There is a song called, Made to Worship, and the lyrics in one portion sum up every ounce of grace that God has poured out on our lives.
All we are and all we have
Is all a gift from God that we receive
Brought to life we open up our eyes
To see the majesty and glory of the King
Isn’t that it right there? Everything we’ve been given is gift. Life itself, a gift. Our talents and abilities are undeserved gifts. Our opportunities are gifts. Our testimonies are gifts. Our influence is a gift. Our impact is a gift. All of these have been given to us for one purpose: that we would lift up our eyes to the heavens and declare, “Worthy are you, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for you created all things, and by your will they existed and were created” (Revelation 4:11).
Think about the scene in heaven right now. Billions of angels in formations of worship, the echoes of “Holy, Holy, Holy!” ring out beyond a thousand generations, the radiant glory of God emanates from His throne like thunder and lightning, and the floor of heaven like a sea of glass vibrates underfoot from the prayers lifted up to the Almighty. Is there any doubt in your mind of who the object of our worship should be? Do any of us for a split second believe that we exist for ourselves or are the center of attention within the church? If we are “it,” we are in some serious trouble right? Well, therein lies the problem. It may seem like we’re supposed to know how to worship and who to worship, but so often we become our own worst enemy and before we know it, we’re clamoring for all the glory we can get our greedy hands on.
We Are Glory Hogs
You can call it the syndrome of “Me Monster,” being a “glory hog,” an “I guy,” or any other phrase that helps to sum it all up. Whatever the terms, the meaning is the same. We are all prone to being a glory hog. Theologically speaking, this can be called pride, or idolatry — and it is sin. Like all sin, pride and idolatry need the velvet hammer of truth and love to be crushed. Because believers are those who love God and love others, we want this sin faced head-on in our churches and leadership. Because believers know that sin wants to snuff out our ability to bring God glory, we want this sin faced head-on in our churches and leadership. No amount of money, influence, affluence, or self-satisfaction should ever be allowed to curb our desire to crush the price and idolatry that enables us to catch the wave of Christian celebrity and self-importance inside and outside the local church. We are not the ones who deserve the glory!
The great British preacher Charles Spurgeon was no stranger to massive crowds and global attention from the epicenter of his local church. Yet he was also no stranger to the dangers of pride. He was keenly aware of such sin. After his sermon one Sunday, Spurgeon was met by a woman who exclaimed, “Oh, Mr. Spurgeon, that was wonderful.”
“Yes, madam,” Spurgeon replied, “so the devil whispered in my ear as I came down the steps of the pulpit.”
What a mature response! Is a compliment a sin? No. Can church folk thank a preacher for being faithful? Of course! But we must not be naive about the temptations within the heart of both the leader and the giver of compliments. Sometimes, our motives in giving and receiving compliments are not so pure. Spurgeon was spot on. Genuine compliments are not sin, but he knew that puffing God’s people up with pride is one of Satan’s favorite tactics and that the reason that the Devil will use this trick so often is because it works! It is wise to be on guard.
It’s All About the “Anointed”
One of the fastest ways to see Christian celebrity culture may be on the conference circuit or social media, but it thrives in the local church too. This culture is pervasive in places where the leaders are not known globally but they are well known within their local assembly — and a system is created that makes them superhero celebrities. They control everything without challenge or questions, they resist transparent practices, they abuse people, treat staff like slaves and themselves as a grandmaster, they drink in their honor, and they build an empire unto themselves. Whether global empires or local ones, the questions begs: what in the world are we feeding, growing, raising up, and leaving behind?
I remember hearing one leader explain his philosophy on how to grow an effective ministry saying, “If you’re the lead pastor of a church, launch multi-site campuses and put your face on the screen at each one. You’ll exponentially grow your ministry.” Such advice is not slippery in that using media or technology is sinful, but the motive seemed skewed. That same leader later called planting churches a “dumb idea,” a “waste of money,” and insisted that if you take the “anointed” lead pastor out of the picture, nothing will work. Making the lead pastor the anointed and famous face seemed like the key to his strategy and riding that wave of celebrity was vital. To be honest, his pragmatic approach was hard to argue with from a numerical standpoint and he even had theological arguments for why his way was better than others. After all, he was leading a church that boasted well over 10,000 in attendance throughout all of their campuses. But as I reflected on his strategic advice, I couldn’t help but wonder. Is that going to raise up disciples, or just invite consumers? Is my face on a screen going to foster a culture of leadership development and discipleship, or merely create a “come and see” show that puts me in the never-ending spotlight? Does any of this guy’s advice sound like the way Paul instructs the church to view leadership and ministry strategy? Is feeding the “me monster,” setting up an ivory tower, and living like a celebrity the end goal of a shepherd’s work?
I don’t believe it is for a second. Numbers lie.
Poured Out Like a Drink Offering
In the New Testament letter of 2 Timothy, the apostle Paul is winding down his ministry with some sobering thoughts that ought to arrest our hearts and sweep away pipe dreams of Christian celebrity. After commanding Timothy to preach the word and fulfill his ministry faithfully (2 Tim. 4:1-5), Paul gives us a glimpse of how the end of the road will look. He writes, “For I am already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time of my departure has come. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith” (2 Tim. 4:6-7). In verses 9-22 Paul names seventeen people (only two were bad) who were involved in the ministry in some facet. If you add Timothy, the recipient of the letter, that’s 18. Knowing what we know about Paul’s ministry, others like Barnabas, Philemon, Silas and other churches make up a long legacy of ministry. In the end, and throughout his entire ministry for that matter, he wasn’t obsessed with his own honor. Paul was constantly pouring into others, preparing others, serving others, teaching others, reminding others, and suffering for the sake of others. He is not a model of ministry for those who seek celebrity status and getting drunk on their success in the local church or beyond. He is, however, a model of ministry for every Christian who wants to leave a legacy of faithfulness for the glory of God and the good of the church.
Whether we are widely known, or unknown, our goal ought to be the glory of Christ and the good of those we serve. If we haven’t already, it’s time to get over ourselves.
 Chris Tomlin, Made to Worship, Universal Music Publishing Group.