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The Big Difference Between the Celebrity Leader and the Devoted Leader

I once met with a pastor to consult and advise him on the book writing process. When I asked him why he wanted to write a book he looked me square in the face and said, “I want to leverage my influence.”

On a separate occasion a pastor, soon to be author, sounded like he wanted to cash in his influence as he envisioned how many books I was going to help him sell.

There is something seriously wrong in the Christian leadership culture when those in leadership envision celebrity as a means to influence people. Even though influence exists as an inherent by-product of leadership, it is not something to be pursued and possessed as a kind of currency. Leaders must be wary of falling into the trap of thinking that in order to possess and “leverage” influence you must build your personal celebrity. This is the great lie that has invaded Christian leadership.

Bono once said celebrity is currency. That might be a truism of our greater culture but that statement should not become our dictum. Any leader of any type or level will inevitably influence. The question is, what kind? Will your influence be that of the servant, that of the leader who is dying to self? Or will your leadership be the opportunistic kind that pursues and leverages celebrity as a way to expand your leadership territory and build your so-called platform?

The Point of Leadership

The point of influence is to lead others into a “way.” And our way, as Christians, is Christ himself. Leaders can build “celebrity” but will no doubt feel bereft. For the world of the celebrity leader is veneer-thin. Christian leadership must emerge from the beauty of scars and hope of renewal.

If we desire to engage and influence our world for good then our leadership, our character, must be tangled in the ultimate good: Christ. Such a tangledness stems from a quiet life of devotion.

Philip Jacob Spener wrote a little book in 1675 titled Pia Desideria or Pious Longings. He wrote it as a corrective to many of the corruptions of the church. He critiqued church leaders for their abuse of the pulpit and their chasing of selfish gain. These corruptions, Spener suggested, emerged in large part due to a tremendous lack of spiritual fervor and devotional life. It’s amazing how times change with regard to progress and technology and yet the problems of the spirit continue almost unchanged.

We face similar spiritual challenges in our culture with regard to the morality of leaders. The lure of the celebrity Christian is strong, and very much at work within the ranks of the Christian leadership community.

But I also sense a movement afoot. More and more I am reading authors and listening to preachers who seem caught in the wonder and majesty of God, in the glory of Christ and his resurrection, in the beauty of YHWH. This cultural moving champions God as supreme Ruler and Creator and brings him back into focus as both loving Father and Holy God, Creator, Craftsman. It is a needed movement; one worthy of our devotion.

The Devoted Leader

Personal devotion, I believe, has keyed and will continue to emblazon this movement. As leaders of the church we must not fall prey to the onslaught of sloth, anti-intellectualism, sensualism, and selfishness so germane to pop culture. This was part of Spener’s call to church leaders. He sought a renewal of devotion, of longing for the Holy One.

Spener said, “Where the Word of God is neglected, real and true religion collapses.”[1] In our sophisticated church world it seems we’ve gained a high-def religious product in exchange for intimacy with the Almighty. Intimacy demands intentionality; it demands commitment; it demands discipline. Paul instructed Timothy, “Discipline yourself for the purpose of godliness.” But we’re busy, on the go, things are happening. Right?

And yet we can’t get by the simply truth that our spiritual health will dictate the dynamics of our cultural influence.

Is your heart devoted? Is mine? If yes, what proof surfaces in our daily rhythms? If no, how do we see this lack affecting our leadership? I’m convinced that we, as church leaders, must confront the reality that our desires for influence may not simply be misplaced, but, indeed, be too weak, as C.S. Lewis puts it. The stronger desire should be to know Christ, and the power of his resurrection. It is within such a knowing we find the strength to carry on, to lead, to influence.


[1] Philip Jacob Spener, Pia Desideria (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1964), 45.