Christian Celebrity Culture – Episode #31

The recent conversion of hip-hop artist Kanye West to Christianity has not been without controversey. Everyone is talking about Kayne West and his recent Christian album “Jesus Is King.” Kanye West has been one of the largest pop-culture icons of the past few decades. And now there are a lot of eyes on him as he becomes a Christian celebrity and musician.

I believe as Christians we are too easily excited about celebrities. Whether it be celebrities who become Christians, or Christians who become celebrities. I believe such excitement is merely a manifestation of our craving for recognition and power.  For without these celebrities we feel we have nothing to mark our presence with in this world. We need larger than life type figures, because Jesus just seems too small.

And it doesn’t matter who we are talking about, whether it be Tim Tebow, Kanye West, or Billy Graham. We like collecting celebrities in our Christian camps. They not only serve as trophies, but as the spoils of war that legitimizes our causes. There is nothing that makes us feel better about ourselves than the ability to associate ourselves with someone that is famous.

The Celebrity Platform

For with fame comes an instant platform, and with a platform you are given power, and with power you obtain a sense of legitimacy and authority. People will listen to you just because you are famous. You instantly become relevant. 

Yet the relevancy of celebrities is in fact cheap. Most of us will never see these people in person, let alone actually meet them. Yet, we will invite them into our lives and allow who we are  as a person to be shaped by them.

In saying this I think of famous preachers specifically. Whether it be famous TV preachers, authors, pastors of big churches, or some minister on Twitter. 

My Experience With Christian Celebrity: Steven Furtick

For a couple years I went to Elevation Church here in Charlotte. I went to the main campus where Steven Furtick preached almost every week at our multi site campus. Yet in spite of going there for almost 3 years, I never once met the guy I called my pastor. And neither had most the other folks in our church.

Yet, here I sat week after week listening to him preach. But then a funny thing happened. The news exposed that Steven Furtick had just built a million dollar mansion on the outskirts of town. And suddenly people were asking where Steven Furtick got all the money from to do such a thing, and exactly how much he was making.  

We all knew of course. But not really, because such information wasn’t really public. But at the end of the day, it didn’t matter. All that mattered for most people was that they had a celebrity type figure in Steven Furtick pastoring our church. For many, all his mansion did was reinforce his celebrity status. And since he was a celebrity preacher that hung out with other celebrity preachers like TD Jakes and Joel Osteen, why should we question anything further? After all, his celebrity qualified him, and legitimized him living however he wants. Clearly his celebrity status made him special and deserving of an opulent lifestyle, and fleecing the church. And anyone who questioned this was attacked without mercy.

Countering Celebrity Culture 

I think such is unfortunate that we come under the sway of celebrities. Especially when God has placed in many of our lives wonderful people that we could learn a lot from. People who are hidden and small and don’t seem like much. But they walk with God in their daily lives, and can serve as living examples for us to truly emulate. Such people have true authority, and it’s to such people we need to let them speak into our lives.

They are fathers of faith, they are men who have truly lived walking in the footsteps of Jesus. They are people we can literally touch and fellowship with, and they are individuals who can pour themselves into our lives, love on us, and can sacrifice on our behalf.

Most of Christian celebrity culture doesn’t even begin to offer us such a thing. Instead we are presented with images.

And that’s not to say every famous Christian is some sort of fake, or is dangerous to expose ourselves to their ministries if they have one. 

But we should be careful of allowing ourselves to be so easily impressed by such individuals, or allowing them to have much influence in our lives. Jesus said we would know others and what they are made of by the fruit they produce in their lives.

Unfortunately for those we never see and hear from unless they are on a platform, we have no idea what they are really like in real life.we only see what they let us see. And many are not being all that transparent.

Curing Ourselves Of Being “Fan Boys”

Of course, there is a certain irony in me saying all this as a podcaster and blogger. Right now I’m a small deal with a pretty small following online. Maybe one day I’ll be famous. But honestly, I hope not. My heart is really focused on the local church. I help mentor some young men in my church highs school youth ministry, and I’m involved in a small group of other folks in their 30’s.  

Doing this podcast is a supplemental thing that I ultimately hope benefits real people I actually know in real life.  And if I can form some sense of a relationship online with folks who enjoy interacting with me and  like the perspective I have to offer, then that’s cool too. Since starting this podcast I’ve made some friends with folks all over the country, and some even as far away as Canada.

But with that said, you should exercise caution when listening to me, or anyone else for that matter.  Even if I’m a nobody, I still could be something of a celebrity in your life. And for all you know, I could be a complete fraud. I could live in a way that completely repulses you, and you would never know it. So, listen to me and what I have to say with a good pinch of salt. And whatever you do, even if you really like me and what I have to say, never “fall in love” with me, or anyone else you don’t really know.

Don’t ever become a “fan boy” of someone.

That is, someone that’s a die hard for someone else, and defends them no matter what. Question your celebrity heroes. Give people the benefit of the doubt, and treat them in a a Christian manner, but don’t check your mind at the door. If someone says or does something stupid, be willing to acknowledge it, or even call them out for it.

I did this with Steven Furtick. But be careful when you do this. There are a lot of people deeply invested in their Christian celebrities. Questioning such figures is the equivalent of kicking a hornets nest. Do it and I promise ya gonna get stung, and get stung badly. 

Years ago when I called out Steven Furtick for his sins, a lot of people I personally knew chewed me up and spat me out in order to defend the indefensible behavior of a man they didn’t even know, but had only seen on TV. Never mind they personally knew me and the type of life I’ve lived.

But, I touched their favorite “anointed one,” and that was all that mattered to them, because being in love with a celebrity they had never met was more important than a person they had actually eaten a meal with. For the celebrity validated them in a larger than life sorta way, a way that I could not.

Conclusion 

Celebrity Christianity has existed since the book of Acts. And it’s probably going to always exist.

For a long time there has always been a crowd that says “I am of Paul, Silas, Barnabas, Cephas,” and others. We need to break ourselves of this. While we should appreciate those who have something significant to say, or accomplish something significant for Jesus, we should keep our esteem of such individuals in check. Instead of looking towards people we never meet, we should look to Jesus and those who we personally know that have been walking with Him for a long time.

The apostle Paul appealed to the churches he ministered to, reminding them that he served them as a father, and that with tears he ministered to them. He said of himself that he longed for his church with the affections of Christ.

Let’s seek such men out to speak into our lives. Let’s become such men ourselves. And let us all remain small and hidden, and not seek out those with large platforms or try to make such platforms for ourselves. Instead, let’s pour ourselves into those we can sit across a table from and share a common meal together.

And let us pray for Kanye West, that he would have a Barnabas type figure who can come along him like Barnabas did Saul of Tarsus, who can show him the ropes of the faith, and lead him into a quiet place where he can minister powerfully for Jesus.

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