Beware of the Celebrity Syndrome
The celebrity syndrome is one of the ruling principles of our present society. It isn’t so much what you are known for as it is that you are well known. Moral tramps sell more books than saints.
Our son Fred invited a Christian layman who was experiencing a phenomenal rise in popularity to attend a meeting Fred was holding for laypeople. This Christian leader accepted. A friend of the man remarked to Fred, “You know he will expect to speak.”
Fred had not put out the program, and before he did Fred called the assistant of this Christian layman, asking if he expected to speak. The assistant said, “Nothing could be further from the truth. He doesn’t want to speak. He just wants to attend.”
The experience was so unusual, Fred called his entire staff together and told them, “We have found a real one,” meaning, “a humble one who has not yet accepted the celebrity status.”
Before a person becomes a Christian celebrity, he realizes that God is working through him. After he becomes a celebrity, he thinks he is working for God and that he’s doing God’s work. He may even delude himself into thinking his will is really God’s will.
Those working to be celebrities are tempting God.
Is God Using Me or Am I Using God?
I met Torrey Johnson when he first started Youth for Christ. At that time I was asking certain people I admired for their picture and autograph. He gave me his with the inscription: “To Fred, God’s man in God’s place.” I never felt I could hang that on the wall. I kept it in the desk drawer. I was always condemned by how seldom I felt that I was truly God’s man in God’s place. During the times I felt God was using me, I felt extremely small and extremely secure. When I felt big, I felt insecure, because then I was depending on my own strength.
Recently when I asked a friend the usual question, “How’s it going, Ron?” he answered in the best possible way. He said, “Fred, I feel God is using me.” What a wonderful feeling to realize God is using us rather than our using God. So long as we keep that spiritual dimension in our leadership, people will see God in us.
Two great epitaphs come to mind: Someone told me he found the small gravestone of Fanny Crosby, which was located in the same cemetery as the large monument to Barnum, the circus king. Crosby’s said simply, “Aunt Fanny—she did what she could.”
The other great epitaph is the one for A. W. Tozer: “He was a man of God.”
Once a young preacher said to me, “I can be happy just being a man of God, but that isn’t enough for my family. It isn’t enough for my board. They want me to be successful.”
If we let others define our success, it is truly a slippery slope. If we follow Christ’s example, then we simply go about doing good.
I suggest to any Christian who wants to be successful that he or she explore Scripture and try to find someone who started out to be successful and then made it. I can name five or six who tried it, and each was cursed. Remember the man who offered the apostles money for the spiritual gift? He probably intended to help people with it, but he wanted to take the credit instead of seeing that God got it. Peter told him, “May your money perish with you.”
You may remember that Mother Teresa said she would not accept any more honors because it took time away from her work. Caring for the dying was more important than receiving the Nobel Prize. She knew inner success.
Smith, F., Sr. (1998). The Pastor's Soul Volume 5: Leading With Integrity (79–80). Pub Place: Bethany House Books.