Letting Go of the “Evangelical Dream” of Fame

fame

We don’t like to admit it in the evangelical church, but most of us want to be famous. It is human nature to want to be known because to be known is to be loved and to be loved is to be valued and to be valued is to be heard. When God has given us a clear message to communicate in some fashion, we want as many people as possible to hear it, and we think that if we become famous, our message will become famous.

We convince ourselves that the pastors with the largest churches are “the best” pastors, so we seek to build large churches, male pastors get those “pastor jeans” with the cool designs on the back pockets, we add some cool black lights or some postmodern-y candles.

We believe that the authors with the most sold books are “the best” authors, so we seek to write bestsellers with unique titles that scream “this book is the most unique book ever written.” We think that worship leaders who have the most youtube videos are “the best” worship leaders, so we strive to make more youtube videos, drop some weight, girls throw on some fake eyelashes and guys try to come up with a hip look. There is nothing inherently wrong with any of these things; the real issue is that we keep our hearts in check.

Some Christians do this because they want to be adored and have selfish motives, but most of us do this because we want our message to be heard and loved. 

Soon, we begin to find our identity in how many Twitter and Facebook followers we have. We get lost in the masses, and we forget about “the one.”

A couple days ago I was snooping on a famous complementarian (one who believes women should never lead/teach men in the Church or home) pastor’s Twitter account. I noticed that he and his wife are getting ready to lead a marriage conference and I instantly became discouraged. I thought…

Great, this guy (who is a master communicator) will have thousands of men and women eating out of the palm of his hand and more people will become convinced that women are of less spiritual authority than men. Women will never be equal to men in the Church. This sucks. 

I got so mad, I slammed my laptop shut, stormed out of Starbucks, went out to my car and cried.

God, why are you allowing complementarianism to spread like wildfire if it is bad theology that oppresses and limits women? Why is this pastor, who I know loves you, so blind? How can he not see the truth? Am I wrong and is he right? Is that why he has more than 300,000 Twitter followers and I have just about 2,500? Is that why he has a huge church and I don’t? Is that why he has published books and I don’t? Am I blind? What the heck am I doing here? Are you blessing his efforts more because he is speaking the truth and I am not? 

As I prayed with tears running down my face, God spoke so clearly to my broken heart and said, “I will always leave the 99 to go after the one.”

I knew God was referencing His Word, as He does most of the time when He speaks to me:

So Jesus told them this story: “If a man has a hundred sheep and one of them gets lost, what will he do? Won’t he leave the ninety-nine others in the wilderness and go to search for the one that is lost until he finds it? And when he has found it, he will joyfully carry it home on his shoulders. When he arrives, he will call together his friends and neighbors, saying, ‘Rejoice with me because I have found my lost sheep.’ In the same way, there is more joy in heaven over one lost sinner who repents and returns to God than over ninety-nine others who are righteous and haven’t strayed away (Luke 15:3-7).

The day prior to this whole struggle I had with God, I talked on the phone with a young woman for 45 minutes who had escaped extreme “Christian patriarchy” (think ‘Duggar family’ sort of patriarchy). She thanked me over and over for my blog and for the encouragement. She spoke of the pain patriarchy had caused her growing up and how she has found much freedom in egalitarian theology.

God reminded me of this conversation and told me to let go of the idea of “evangelical fame.” He said, “If your message helps to set one person free, you have succeeded in my eyes.”

Oh that is right, God uses us “small” gals and guys to slay giants. When we lay down our lives, we find our lives. When we give up the seat of honor, Jesus honors us in front of our enemies in His timing. Everything is upside down in the Kingdom of God. The first shall be last and the last shall be first. How easy I forget.

There is great freedom in letting go of the idea of becoming known by the masses. If my message reaches one heart, Jesus is pleased with me and I am content in Him. There are many preachers who become famous by tickling ears and teaching human-made doctrines. Speaking the truth does not always win friends and spending time to shepard one gets in the way of leading thousands; but this is the way of Jesus and I will follow after him. If I become known by one or one-million, I will leave this earth knowing that I did what I was called to do.

Be still, and know that I am God!
    I will be honored by every nation.
    I will be honored throughout the world -Psalm 46:10 

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35 Comments

  • Wonderful post as always. I was discouraged by the whole fame thing as well as you mentioned (in a different area) a couple of days ago. But we can’t look at what other people are doing and judge our success on them. God has us where He wants us to be and I’d rather be there.

  • When I started teaching, God asked me what was the minimum size of the class I would teach? That was a curve ball as I wanted my teaching to be as polished and convincing as I could make it and was hoping for more help in that area. As I meditated and prayed about it, I eventually gave my answer as “One.” And there have been times when I was teaching one on one is a classroom that might have held many more, but after answering that question I have never felt “less than” others, just grateful I can do my part, however small it may be.

