I have recently had a few people tell me, “Pastors keep failing. I think that God is raising up athletes to be his spokesmen to reach this generation.” Then the names of certain prominent Christian athletes are brought up.
Pastors fail all the time.
So do athletes.
The ones we know about are also celebrities.
Christian celebrity is a new phenomenon. It really began with the First Great Awakening. Prior to that most pastors labored locally. Some traveled (the Methodists are the best example) but most settled in for a long faithful pastorate caring for and preaching the gospel to a particular people.
In the last handful of years we have come to see the rise of the Celebrity Clergy taken to a new level (Billy Graham is the prime example). When these pastors began to have moral failures (Bill Graham is thankfully excluded from this!) many Christians have begun to look for new heroes to share the gospel for them.
Thus, the rise of the celebrity Christian athlete. When a professional athlete wins and begins to state his faith in Jesus and praising God many good Christian folk begin to look to that person as one who can be a hero for them, one who can share the gospel for them.
When we begin to look for a celebrity to be a representative for Jesus on our behalf we are missing something.
Where does this come from?
First, many of these folks listen to many pastors. There is nothing inherently wrong with that. However, it creates a competition in their heart over their local pastor. In my tradition becoming a member is like getting married. Vows are made. I think we need to consider the ramifications of searching out other pastors. I think there is something similar to this and men who “check out other women” and how that often leads to an affair. We are better to commit ourselves to a community and not allow our hearts and minds to wander by seeking out famous pastors.
Second, I think this comes from a desire for people who desperately want folks to come to know Jesus. They want this so bad that they are unwittingly giving themselves over to a worldly model of gaining acceptance. What do I mean by this statement? When the world wants to sell something they find a celebrity to embrace the view or product that is being pushed. We do the same thing by turning the keys of the kingdom, as it were, over to the next celebrity Christian. We want to be accepted and think that this acceptance will bring conversion. But we are wrong. This simply sets us up for failure.
Finally, we have lost our sense of mission. We talk a good game but ultimately most of us in the West believe that you have to be a professional to share the gospel. We have forgotten that within each Christ follower is the capacity to launch a movement that will transform the world. Because we have forgotten this we place our hope in the celebrity, whether an athlete or actor, we look outside ourselves for someone to “really” represent Jesus more broadly than we ever could. No, God has not called celebrities to stand in the gap for us. He has and will continue to use the average, everyday Christian to be his witness.
These mindsets, attitudes, and actions are lies. We must call them out as such and move on from them. We must stop placing our hope in the celebrity Christian.
We have come to a time when we must place our hope in the living God. Or even better as Paul and Timothy put it in Colossians 2:6,7:
6 Therefore, as you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in him, 7 rooted and built up in him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving.
Friends, it is time to “walk in him”. Stop looking to celebrities. Look to Christ and walk in him.