Friday, April 29, 2016

Reprise - Sports Ministry and Celebrity Culture

Once more, I am submitting a previously written note about the perils of celebrity for Christian leaders and for sports chaplains in particular. This one is from March 11, 2011. I promise, I will get off this topic shorty. I hope we are all reviewing our hearts’ desire for fame and taking appropriate action.

Sports Ministry and Celebrity Culture

One needs only glance at almost any daily newspaper or turn on the television to nearly any channel to encounter one of the most pervasive, and I believe destructive, elements of popular culture in the USA, the western world and beyond – Celebrity Culture.

We are flooded daily by information which we neither need nor even desire. We hear about the latest celebrity break up or hook up. We read about the newest “It Girl” or “Sexiest Man on Earth.” We are suddenly aware of the exploits of people who are seemingly famous for being famous, unencumbered by personal achievement or strength of character. Paris Hilton and others of her dubious distinction are emblematic of this wave of media inundation and the growing need to fill air time with some sensational story about just about anything lacking substance or significance. The USA has reached new lows in this regard as we even create celebrities ex nihilo. “American Idol” is the most obvious example of this self-absorbed, self-perpetuating celebrity machine.

A quick reading of Acts chapter 14, verses 8-23 will provide a biblical example of celebrity culture in the Apostle Paul’s day. At first (verses 8-18) the crowd sees Paul and Barnabas as idols to be worshiped and the next (verses 19-23) they are objects of derision to be stoned to death. It is the same crowd of fickle people. We are just like them, but we use mass media to assassinate people rather than stones.

Sadly, we in the world of sport are not exempt of this culture and its insidious drive to make celebrities of those whom we serve and love. Professional sportspeople are easy and often willing participants. Their flesh is gratified and their wallets are often fattened by the process as they sell their dignity, honor and even their relationships with team and family to this foolish industry. Their privacy is laid on the altar of popularity and Q ratings, which they trust will result in the growth of their “brand,” further resulting in greater profits from endorsements, appearances, publishing and more.

We who serve in ministry roles with people in sport walk a fine line between wisdom and foolishness. We swim in a river of powerful currents which can easily pull those whom we serve and even our ministries toward a tragic drowning. We sometimes trade on the public profiles of those whom we serve and that is a real issue to be faced. Some of our ministries in sport were founded on the principle that just as high profile sportspeople use their popularity to sell shaving cream and beer on television, they could speak of their love for Christ and thereby “be used” to grow the Lord’s Kingdom. Such strategies are perilously close to the edge of manipulation and prostitution of the people we claim to love.

One of my colleagues who serves very faithfully with a number of high profile Major League Baseball and National Football League players has a very wise approach to this issue. I asked him sixteen years ago when we were both new to sports ministry about his policy re: requests for players to make appearances at area events, schools or fund raisers. He said that he never makes such requests of active players because he’s more interested in serving them than in asking them for favors. He said, “If every time they see me coming across the clubhouse, they think here he comes to ask me to do another talk, I forfeit my opportunity to lovingly serve them and to impact their lives with the Gospel.” He gets it! We must not forfeit our ministries of love and service in order to trade on the celebrity of the player with people in the community and even with the donors who fund ministries.

It seems to many that the high profile, celebrity player owes something to the adoring public. It’s counterintuitive for us to prefer to keep our relationships with such players and coaches private and to not drop their names at every turn. It’s even seen as selfish or snobbish by some when we protect those whom we serve from the provocative paparazzi and the ogling eyeballs of television cameras. To protect the player, to withhold information given in confidence and to value the coach’s privacy is still the right thing to do.

Friday, April 22, 2016

Christian Leaders and Celebrity Culture

Last week I reprised an earlier note re: the danger of high profile service as a sports chaplain and the crash of one of our colleagues. Another perspective was offered by my friend and valued colleague, Pastor Shane Bishop of Christ United Methodist Church in Fairview Heights, Illinois. Please give Shane’s thoughts on the perilous nature of Christian Leaders and Celebrity Culture.

