Celebrity Culture

Scott is talking about the celebrity culture in the church on his weblog and he makes a good point, the church is obsessed with celebrities and superstars like the rest of the world. I don’t know if I accept his examples totally but his point is right on.

I have a similar story about being at WillowCreek. I worked at a church that used to purchase 20 tickets or so to the Leadership Summit and fly down most of its staff to hear “leaders” talk about leadership. The second time I was there, Wendy, myself and others were milling about in the lobby and people were literally lined up at the door. When the door to the lobby opened, these people ran into the auditorium so they could get to the front of the building supposedly so they could get close to Bill Hybels. I am assuming they were under the impression if Bill sweat on them or they could smell what kind of deodorant he used, they would be better leaders. It was a little odd to see and not the norm but at the same time I think it is something that permeates church culture.

The church is a lot like NASCAR, it markets and sells those that are successful. The stories of success are what is needed to sell books, book people into conferences, sell DVDs, or have people come to your church. While there is a lot of talk about faith and God’s blessing, there is an entire industry out there that is selling the opposite message, it is about speaking, leadership, vision and they have the tools to help get the church there and I think we have bought into that far more than we will ever admit. To sell those items, they need a face and a story to share and depending of the product, they partner with those that people resonate with, kind of like George Foreman and his grills.

Some people in the church seek out celebrity status while others it just happened to. Those that seek the status will quote whore themselves to irrelevance and keep releasing the same book with a different cover and a couple new stories again and again. Others will be stuck with it because at a certain point they captured the imagination of a people. I don’t blame them and I don’t even blame the industry that produces them. Their bottom line is the bottom line and for decades have been producing all sorts of crap. The people I blame are those of us who are looking for the secrets, the easy way out, the success, the glory, and will pay $295 for a one day seminar with them as they tell us what they wrote in the last three books.

It comes from a lack of leadership, a lack of confidence, a lack of trust, and a lack of faith in our ownselves and instead of admitting it, we go looking for it from someone else. This is a deep structural problem in the church, one that is reinforced by the system rather than challenged which is why I think people are often attracted to movements on the fringe of the church, it’s where they would be if they had the courage to go there. Instead we make those who are there into celebs and try to live through them.

12 thoughts on “Celebrity Culture”

  1. It is hard to take when I see the church being ‘marketed’ like any other product.

    And if I see another one of those photos of a husband and wife pastoral team, standing side by side with the wife’s hand on hubby’s chest as they smile toward the camera, I think I’ll throw up.

  2. I visited Willow Creek once. I had a contract job in Iowa and I had to rent a car for three weeks. So, I flew into Chicago (cheap!) and drove over to Cedar Rapids. I planned my flight to arrive Saturday afternoon, so I could catch Willow’s saturday night service.

    Afterward, I took the tour of the campus, and wound up being on a two-hour tour, which was intended for training new tour-givers. The teacher handled and offered a lot of FAQ’s, and showed some of the dimensions of Willow, that a tour of buildings really didn’t show.

    The two points the teacher tried to emphasize (and these were also Hybels vision) were that Willow is really a church of small groups. 80 percent of the church is in a group. The service, and seeker sensitivity, is designed to get people into groups. (In contrast, Saddleback is only 20 percent groups). Willow takes seeker-sensitive seriously, but they know it isn’t the whole piscture.

    The second point is that Willow knows that it is relevant to only 3 percent of the personality types in the greater Chicago Metro area. And Hybels knows his biggest challenge is to integrate the spouse of one of those 3 percenters. He knows that “opposites attract” and that the spouses are rarely within the demographic of the 3 percent. He doesn’t want Willow to be “my wife’s church”.

  3. I don’t think Bill is the problem, it is those that don’t pay attention to Bill and take it as the all encompassing solution instead of taking any time to understand their local contexts.

    Instead we get a weird cult following of Hybels, McLaren, Warren, Bell which I think comes from a total lack of confidence (which may be justified) in one’s ability to lead themselves or solve solutions themselves.

  4. This needed to be said. Thanks!
    Don’t know you, but i remember back in my first year of college (Horizon) you came and spoke about the emerging church! It was a little over my head back then, but what you said made me for the first time see the shifting of culture and recognize that the church can’t just avoid it anymore!
    I can relate to your point on spending $295 to hear leaders, rehash their own books… It happened to me in Edmonton this past year and i walked away thinking, doesn’t anyone else feel ripped off a little?, or is everyone so ‘star’ struck, that it didn’t even matter what was said?
    Anyways, good post, glad i came across your blog!