  • Jory. You have changed my life. You have shown me that letting go of what I grew up with and embracing what I feel Abbas wants me to do is ok. I can seek social justice and not lose my faith. So yes. Just one person is worth using our voice.

  • I know what you mean Jory; I have had those same thoughts. I cringed when I see detrimental theology spreading like wildfire. I am often saddened when I read deeply moving and spot on egalitarian blogs with not even 1 comment. But then I am encouraged by the on-line egalitarian community I have found. I am encouraged by the way Jesus has saved me from complimentarian/patriarchal doctrine. I know He loves me the same. I know He values me as much. Your work matters Jory! Never doubt that. There are millions waiting to be freed by the awesome power of this Truth. They need us to tell them even 1 by 1. Btw, are you sure we aren’t related…lol

  • Isn’t it wonderful having the Holy Spirit indwell us so that we hear His voice at times like you describe? He is our comfort, guide, encourager and more. I can relate to your momentary discouragement, however you are touching more lives than you realize. Keep looking with spiritual eyes and not what is before you. We walk by faith!

  • Man this post spoke to me. The whole “fame” thing. Some additional thoughts that I thought you might appreciate…
    1) Sarah Bessey did a great blog on fame recently, looking at it from the other side (i.e. as someone who *has* 25K followers). http://sarahbessey.com/famous/ . It’s at best a mixed blessing from that perspective also.
    2) Don’t forget that some of us with 900 followers and 16 e-mail subscribers are looking up at you the same way you may be looking up at others. I mean, look at you! You only posted this an hour ago and you’ve got 7 comments already! 🙂 Truth is, though, I think that regardless of your “fame level”, it is always a soul-searching process to keep finding reasons to write: finding the love for the process itself, looking for that one life touched, being faithful to God’s gifting and call (the whole “audience of one” thing). Thanks for offering your perspective.
    3) Have you ever read a poem called “Desiderata”? You can find it online; it has some great wisdom. One line in particular sprang to mind as I read this post: “Do not make compare between yourself and others; you will become both vain and bitter, for there will always be greater and lesser than yourself.”

    Thanks again for sharing and blessings to you!

  • Amazing, we who know the Lord and have the Holy Spirit don’t need the world’s approval. We have the important part and the rest is up to God. I am often encouraged by reminding myself that Christ started this with 12 men on foot. No internet or TV just faith and they didn’t go anywhere until they were filled with the Holy Spirit.
    …it might be hard to accept but John Piper is a Spirit filled believer, who has a huge following and he absolutely loves the Lord. He also will bring many more people to Christ then I ever will (unless the Lord decides otherwise). So even I see your heartache, I pray JP gets to share the gospel to as many as will listen. This issue is really secondary to salvation and so many married people might stay away if egalitarianism were his issue. Pray for him to do well. Then pray that as these people grow in Christ the Holy Spirit speaks to them as He has to you.
    ..it may be that JP is in the midst of the Evangelical community to help them learn to listen to the Holy Spirit, being used for truth even while he may not realize it.

  • I get discouraged often, too. I just try to remind myself that people hold wrong to even the most harmful beliefs if they are what the person was raised with as ‘normal’ or has convinced themselves are the ‘default’. It’s not even that those thousands of people will practice harmful complementarianism at home – out of 1,000, something like 950 will go home from the conference and live a a happy, essentially egalitarian marriage that they just call complementarian because that’s what is socially acceptable in their friends/church group. I have discovered every “complementarian” I know lives an egalitarian marriage at the heart of it – it might have complementarian buzzwords painted over the top, but equality shows through in everything they do for and with each other.

    It’s those other 50 I worry most about – many of them will not truly be happy treated unequally. It’s those I hope and pray find blogs like this one.

  • Um, how did you know I needed this today? Thank you. I kinda had a pity party for myself last night and much of today because I’m about to turn 40 and I feel like much hasn’t happened in my life like I think it should have. But this was a good reminder of what impact and influence really is all about. Thanks, Jory. Keep on fighting the good fight.

  • Oh Jory….you do give me hope. I am determined to pray daily for you. I’m 65–a former pastor, a retired minister who is selling insurance now, and daily I feel hopeless about those loud comp voices, those well-known guys, and my own apparent failure. This article made me cry. Thank you for the reminder. ((((hugs))))

  • This post speaks to me on so many levels. Thank you for your commitment to equality in ministry. It is definitely not an easy message to proclaim, but it is essential for the modern evangelical church to see its blindness in this area.

  • Absolutely, Jory…. Absolutely. In the end, we serve to an audience of ONE… and that fame lasts for eternity.

  • You will know already that you are reaching thousands through your work, many more than most. Be encouraged that God is your audience of one and his applause is what counts. Thank you for creating a space on this blog for people to re-evaluate what they’ve been told about gender roles in the kingdom.

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