Thursday, June 23, 2011

Christian Celebrity. . . Good? Bad? Both?

Just got an email asking me to write a short piece on the pros and cons of Christian Celebrity. Yep, we're a celebrity-obsessed culture and that celebrity-obsession is certainly a big part of life in the church culture. We've got our big-time Christian celebrities. We've got our local celebrities who pastor churches. And we've got a growing number of people marketing and "branding" themselves as they jockey to build a following.

The editor wants me to write on the pros and the cons. I sat down this morning and started to jot out a list. Very quickly, the page filled up. . . and everything on the page was a con. I can't think of one pro. Am I missing something? Has my cynicism blinded me to anything redeemable related to Christian celebrity?

So. . . I need some help. Some input. Some insight. Maybe even some correction. Weigh in. . .


Mark Matlock said...

I've done alot of reading on celebrity from a socio-anthropological point of view. Celebrity is less about the individual and more about the culture who creates/supports them.

Even in our present reality of people shaping/making their celebrity, it's telling of the culture more than those leveraging for the position.

It's not a pro/con format that will offer insight in my opinion, we need a cultural exegesis of celebrity in Christian culture. What does Christian celebrity say about us?

I think there is also some confusion about what makes a celebrity, and being well known/respected for wisdom, content and putting faith in practice. I think how we define "celebrity" is just as important as understanding the dynamic.

Without the other insight... Pro and Cons are useless in my opinion.

Amy Starr said...

One positive is that a Christian celebrity brings some publicity to Christianity, and any issues that are in the media. Most of the time the publicity ends up being negative, but I am usually glad to see it being discussed in the mainstream media. The coverage generates local discussions, which can end up being helpful and even glorifying to God! Hope this helps!

Walt Mueller said...

Thanks Mark! First thing. . . I'm just impressed that a celebrity like you is reading my blog! Your following me just might fuel my drive for celebrity, giving me more credibility! Ha! Seriously, good points and something I totally agree with. I've been working to unpack this thing culturally for a long time and the deeper you go with it, the more complex it becomes. Think about how it has fueled the marketing of the church, the way we do worship, the way we spend so much time on forms, mediums, and even wondering if our shirt is properly untucked! I think we need to be thinking about this more and more. As for the task at hand. . . I've got an assignment and 300 words! Pray for me. And, I hope all is well out in YS Land! Looking forward to seeing you and being seen with you this fall. (Sorry. . . couldn't resist).

Jonathan Sigmon said...

I agree with your overall struggle with seeing any value in "Christian Celebrity". At the same time, it will *always* exist, so this is definitely a worthwhile conversation. I usually think of Christian celebrities as those who tend to lead large, megachurches, or those who are very successful authors, and the people every Christian leadership conference is vying for.

So in the "con" column, I could go on and on, but as per the "pros" - I think one is that often times some of the clearest/thought-provoking/church influencing teachers can be heard by a broad range of people. The pro would be that some of our greatest voices in Christianity are being heard by thousands and thousands of people because they have a huge platform. If you live in the middle of nowhere, you still have access to teachings from clear teachers across the theological spectrum.

Now, I also understand that there are still about 100 negatives, but would be the *one* pro I could think of...

Mark Matlock said...

When you post an image of Osteen, that evokes one definition of celebrity.

But what about Billy Graham, Chris Tomlin, TobyMac, Bono, Jim Elliott, or Rick Warren, Louie Giglio, Amy Grant? Celebrities? How is each different and similar?

Dr. Drew Pinsky has probably had more access to celebrities over the years and is a credible practioner. He's been doing narcissism studies on his guests for decades and has some interesting findings, if you haven't been following his insights.

I've been close to the Christian celebrity thing for two decades now, I've seen people go from unknown to well known. I don't think most are narcissistic but it's amazing how popularity, wanted or not, impacts a person. Maybe someday I'll write a book about what I've seen. I do know this, staying in the Word, truly participating in a local church community, and accessibility to people are similarities I've witnessed in those whom I've admired in their longevity of service in the kingdom.

We had one young pastor come with an entourage, make up kit, demanding a private room who I'll never invite back, and then Tony Campolo, an icon, seventyish years old, who shows up by himself and stats and visits with everyone until he graciously had to leave. There's a diff in being well known and respected for your life and message.

YS was recently evaluated as "acquiring talent" and being about youth ministry celebrities. What? If seeking to serve the church by seeking the most helpful content provider/practitioners identified by youth ministers is celebrityism... Then maybe we are guilty?

