I wonder sometimes about the state of Christianity and Christian people. We have become such a star-making machine, we rival the rock and roll producers of the late fifties and early sixties. They saw a very handsome and talented Elvis Presley rise to fame and stardom and they decided they needed to cash in on the craze. Suddenly record labels were scouring the countryside for handsome young men who they could toss into their star-making machine and spit out a teen idol from the other end. We got Fabian, Frankie Avalon, Dion, Bobby Sherman...the list went on and on. Some of these guys had real talent and some were there just because they looked great and they would do as they were told.
It's that last part that really got them their gig. They were willing to do as they were told. They stuck to the script. They played along. They said what they were told to say and kept their head down otherwise.
I see this in the church these days.
We're full to the brim with "Flock-stars". (A term a friend of mine concocted and I think it fits perfectly) They've done something -God knows what- to achieve "fame" or more correctly notoriety. Case in point, the guy who became a superstar for making that "Kony 2012" movie. The church at large ignored the fact that his movie was almost devoid of truth and that he was morally haphazard to say the least. The hip pastors who couldn't wait to plaster their cars with his "Kony 2012" stickers were rocking on their heels when that youtube video surfaced of him cursing like Linda Blair in The Exorcist and waving his winky at people, stark naked on a San Diego street. (The again it might have been the Mayor) You don't hear his name mentioned much these days.
But what a lovely ride he had! People were retweeting his every word. They liked his Facebook page, they shared his video. He was a darling. Pastors especially got on board. Because pastors -particularly those from affluent mega-congregations- love to get behind causes with national or international media attention. Because retweeting a guy with a million followers increases the chance that YOUR Tweets will get noticed too. They also love getting behind big causes on foreign soil because they are glamorous and they make it seem like we're following the Great Commission. I mean hey...we're helping this guy go after Joe Kony...that implies that we've sown all the seeds and reaped all the souls here in our neighborhood that can be reaped. We're so busy being about our Father's business that we have to go to some hell-hole of a third world country to find a wannabe despot.
Suddenly Mr. Christian movie guy is buck naked and waving his man-gear at passers by and dropping
F bombs like a Hip Hop star. Of course nobody steps up and says "Hey we backed the wrong horse with this guy" Heck no. They just don't say anything. Ignore it and it will go away.
Better still to find another Flock star to get behind. The current flavors of the month all wear beards.
The darlings of the Christian world right now are the Robertsons. Now...let me make this clear: I LOVE these guys. I think they are the real deal. I think they are who they are on camera and off. I think their faith is grounded and they don't need the money so the show doesn't make them, they make the show.
My issue is how many preachers and church leaders have attached themselves to these guys as if they all just materialized from the desert one day wearing camel skins. Pastors practically shut down Twitters servers to retweet anything these guys say. They drop five-figures to have them come and speak at their churches.
All well and good...but these same preachers wouldn't give a long-time church member 2 minutes behind their beloved pulpit. God forbid...they might say something wrong! They might even say they aren't happy or their life isn't perfect. It's funny...I see pastors Retweeting famous people like the Robertsons, or other preachers with book deals or big churches (pastors of big churches ALWAYS get retweeted because hey...they obviously have more important things to say than grunts like us) But they never EVER quote some average shmuck who sits in their congregation dutifully each Sunday, drops his 10% in the plate, and does anything he can to help out. Those people have nothing to say apparently.
The formula is that if you are rich, famous, on TV or Radio, have won (or at least been nominated for) a Grammy or a Dove you are automatically more wise, more spiritually deep, and far more worthy of quoting and tweeting than some unknown pew dweller.
Phil Robertson is a wonderful man. His faith is honest and genuine. His salvation story is beautiful. But why do pastors fight over themselves to get him or one of his kids to come and speak? What does he have to say that someone in that congregation couldn't say? It's simple...Phil is famous. And for all the talk of pastors wanting to "make Jesus famous" the reality is they want to make THEMSELVES famous and then from their lofty perch of Christian fame they can proclaim the Gospel and make Jesus famous too. It's why they make stars out of questionable people like the Joe Kony guy. It's why they literally refuse to let some other church be the first ones to have a Robertson come and speak. It's why a heretical foul-mouthed slob like Mark Driscoll has a following amongst other pastors that rivals the Beatles in their heyday.
