In recent years, as the cultural status of so called “Christian Institutions” have begun to wane, Christianity has been relegated to the status of subculture. This has led to a series of fascinating, or disturbing developments.
Clever entrepreneur’s created Christian knock offs of everything from pop music to breath mints. Then there came the rise of celebrity writers, preachers and (numerically successful) church planters. Within that developed the multi-site model, where camera friendly preachers led revivals on TV screens across cities and often states.
It’s easy to criticize celebrity Christians. All it takes is a cursory reading of say, the Beatitudes, to realize that Jesus followers shouldn’t aim for fame. Moreover, as any former child star will tell you, celebrity opens you up to some confusing and dangerous opportunities.
But I try not to criticize celebrity Christians. Because I used to work with one.
This guy knew his Bible and loved Jesus. I could see that he modeled his public persona on Paul’s description of that Christ took “the very nature of a servant… [and] humbled himself.”
While I definitely have my misgivings with the “industry” that this person participates in, but I still hope that I can be like him. While I have no grand notions of achieving his level of fame, I hope to handle any success with as much humility and class as he does. I watched him well and learned the following eight lessons.
1. Start With Prayer.
Every time I interacted with this man publicly or heard him speak, he began with prayer. This was often a short, unpretentious, memorized verse or two from scripture. It became clear with time that this was how he approached life, asking God to shine through despite whatever status he held in the eyes of others.
2. Focus on Grace.
The reason this man became famous was by talking about grace. In fact, he seemed a bit obsessed with it. Not in a Martin Luther had OCD kind of way, but as a true “product evangelist”, who believes that one thing he has to offer can really make others lives better. Grace, by its nature, is undeserved. It comes from God, but in some strange way it is mitigated by men. He seemed determined to make sure that since people wanted to listen to him, they would know that God loves them and forgives them.
3. Be Available.
Despite this man’s celebrity, he stood in the foyer and shook hands for hours every Sunday. He could have been whisked away by Secret Service agents, but chose to look people in the eye, not just from the stage.
To this day, I have yet to meet another person who listens as well as this man. Again and again, I would see him, at meetings and dinner parties, put others at ease by asking questions. It was not surprising to see them gush out their life story. He seldom would say much, only ask questions. It was normal to see them leave feeling cared for and heard.
5. Think before you speak.
Nothing this man said from the stage was spontaneous. Every week, many staff members received a full transcript of the upcoming sermon. He wasn’t just prepared–he was also open to feedback. In an age where celebrity preachers seem to think there role is to make off the cuff remarks that range between embarrassing and heresy, this was humble and classy.
6. Admit your flaws.
I once heard this man give an entire sermon about the times he had tried to preach like or run ministries like other well-known individuals. Every time it was unnatural, felt disingenuous and eventually failed. He admitted these attempts hadn’t worked, which isn’t something famous people necessarily have to do.
7. Be yourself.
If you met this person on the street and didn’t know he was a subculture celeb, you’d probably think he was just a normal middle-aged baby boomer with a tendency to make cheesy “dad jokes.” Although he had big responsibilities, he never seemed to forget who he was.
8. Ask for help.
Eventually, he shifted his role at our church. This allowed other people to do things they were good at, and gave him the opportunity to focus on what he is good at. At first it was rocky, but the Church ended up better than ever. He could have listened to the crowds that told him how awesome he was, but chose to be honest and ask for help.
It’s easy to read scripture and wonder if a person can be both a celebrity and a follower of Jesus. Nothing in Jesus teachings suggests that his followers should seek fame or success. But if you do something well, it might just happen.
Jesus knew about celebrity, because he became pretty big himself (although it got him killed…) His life is a model of how to live famously. He took “the very nature of a servant…and humbled himself.” Which is really what we’re all called to do. Famous or not.