Christian Leaders and Celebrity Culture
April 15, 2016

This week I read about the “crash and burn” of another well-known Mega-church pastor.  It is truly heartbreaking.  We have all watched this movie before.  We cry every time.  I hurt for the spouse and family of the pastor, the congregation and the many people who are just a little further from Jesus than they were before the announcement.  I also hurt for the pastor.  I don’t know a single person who accepted the call to ministry hoping the whole thing would blow up and cause harm to the Kingdom of God.  Satan laughs.  People of faith weep.  Again.  It is tragic by any account.
As I was reflecting upon the situation, Matthew’s account of the Temptation of Jesus came to mind.  A clear theme of the wilderness showdown between Jesus and Satan was the lure of “celebrity culture.” Satan attempted to entice Jesus to throw off the larger mission for just a moment to “jump off the Temple” so everyone could see the angels rescue him.  It was a straight up publicity stunt.  Satan effectively said, “Just film the whole thing on your iPhone, post it on YouTube, it go viral and you will be a star!”  Jesus responded, “Do not test the Lord your God.”  He passed the temptation of celebrity.  Countless others who followed him would fail.
The convergence of celebrity culture, worldwide social media and massive congregations have certainly conspired to tempt and eventually ensnare some of the most gifted and talented Pastors in the country.  A part of Satan’s temptation was to take Jesus “off mission.”  To distract him from the purpose of his earthly manifestation; toward the marketing and leveraging of it.  Jumping off the Temple and the following “angel rescue” clip would no doubt sell books and gain Facebook friends and Twitter followers.  It might even spark a new reality television show.  The Jesus Brand would be benefitted immensely but the cost would come at the expense of the Jesus Mission, “To seek and save the lost.”
High profile Christian leaders today are in a precarious position in many ways.  On one hand, they have the opportunity to reach more people for Christ than was imaginable just one generation ago.  On the other hand, there have never been more opportunities to lose your way, your principles, your morality or your soul.  And if they fall, they will take many down with them who deserve far better.  It is easy to get lost in celebrity culture.  Leaders must remember as a spiritual discipline that we are called to be servants and not celebrities.
In a culture that worships at the cult of personality, Christian leaders who have been entrusted by God with the spotlight, must remember that celebrity is precisely what Jesus rejected.  Jesus said, “What should it profit a man if he gain the whole world but lose his soul?”  (Mark 8:36 JKV)  It remains an excellent question.   Keep it real.

Friday, April 15, 2016

Reprise - Behind the Scenes vs. High Profile

Given the events of recent days, the firing of a prominent mega-church pastor who also served as a team chaplain to a professional sports team, I would like to reprise an article I first submitted to you on November 30, 2012. I believe this week’s grievous news makes this most poignant.
Behind the Scenes vs. High Profile

Many of our colleagues serve in rather obscure settings, with almost invisible teams or clubs and with coaches and competitors who are much less than household names. Others of us serve with clubs which are on television every day, with high profile people who are seen daily in advertising of all sorts and whose sporting gear is worn by fans of all ages. Many of us are somewhere in the middle with our service being among “local celebrities,” sporting people who have some profile in their communities, but not so much celebrity across the nation or the globe. While serving in any of these stations, it is wise for us to consider how to manage our own approach to obscurity vs. celebrity.

Some of our colleagues trade on their position and use their favor with the club as a central part of their fund-raising, to obtain outside speaking engagements and occasionally to prop up their own sense of celebrity.

Some of our colleagues serve faithfully in more remote situations where the spotlights and television cameras never even appear. They’re not tempted by the allure of celebrity or reflected glory of fame, simply because they never even encounter it.

I’d like to have us consider the tension between serving entirely “behind the scenes” and holding a “higher profile” position as a sport chaplain, a character coach or a sport mentor. These are in no particular order, but I do hope they’re each insightful and spur you to contemplation and wise decision making.

• A higher profile in a community makes it somewhat easier to do fund-raising because people will associate you with their favorite team, institution, community, etc…

• A higher profile can help one build a platform for ministry in a community from which one can gather volunteers and other ministry partners to further your ministry goals.

• A higher profile in a state school (USA) can raise scrutiny from prying media members seeking a controversial story, university officials with conflicting agendas, lawyers with an axe to grind, and others who could jeopardize one’s freedom of service.

• A higher profile can cause those one is serving, the coaches and competitors in the club or team, to question his or her motives. “Is he here to serve us or to build his “brand?”

• A higher profile is perceived by some as indicative of self-promotion, betraying a self-centered attitude.

• A couple of simple scriptures which can help us check our attitudes and inform our hearts are these:

o Proverbs 27:2 “Let another praise you, and not your own mouth; A stranger, and not your own lips.” Self-promotion is less than wise.

o Proverbs 27:21 “The crucible is for silver and the furnace for gold, And each is tested by the praise accorded him.” Praise, celebrity, fame and public honors will certainly test our hearts to their core. Some of us will pass and others will fail this test.

Let’s live wisely in this tension. Understand that the alluring nature of fame and celebrity can afford us some things which will enhance our ministries, but they can also serve as traps which can seriously hinder as well.