  5. I’ve always felt the seeker church was obsessed with leadership, probably because they love hierarchy and getting everyone in their little place to make the big org work. Ra ra etc

    Leadership is the tiresome panacea for all that ails the modern church.

  6. Don’t we have to ask after a certain point – how much leadership conferencing, vision casting, churching, book writing and movement starting, is merely talking to ourselves about ouselves?

  7. My question is, how do you avoid celebrity culture? Jordan, say this book that you and Scott are working on becomes a runaway success. Practically speaking, how would you put a lid on that and clamp down on the machinery and clingers-on that crawl out of the woodwork when the $$ and publicity get big? What would you tell those young leaders out there that would inevitably point the snipe cannons your way and what lengths would you feel you had to go to protect your street cred? Would you refuse the book signings, seminar invites, public speaking engagements, etc?

    Pardon me while I rabbit-trail a bit. I don’t go to church and get as queasy as the next emerge-o-bot at all of these wierd inbred ministry culture things. But it points to the systemic problem that has to be dealt with – just how hard it is to enroll people in the mission of laboring long and faithfully, often against your church’s own members, in order to produce some soul movement to God. Read “Diary Of A Country Priest” if you haven’t already. It’s one of the most true stories I’ve read about ministering — the hard work, the self-doubt, the countless battles with your own parishoners, all for those few moments of transcendent light when God breaks through. It’s no wonder so many pastors glom on to the success stories. It points to a lack of basic training, toughening, realistic expectations being set, about what ministering really is – both in work and reward. Maybe seminary should be more like boot camp than college — more concentration on support structures, hardship techniques, deprivation training, etc.

  8. Paul asked, “Would you refuse the book signings, seminar invites, public speaking engagements, etc?”

    Yeah, I would. I have friends who have and I would as well. I can do that because I have a job that is seperate from what I do here. I don’t need notoriety and much of that stuff takes me away from work and the time I have with the family & those projects that I find most interesting. In the last year I have turned down a half dozen opportunities to speak at conferences for that reason.

    You can reject “church inc.” if you want to.

  9. it’s up to each one of us what our integrity is worth. book tour? speaking engagements? whoring my book at a bunch of emerge conferences? no way.

    and let’s be honest, the chances of success are slim and the price of popularity is far higher than i am prepared to pay.

  10. What to do with the seminars?

    If you live in a high tech area, or just generally follow the tech culture, you invariably wind up going to a number of leadership seminars. What do you do with all this info? First, of all, use the seminar primarily as a motivator, something that gets you off your duff to do something. Second, put on your analytical hat. The information from the seminar needs to be sliced and diced, and arrayed against a matrix of the paradigms that define your specific situation. Each speaker comes from an environment that may be highly applicable to you, or totally irrelevant. Most likely, someplace in between. Third, read the book (or books). The seminar is usually a collection of Powerpoints, but the book, that each speaker has written, has much more supporting information and applications.

    Start with the basics. For each of your team members, learn the “basic six” – you’ll want to know:

    1. Myers-Briggs type

    2. Family constellation

    3. Generational Analysis

    4. Learning style

    5. Dunbar number (how many friends is he capable of?)

    6. General intelligence – this can be IQ, SAT score or some general measure of basic smarts and the ability to handle multiple sources of information.

    Take these six and matrix them against each other. For example, make a chart of MBTI type (16 columns) and Learning style (4 rows). Put each person in the appropriate box, and see how it works.

    Then go on to the individual “classics” – Emotional intelligence, Tipping point, Founders at Work, etc. – all the popular books of the past two decades. See how each book affects each player – you’ll only have a few “hits” – many of these books are so specialized that each one will affect a few people, other books will afffect a few others, etc.

    Then go on to the seminar. Plug in the information at the appropriate points, and see how it influences you. Most likely, there’s only a few places where it works. You might find one speaker is only relevant to ESFJ’s, who are Abstract Randoms, and leading edge Boomers, middle kids from broken homes,…

    Is this quick and easy? Nope – a small company (25 people) will take a month of weekends, plus every lunch and a few evenings, to crank all this. A volunteer outfit – like a small church of 75 – will probably take three months, and that’s if you hustle. Is it worth it? You bet!

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