“Heroes must see to their own fame. No one else will.” ~ Gore Vidal
It’s strange being a Christian leader in today’s rock star culture. It’s hard to know what to say about yourself, or whether to speak about yourself at all.
The Christian church, particularly in the West, is enamored with fame, and many of its leaders have mistaken being well-known for being Divinely-anointed, and personal charisma for the presence of God on their lives. Particularly in the Protestant stream of the Church, we have stumbled into a celebrity culture in Christian leadership, but with little or no clear criteria for what qualifies one to join the ranks of the elite, other than the capacity to grab the public eye.
For many faith leaders (including most of my coaching clients) this current love affair with fame in the Church has created a challenging conundrum around the quagmire of self-promotion. As Christ followers, we are called to avoid any self-aggrandizement, to let “another praise you, and not your own mouth” (Proverbs 27:2). We are taught the Way to Life is not through glorifying self but through glorifying God. So it’s clear on the one hand as leaders we should not be seduced into self-promotion, no matter how often or strongly the social media experts tell us we must.
There are no loopholes or workarounds for this. Not even the “humble brag.” That’s simply not the game we’ve been called to play.
On the other hand, however, we are called to increase our influence for the sake of God’s greater work in the world. If we are given five talents, we are to invest them until we reap ten. If we have been given any grace from God, we are to plant it out in the world and “produce a harvest of thirty, sixty, or even a hundred times as much as had been planted” (Matthew 13:23).
So how, then, ought a faith leader build his or her influence in the world?
Is it through chumming up to the famous people, and leveraging their name and network to gain access to more people (for God’s greater good)? That’s certainly one way, and it’s really quite enticing. After all, it looks all warm and cozy in that rarefied Christian rock star air.
Or perhaps it’s money, not fame, that Christian leaders ought to pursue. Jesus had some wealthy women on his team, funding his life and work. Perhaps this is what today’s faith leader needs as well. Money can forge a platform from which your good work can become more visible to more people.
And yet, as far as I can tell, Jesus never sought out the wealthy. To the contrary, he sought out the poor, and the common men and women of the day. He didn’t court well-known shepherds and leverage their fame or wealth to his advantage. He sought out the lost sheep directly.
And yet, and yet…part of our job as faith leaders is to work with people of means and influence, so as to leverage their transformation for the transformation of many. It’s the logic of ripple effect. Convince the captain, and the whole ship changes course.
But to target people of influence for my own advancement? That’s the game the world plays. That’s the hustle: Let me use you, and I’ll let you use me.
I know the game works. I know it produces results. But something about it feels foreign, and perhaps even anathema, to the Way of Christ. In the cleanest sense, it amounts to bartering ~ and perhaps there’s nothing wrong with that. But in the murky realm of self-promotion, it feels ego-driven, narcissistic, engaging people as assets to be manipulated or “played” rather than as sacred human souls created in the image of God.
So then, how ought a faith leader go about building influence in the world? Is there even a clean way to do it?
Here is what comes to me, and aligns with the convictions of several faith leaders I have worked with:
Seek To SERVE, rather than to USE;
Seek NOT FAME or MONEY, but the OPPORTUNITY TO LOVE;
Seek NOT INFLUENCE, but LIFE TRANSFORMATION; and
Seek To BE FAMOUS, NOT ON EARTH, BUT IN HEAVEN.
So as faith leaders who desire influence but not for our own sakes, perhaps these are the questions we need to be regularly asking ourselves:
- As I look around at my network & sphere of influence, who can I serve next?
- Where are the best opportunities to love?
- Where (or how) can I create access for God to bring Life Transformation to others?
- What can I do next to become more famous in heaven?