Some of us missional Christians are wary of celebrity.
This is a good, healthy wariness, especially since we live in a celebrity-obsessed culture that is typically mimicked by American Christian culture. We have celebrity pastors, authors, speakers, professors, worship leaders. We have some churches whose entire approach to “being missional” or “culturally relevant” consists in creating the ethos of celebrity, where the leaders live flashy high-profile lives, hobnob with the famous, dress and drive expensively, and put on a fabulous show every Sunday for each of their seven services. We have a gospel packaged in consumeristic slickness.
It’s all very sexy.
At last week’s Misso Alliance Gathering, it was refreshing to be among a group of missionally-minded, radical-middle evangelicals who share this healthy wariness for celebrity and the consumer culture that fosters it. But as the conference wore on, I began to realize something else: notoriety is not the same as celebrity. And notoriety is not bad in itself, even in the church; in fact, it is a necessary part of the kingdom’s expansion and the church’s moving further into God’s mission.
The well-documented diversity of the conference speakers was the first evidence that notoriety without celebrity is possible – and healthy for the church. From John Howard Wesley to Cherith Fee Nordling to Jo Saxton to Deb Hirsch to Amos Yong, we were hearing from the other - the often ignored but desperately needed voices of the non-white/male/middle class. Further, these voices were becoming known and more prominent among all in attendance, just as they are and will be more known and prominent in the culture at large. (I might add that their voices were unbelievably powerful – I was rocked by their presentations.)
Even our white, middle-class guys like Scot McKnight and Dave Fitch – who were perhaps the best known speakers at the event – prove this rule, in my opinion. They have notoriety, but they carry it with tangible humility, resisting the temptation to become celebrities. They help to embody this unsexy kind of missional that demonstrates a way beyond our consumeristic tendencies as a church. Their voices do not draw us inward to create our own ghetto subculture (with our own version of TMZ) but outward into the mission of God all around us. Their anabaptist bent reminds them to critique kind of power that celebrity entails and pursue the counter-cultural call of the cross, even as they help lead the larger church in North America in the same direction. (Bruxy Cavey was another rising voice who communicates this same presence in a powerful way.)
This embodiment of unsexy missional (pardon the metaphor) is a massive encouragement to me.
It’s high time for church leaders in North America to have notoriety for the kingdom’s sake – without pursuing celebrity.
P.S. Dave Fitch must be forgiven for so closely resembling celebrities like Jack Nicholson and Hugo Weaving.