I was recently recommended the book Celebrities for Jesus: How Personas, Platforms, and Profits are Hurting The Church by Katelyn Beaty from a friend who was listening to my concerns with something I’ve seen recently where Orthodox leaders are being treated like celebrities. This timely book is not only relevant to the Evangelical community, but also to Christians at large, and its leadership systems.
The Business of God
In Beaty’s book, she outlines the dangers of unchecked power amongst ministry leaders and the guise of reaching more potential followers (aka celebrity status) that have contributed to the fall of many high profile evangelical ministers.
Beaty doesn’t only place blame on the leaders themselves, but also on the following things:
- Rise of celebrity veneration
- Social Media
- Secular influences on growth
Running churches like corporate businesses where consumers and their pocketbooks are the main goal, increasing attendance alongside greater access to leadership privileges, loom large over the real purpose of seeing all as icons of Christ.
Seeing Oneself Through a Glass Darkly
One of my favorite Orthodox books on what I think is the answer to this issue in ministry leadership is Dr Abert Rossi’s book Becoming a Healing Presence.
If we can work towards seeing others as Christ, removing the veil of our own sins and pride, then the likelihood we will help to heal others is obviously much greater.
- All as icons of Christ
I am grateful for our parish priest, his wife, and their compassionate care for our community. I am not speaking of first hand experiences in relation to Beaty’s book.
However, I have seen an alarming trend happening on social media where priests, authors, and other prominent Orthodox figures are treated with the same celebrity attachment that Beaty describes in her book. Of course we have spiritual leaders who we listen to (as humble servants) and who we consider especially gifted in the preaching of the gospel. I hope we may recognize the patterns society has presented us within social media and of celebrity veneration, so we can avoid contributing to this unhealthy spiritual environment.
Where Does Fame Fit into the Faith?
St Irenaeus of Lyons wrote to his spiritual child about the authority of the Apostolic teachings. What is interesting in this work is that he doesn’t overtly praise or uplift the Apostles. Instead, he preaches the Gospel of Christ as laid out in the Old Testament. Preaching what I am sure was what St Philip spoke about the faith to the Ethiopian Eunuch through the Holy Spirit.
- Love God
- Love your neighbor
- Do what is good
- Form a community, support each other
So many saints have given us examples of humility and strength. Fools for Christ and saints who hid their identity or fled into the wilderness come to mind. I can’t help but think of St Xenia of St Petersburg and St Nicholas of Myra. Let us go to them for how to live humbly and avoid the distraction of fame, especially amongst our leaders, even when we think it may give our faith more attention.