Everybody I know has a book deal. In fact, when I meet someone who doesn’t have a book deal I now find them quirky and intriguing. That’s how pervasive the fame-grab has become.
I had that thought this morning as I was doing some obligatory research into the Emergent Church (rest its soul) because I stupidly agreed to do a radio interview about it, even though I haven’t really thought about it since I co-authored a book about it several years ago.
While doing my half-hearted research, I stumbled upon this week’s Online Argument of the Year, which was about the fact that superstar pastor Mark Driscoll apparently bought his way onto the New York Times bestseller list. Most bothersome (to me) was the fact that I was neither surprised nor especially bothered by it.
One of my buddies said, “I’m not defending Driscy, because he needs to try to spend at least 5-10 minutes per day NOT branding himself.” I laughed. He continued, saying, “I know there are certain things you do in the industry to get where you need to go. Most people don’t realize that all radio time for pop stars is purchased. That’s just the reality, so I don’t care. But the emphasis of a pastor may need to be a little more tempered. More guarded.”
I agree, primarily because the Bible is mum on the conduct of pop stars, but has a lot to say about pastors/teachers of the Word.
A little more halfhearted research revealed that the post-Emergent-social-media-sphere (which consists of Rachel Held-Evans and like three other guys) was predictably cranked up and indignant about Driscy.
When you’re Rachel Held-Evans, being cranked up about something and then Tweeting about it is a large part of what you do. It’s yielded her a certain low-level Christian fame. To be fair, being cranked up about the Emergent Church and writing about it yielded me a low-level Christian fame that I sometimes regret and have probably squandered.
“I’ve never heard of Rachel Held-Evans,” said another pastor friend, Cory Hartman. “It feels good to be somewhat out of touch.” To which I replied, “I would recommend staying out of touch. You’re not missing anything.”
Finally, somebody on Gospel Coalition wrote a post about 5 or 6 reasons why it was wrong to do what Driscy did. It was a great article in nearly every way, full of spot-on insights into our industry, but its subtext might have been, “By all means get famous, just make sure you’re doing it with integrity.”
What nobody is saying is this: Consider not getting famous at all.
Don’t get famous, because it will assault your character and dirty your motives in ways you can’t imagine. Ways that go beyond just being smug and self-satisfied and annoying on Twitter. Your friends won’t tell you how smug and annoying you’re being because they might be using you to get their own thing going. Such is the nature of fame.
Also, consider not getting famous because Jesus actually said a lot about this.
I recently submitted the following for (ironically) a book I’m doing:
We see this tension between worldly ambition and godly ambition in our publishing pursuits, but we also see it in Matthew 20 where there is some pretty serious family-related fame-maneuvering taking place. In verse 21, the mother of James and John approaches Jesus and asks, “Grant that one of these two sons of mine may sit at your right and the other at your left in your kingdom.” Her sons, no doubt, implored her to make this request, which was aimed at elevating their fame above that of the other ten. As parents we can relate to this all too well—a desire for our own fame, and a desire to be known through the achievements of our children. On one hand (positive), they had a rock-solid belief that Jesus would be ushering in the kingdom. They had no doubt on that point. On the other hand (negative), they wanted to be co-Vice Presidents in the new venture.
Jesus puts her request into context, saying, “You don’t know what you are asking. Can you drink the cup I am going to drink?” They replied in the affirmative, and they would both, indeed, suffer in their own lives, as James was the first of the twelve to die for his Lord, beheaded by Herod Agrippa I, and John was the last . . . suffering exile to the Island of Patmos. Their stories suggest that suffering and true identification with Jesus are inextricably linked. It may be impossible to have one without the other.I also wrote this: “Publishing has been a great blessing to me . . . and also something of a curse at times. It’s launched some friendships and wrecked others. Go into it with your eyes open and your heart guarded. It probably won’t be what you want it to be, and if it is, that might actually be worse.”
Jesus then explains that the privilege of sitting at his right and left “is not for me to grant.” And not surprisingly, when the other ten heard of this request, the text says that “they were indignant with the two brothers.” When fame is reached for—and even at some level attained—jealousy and strife often follows. I’ve seen this in my own life and career.
Interestingly, Jesus doesn’t say that we shouldn’t be great. He doesn’t implore James and John to just shoot for mediocrity. Rather, Jesus closes the issue with a meditation on the true nature of greatness in verses 25-28, saying, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be the first must be your slave—just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”