I recently started reading a book where the author claims that part of the call of the Church is to make Jesus famous. This on the heels of a strategic planning session our congregation is going to through in part to fine-tune our mission statement and values. As we looked at mission statement examples from other congregations one of them was: To Make Jesus Famous.
There’s a Facebook page on making Jesus famous. and at least one congregation uses making Jesus famous as their domain name.
Every generation, in seeking to witness to the Gospel of Jesus, looks for language that will connect with that generation. It’s no surprise that a generation raised in a celebrity culture would grab onto making Jesus famous as a way to connect with others in their generation.
But when we choose culturally-familiar words or phrases to communicate the Gospel those words don’t come unencumbered with baggage.
Fame in our current culture is like drinking a liter of Mug Root Beer. It may taste good but it’s all empty calories. It has no redeeming value.
We live in celebrity culture today where people are famous for absolutely nothing or next to nothing.
The Kardashians are famous! But for what?
One of the most famous people on the planet right now is a woman who is famous for putting on a Chewbacca mask and laughing.
Youtube and Facebook are loaded with “15 minutes of fame” people who have no real discernable talent except that they were able to post something that for whatever reason got them noticed. Or, better said, they aren’t famous for their talents or what they bring to the table but for simply being famous.
In our current cultural understanding of fame, to make Jesus famous is to make Jesus empty. Meaningless. A light-weight at best.
Ironically, in his day, Jesus was more infamous than famous. He ate with the wrong kinds of people. He stood up to the establishment powers of the day: the Jewish religious elite and the might of Rome. He said things that constantly offended people (love your enemies; pray for your enemies; bless your enemies, etc.). He accepted and forgave the unlovable and unforgiveable. He died a criminal’s death on a cross. Almost everyone abandoned him at the end. His whole life’s mission was foolishness, according to Paul the Apostle.
I understand the passion of new generations to re-tell the story of Jesus in a world sick of hearing a story of judgment and condemnation coming from many congregations. (Although I would argue that the majority of congregations are gracious and servant-hearted, they simply don’t get the press that our more angry brothers and sisters get!)
But do we really want to make Jesus famous? Empty? Devoid of power? A celebrity on the scale of the Kardashians or Paris Hilton?
Or do we want people to see the infamous Jesus who riles people up with a grace that splashes on to anyone and everyone indiscriminately without care or concern that it might land on the wrong person? (That, in itself, will keep Jesus from being famous!)
Who chose weakness over power, the cross over glory, foolishness over wisdom, to forgive a broken world?
Who seeks out the least and the lost and the rejected and befriends them?
Do we want people to hear stories of the scandalous, upside-down, counter-cultural call Jesus has on all of our lives—to live on the basis of grace, not rules; love, not judgment; forgiveness, not revenge; hope, not despair?
That Jesus has substance. That Jesus is compelling.
We aren’t called to make Jesus famous. We are called to invite anyone and everyone to follow Jesus—the One who turns every life upside down, no restrictions whatsoever. (That, in itself, will keep him from being famous!)