All of us struggle with the allure of notoriety. How many people liked my last post on Instagram? How many subscribers do I have on my YouTube Channel? How many followers on Facebook? Am I liked? Am I popular? Am I politically correct? Am I acceptable? Everyone wishes they had more likes, views, friends, or responses, whether we are willing to admit it or not. It’s even more disproportionately important to young Christians struggling to find their identity in Christ in a culture that applies its own labels and affirmations.
In a year punctuated by the moral failings and faith departures of superstar pastors, famous Christian musicians, and renowned apologists, it might be wise to examine the one thing all of them had in common: celebrity.
I write this as someone who has struggled with celebrity in my own life as an outspoken, public Christian. I leveraged my national reputation as a Dateline featured cold-case detective to write several books and eventually played a role in the movie, God’s Not Dead 2. As my “celebrity” increased, so did my opportunity to share Jesus with people across the country and around the world.
I rationalized the pursuit of notoriety like many other public Christians. Fame, after all, provided the opportunity to share the truth of Jesus with others, right? But at some point, as I pondered the effect celebrity had on my own life as a Christian, I began to examine my own shifting motivations. Was I leveraging celebrity for the purpose of sharing Jesus, or sharing Jesus for the purpose of establishing my celebrity?
If there was one thing I’ve learned as a homicide detective, it’s the motivation for bad behavior. Every killer I’ve investigated committed his or her crime for one of three reasons: financial gain, sexual lust, or the pursuit of power. As the Apostle John described nearly two millennia earlier in 1 John 2:15-16:
Do not love the world nor the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and the boastful pride of life, is not from the Father, but is from the world.
Here’s the most important thing I learned about these three motivations for misbehavior: they are usually connected. That’s right. If you begin to chase one, you may eventually chase the other two. The pursuit of power (described by John as “the boastful pride of life”) is often nuanced. The quest for celebrity is one expression of this pursuit, and although it can seem benign, it’s often perilous. Well known Christian pastors, Christian musicians and Christian celebrities sometimes find themselves in sexual or financial scandals.