I have a natural distaste for anything that even remotely smells like celebrity. I've been at conferences where the stage was crowded with people eager to meet the speaker/singer/etc. Generally speaking, I avoid such things like the plague.
Over the last few years, I've seen a good number of articles about Christian celebrity. Authors (who are often Christian “celebrities” themselves) typically take one of two tacts: (1) Christian celebrity is terrible, and we should get over it; (2) Christian celebrity is inevitable, so we should embrace it and leverage it.
While I have no desire to make a judgment about Christian celebrity in general, I recently had two experiences that were instructive. Earlier this month, I “ran into” two brothers (both pastors) in Christ who are–more or less–Christian celebrities. Reflecting on these two (separate) meetings has given me some thoughts on what Christian celebrities are and are not.
After an introduction from a mutual friend, this brother greeted me warmly and acted grateful to meet me (though he didn't know me from Adam and had no reason to). After a brief conversation and an offer to buy me coffee (we were in Starbucks), he moved on. My impression of this brother: he was a kind, godly man who genuinely cares about people. Very positive.
Upon my saying hello, I had the distinct impression that this brother could not wait to be done with his conversation with me. I thanked him for his ministry to me and many other pastors. My impression of this brother: he was dismissive and disinterested. Quite negative.
While acknowledging that the second brother may have been (and probably was) merely having a bad day, I realized that our impression of people is often formed really quickly. I have profited from both of these pastors from a distance and will continue to do so. They are merely humans like the rest of us.
I'm sure that there are people who have met me (a non-celebrity by any measure!) and have thought I was pretty nice. They probably left with a very positive impression. I'm sure others have met me at a time when I was in a hurry or when I was mentally in another world and had a very negative impression. We have opportunities to make first impressions regularly, and we have only one chance to do so. I pray that God gives me the grace and alertness to be where I am, to talk with the person right there in front of me. In a day of increasing digital distraction, I find myself more and more tempted to mentally be somewhere else.
One pastor who impacted my life when I was younger often said the following: “Be where you are.” Great counsel.
In part 2, we'll consider some implications for churches in light of what I learned from these two meetings.