that are numbers driven and not always Kingdom driven. They can skew to a shallow understanding of the Gospel as opposed to a holistic one that leads people to discipleship. They can put the good of their church (their personal Kingdom) over the good of God’s Kingdom.

This is a temptation that young leaders – be they youth ministers, college ministers, or in some other role – must resist. That’s not easy to do in a generation know for its sense of entitlement. But it’s vital.

So how do we fight the temptation to be a celebrity, to be famous, to be a winner or an icon? Here are a few questions from Multiplying Missional Leaders that you can use to self-evaluate.

-Why do you do the things that you do? Are you doing them out of obedience? Out of faithfulness? Out of love for Jesus? Or does it have to do with your own ambition and your hopes to be defined as a success (whatever you think success means)?

-In what ways are your decisions influenced by a subtle undercurrent of a hope for celebrity status?

These excerpts are from Mike Breen’s new book Multiplying Missional Leaders. You can order the book or ebook at these links. 

If you need to see more excerpts before you decide, check out this post.'

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