It’s sometimes hard to see the line between true Jesus-shaped missional movements and mere celebrity fan clubs. Ironically, in our zeal to see God do great things, it’s easy for us as leaders to resort to tactics that actually mitigate against the kingdom of God.
So how can we tell if we’re building a celebrity fan club or a real missional movement?
Saying “No” to the Cult of Personality
In the first part of Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians, he is addressing the serious problem of division among the people there (1 Cor 1:10-18). People are affiliating themselves with Christian leaders, staking a part of their identity on the leader they follow.
Some are saying, “I follow Paul,” and others, “I follow Cephas.” The first denominations, in other words! This should feel very familiar to us. We’ve got all kinds of ways of distinguishing ourselves from “other” Christians who follow different leaders and believe slightly different things, etc.
It’s a bit shocking to see Paul start his letter by stating in no uncertain terms that this kind of division is categorically wrong.
It’s worth pausing here to let that sink in. The modern-day practice of “following” this or that celebrity leader is so common that it doesn’t even feel odd or wrong to us.
Claiming Celebrity Status
Interestingly, in the midst of this call for unity, Paul tells them he is glad he only baptized a couple of them. To baptize someone is a powerful thing. I imagine the temptation was to claim special status based on who baptized you. People would wear it as a badge of honor: “I was baptized by Paul directly.”
Isn’t it the same today? We take pride in being associated with famous Christians. We feel that contact and conversation with celebrities will somehow transmit celebrity fairy dust to us as well. We call them our “friends,” or find ways to casually mention when we had lunch before the conference.
Collecting Fans or Mobilizing Missionaries?
But Paul says he wasn’t sent to baptize, but to proclaim the gospel. In context, it seems that because of how people were misunderstanding baptism, Paul is attempting to minimize its importance in the life of the believer.
He’s essentially saying, “You think it’s so important to be baptized by the right person, and people are trying to build up their fan clubs by baptizing lots of people. … Tell you what, I’m not interested in baptizing anybody, if that’s what it means! I wasn’t sent to do that kind of ‘baptizing.’ I was sent to proclaim the good news of Jesus.”
The Corinthians’ practice of baptism was creating multiple, competing fan clubs. But Paul’s proclamation of the gospel was releasing a movement. “Corinthian baptism” collected and colonized people on behalf of their celebrity leader. The gospel, though, empowers and releases people to follow Christ.
So how can you tell if your ministry is collecting fans or mobilizing missionaries? How can you tell if you’re running a fan club or empowering a missional movement?
Here’s a simple test: Listen to the people you are leading—what do they talk about? What do they take pride in? What is it about your church that they habitually draw attention to?
What a Fan Club Sounds Like
Are people saying these kinds of things?
1. How they love being part of their church.
2. What their church has been doing lately.
3. How they love their pastor and his/her preaching.
4. What their pastor has been preaching on lately.