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The Celebrity Lie

WE LIVE IN A CELEBRITY CULTURE. (I know this is true because Oprah Winfrey says so.) We elevate some people to a celebrity status, which means, of course that we lower our esteem for all others. For example, we pay celebrities millions to sell products. (If Kim Kardashian is wearing that brand of lipstick it must be good, right?) No company would pay a dime to have any of you do the same. A celebrity is given trust and admiration whether it is deserved or not. Non-celebrity opinions hardly matter. A striking example of this was when a government in a southern US state, wanting to pass a contentious farming bill, asked Jane Fonda to be their spokesperson. Was this because of her experience or education in agriculture? No, it was because she was a celebrity and had played the role of a farmer’s wife in a movie.

Celebrities stay celebrities, in part, because their admirers don’t really get to know them. Their flaws remain distant and their attributes are air-brushed. (Never meet your heroes, they say, because you’ll be disappointed.) In a celebrity culture we expect leaders to be above the norm, even heroic. We also don’t expect much from the hoi polloi (the common people). This becomes a problem in a church that has absorbed that culture. We believe that almost everything good will come to a church if the leaders are the heroes we expect them to be. And so we set ourselves up for disappointment because in a church family our leaders will become known -- warts and all, nothing air-brushed. We also downplay the biblical idea that the church is a body and that every member must do his or her part, in unity, for the body to do well. We don’t really think that we, the commoners, make a difference. Attenders become passive recipients of the benefits heroic leaders provide. If the leaders disappoint we look for other heroes, never thinking it is partly up to us to make a church great.

Our loss is terrible at many levels. We don’t believe that God will speak into our lives through the hoi polloi but since God has determined to do just that we miss hearing his voice. We also place too much expectation on paid leaders. Perhaps this is why senior pastors feel the need to move every five years. After five years they can no longer hide their “warts and all”. The air-brushing has faded. The next church, however, will receive them as the heroes they are hoping for and that veneer can last another five years. The celebrity lie is that there are people who are not only gifted (we can appreciate that) but that there are people who are above mortal limitations, meaning we can place our hopes in them. Who needs to feel obligated to participate, who needs to pray, if we are led by a celebrity? The truth is that we are all the hoi polloi and must place our hope in God who uses devoted, common, people.

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