I would say the vast majority of people YS works with despite their human frailty are humble people who love serving the church. Not always true, but the others don't last long in our world.

CJ said...

A number of years ago I started referring to all of the speakers and "celebrities" at Christian conferences and events (and for a short time this included myself) as MCCs- "Minor Christian Celebrities." The emphasis was on "minor." There is nothing wrong with receiving recognition for the gifts God has given you and the way that you use them. There is, however, something wrong with seeing yourself as "above" others who share in God's work. It is also helpful to remember that these "celebs" are for the most part unknowns outside of our small little circle. Don't know if that helps you, Walt- but I feel better! :)

Michael DiMarco said...

Blame Mark for me joining the conversation.

You say you can't find any pros for your list. Here a some for the celebrity.

1. You get to sit in the front row of every conference you attend/speak at.
2. Book deals.
3. You get asked to sit in a gilded gold chair on TBN.

Here are some for the fan:

1. You don't have to read God's word as much as listen to a podcast.
2. Without celebrities, who would autograph your bible?
3. Provides new initials for your WWJD bracelet.

Hope that helps.

Rob said...

Fun question. I like the picture you chose too. It begs alot of questions. I think you should call the article: "i'm too sexy for my church".

Phil said...

well I have a theory not sure how it will stand up. but I believe people are in a disconnect most of the time with God so they look for a Celeb. like a Moses to help them reconnect. So I believe the pro would be that as long as the celeb is not counted as perfect or "god" and they will fail the people in mis representing God after all Moses did at the rock. but he still lead his people to God amidst his failing. phil rhoda

Jon Price said...

Mark 7:36 And Jesus charged them to tell no one. But the more he charged them, the more zealously they proclaimed it.

I agree with Mark to a certain extent. Our culture does have to make someone a celebrity. But, there are many Christian "celebrities" who promote this status, or just go with the flow. It seems that Jesus saw "celebrity" as bad, but didn't call down curses on those who proclaimed the grace, teaching, and healing that they had received. The crowds grew because they proclaimed what they had experienced, and more and more people were able to here the good news of the Kingdom of God!

Christians, those who are "celebrities" or not, continually need to see ourselves through the lens, but by the grace of God am I. Whatever we have (including celebrity status), is only by the grace of God. We are redeemed sinners through the work of Christ. When we begin to believe that what we have or experience is because of who we are, instead of who Christ is, we forget the gospel. So, while celebrity brings great temptation, it can also be used bring words of life and bring attention to issues in our world that the people of God need to address with Kingdom values.

Two weeks ago we had a Christian "celebrity" join us for worship. No one recognized this person, including me (I eventually figured it out). They weren't put off by the fact no one knew who they were, they were humble and gracious. I was able to witness firsthand how this should work. I am thankful for Christian "celebrities" like that!

Josh Robertson said...

One of the advantages of the Christian celebrity phenomenon is that when used properly (Biblically) it has the potential to reach out and impact way more people for the Gospel of Jesus Christ, than a person who is not well known. I think of Rick Warren having the opportunity to interview McCain and Obama as an example. Celebrity gives people a voice that if used correctly, for the glory of God and not for the glory of self, has the potential to reach large numbers of people simply because of their "celebrity" status. As believers we need to be praying for our brothers and sisters in Christ who have been given a wide reaching audience, that they will use it for the glory of God and the salvation of others!

Shoobacca said...

For clarification, are we talking about people or groups of people who are considered "Christian celebrities" because they have achieved notoriety and/or success in their chosen field of endeavor within mainstream culture and also let it be known they profess faith in Jesus (such as Tony Dungy, Sarah Palin, John Grisham, Kings of Leon, Patricia Heaton, etc.) or are we talking about people who are considered "Christian celebrities" because they have achieved notoriety and/or success within the evangelical Christian subculture yet are relatively unknown in mainstream culture (such as Andy Stanley, The Newsboys, Frank Peretti, Tim Hawkins, etc.)?

Anonymous said...

Power corrupts. I think if a "Christian celebrity" can stay grounded, humble and willing to "get dirty" for the Gospel, they'll be closer to the aim of it.

For my part, I accept responsibility, but I avoid power. I accept praise to God for what I am gifted to do, but I avoid praise that is directed at me. I have little respect for those who exalt themselves; and great respect for those who only hope to decrease, that Christ might increase.

I try to avoid becoming obsessed with any person - I have friends who truly idolize Rob Bell - um, isn't that idolatry? It really is because of the overt adoration of such Christians that we have celebrities. I imagine that for some in the spotlight, celebrity-ism is an easy trap to fall into.