Of course, it never hurts that all these people are wildly successful. You think you'd ever see a pastor inviting some poor, middle class guy who can barely make ends meet to come and speak? Of course not. Because the prosperity gospel has many faces. Not all of them are the TBN brand. Not all preachers of the prosperity gospel will directly say that "God blesses his personal favorites more than He does others" but they imply it.
They imply it by only having the wealthy-blessed speak. Only the wealthy-blessed get positions in the church or personal face time with the pastor, or asked to teach a class or stand up and say something in the service. Only the rich and beautiful (and therefore favored of God) get quoted and tweeted and held up as wise.
The rest of us miserable failures are unworthy of any such recognition and aren't wise enough to have anything of value to say. If we were...we'd be rich and beautiful too.
The truth is that there are people in the pews with more money-smarts and more common sense than the wealthy ever know. Plus these people are kind and Christlike. Yet they'll go through life anonymous because they aren't rich and famous and therefore they have no value. We do it to athletes. We do it to politicians. We do it to former rock stars or actors who have not a shred of spiritual depth yet. Their conversion is merely days old and we've already shoved a microphone in their face and followed them on Facebook. It's the pastors who lead the way. Because it's really cool when we can point them out in the crowd or name-drop them in our Twitter feed.
Sometimes I ask myself why I even want to be a part of this anymore. Not the Faith part...I'll never abandon that. But the whole community I find myself surrounded by. I don't want this. I want what I saw modeled for years in Lynchburg Va. Dr. Falwell -though not perfect by any means- was a guy who could be surrounded by stars and powerbrokers and yet gravitate towards the average man. Doc never saw a dirty face he didn't love. He never met a nobody. Everybody mattered to him...mattered deeply. The broken and the unknown were every bit as welcome in his presence as the Presidents and leaders he regularly conversed with. Maybe more. Just like Jesus. Jesus waited while the rich powerful Nicodemus sneaked to see Him under cover of darkness. But He went looking for the outcast woman at the well. The rich young ruler left in despair because Jesus said he needed to be willing to sell everything he had in order to follow Him. Yet He pointed out a widow dropping her last pathetic coin into the offering and made her a part of Scripture forever.
Jesus certainly wasn't against rich folks or wealth. He was against that stuff being elevated out of proper perspective. He was very much for humility.
It's a fine line. Power brings the incredible opportunity to be corrupted. We can believe our own hype and read our own press clippings. I imagine it's easy to look out into the congregation one is preaching to and -seeing thousands of faces looking back- begin to believe it's me they are coming to see. I figured out the formula. I have the plan. From there it's a short step to thinking that I belong in certain company and that others have nothing to add to my incredible, infallible wisdom.
Then it becomes a cabal. I find myself only associating with other pastors / authors / singers who have had the same success as I have. Because everyone else will surely be asking for my help. All these little gruntlings who have big dreams but who obviously were not as blessed (and therefore favored) by God as me will ask me to help them make their dreams come true. I can't be having that.
So the famous preacher does what hurts the most. It's not telling the lesser-light to their face "Hey I'm not going to help you...not ever" It's not even showing false kindness and the always-unfulfilled promise to "get together and talk about your vision." No...if you want to crush a dreamer you just ignore him. You deny her access. You refuse to make your face shine on them. You simply act as if they aren't there and eventually...they won't be. Then you can tell everyone how they didn't have what it takes to make it through the "desert of God's testing" and how you "knew all along they'd be quitters."
They carried a heart full of wisdom and insight and gifts that God intended to be stirred up. Now they are defeated and broken all over again.
I don't care what God has been doing in your life...you ain't no Willie Robertson, kid!
*One last time so none of you attack me. I LOVE the Robertson's and their show. You could replace any number of Christian "stars" with them in this story. They are simply the most timely