A few years ago I attended a large ministry conference that included breakout sessions featuring a variety of speakers and "experts" on all things related to ministry and leadership. At one point during the conference, I was waiting in the lobby when one of the speakers (we'll call him Mr. Jensen) walked by, surrounded by at least 25 groupies who hung on this man's every word, nodding their agreement. I actually like this man's writing and philosophy, but was struck by the groupie mentality. A friend who was with me observed, "You know, I like what Jensen says, but God save us from the Jensenites."
Sadly, I've seen that "Jensenites" are becoming the rule rather than the exception. I've heard dozens of pastors speak breathlessly and reverently about their ministerial and spiritual heroes, reading their books and their blogs, listening to their podcasts, following them at conferences, hoping just to get a glimpse of them or to touch their robe so they can receive some magical leadership or teaching power that will result in overwhelming ministry success and their own fame.
It's like comedian Steve Martin said long ago in a standup routine: "Repeat after me: 'I will be different. I will be unique.'"
It's no different today than it was in the first century, when Paul noted in his first letter to the Corinthians that the Christ-followers there were dividing themselves over who they followed. "I follow Paul," said some, while others countered, "I follow Apollos."
Today it's the same story, just a different millennium: "I am of Hybels." "I am of Warren." "I am of Maxwell." "I am of Stanley." "I am of Moore." "I am of Groeschel." "I am of McLaren." "I am of Driscoll."
Others play the same game, but go back a few centuries, as if attaching yourself to an older (or dead) personality is somehow more spiritual: "I am of Calvin." "I am of Arminius." "I am of Augustine." Or impress others with their intellect: "I am of Irenaeus." "I am of Tertullian." "I am of Clement of Rome."
"Stop it!" Paul says, in essence, in 1 Corinthians 3:5. "What, after all, is Apollos? And what is Paul? Only servants, through whom you came to believe—as the Lord has assigned to each his task."
I have nothing against any of the leaders I mentioned above. They are doing what God has called and gifted and assigned them to do, and they have all made a significant impact for the Kingdom. Many of them are worthy mentors and models. But they are also just servants, just like each of us who follows Christ. My problem is not with the celebrities, but with the groupies who have made them such.
These groupies try to become clones of their heroes, instead of becoming who God has made them and ministering in a uniquely personal way that no celebrity could ever attain. Instead of claiming their standing in Christ and asking what He wants of their leadership in their unique situation, they settle for a trinkety-bracelet approach to ministry: "What Would Hybels Do?"
I have a friend who goes to an Anglican church because, as she put it, "I kinda like the personality taken out of my church experience." What a contrast to the celebrity mindset so prevalent in our culture.
Believe it or not, ministry celebrities do not hold mystical powers or keys to success. All of them stumbled repeatedly in their journeys, and continue to struggle with the temptations common to every man and woman, except that now, they also have to deal with the trappings of celebrity and cult followings. Each was assigned by God to till the soil in one corner of the Kingdom and faithfully invest the talents entrusted to him or her. Are we doing the same? Or are we so busy mining tips for success in the latest book by our favorite author that we ignore our own calling?