Big Johnson T-shirts and Christian Comparison
Our obsession with what we're "not" betrays our insecurity.

In the mid-90's, there was a popular (and dreadful) series of "Big Johnson" novelty t-shirts for guys. You remember—those sophomoric t-shirts that not-so-subtly touted the size of one's genitals with crude, witless metaphors.

At one point, the majority of guys at our school owned one. This could have been because of one of two possibilities:

1. There was a secret virus unleashed upon the public and undetected by science, that targeted 12-19 year old males resulting in gargantuan genitalia.

2. This was a display of adolescent insecurity that really had nothing to do with large genitals (perhaps actually indicating the opposite), and more a statement about the parents who let their kids wear such shirts than any actual anatomical abnormalities.

Option two seems more likely.

It makes sense that the perfect storm of adolescent insecurity would make high school males want to find identity with silly "mine is bigger than yours" rhetoric. If only this kind of juvenile comparison was limited only to boys in the 90's! But unfortunately, it describes the behavior of plenty of grown men and women, even those in ministry.

But comparison is never a good idea, especially when the actual measure of a Christian leader isn't anything other than faithfulness.

What defines us

That's easy to forget though, especially in our success-obsessed culture. You would think by now that in a world as stupid as our own, humanity would have learned long ago that whatever is big and popular does not equal "best." But we still buy the lie. (If you don't believe this, then please explain to me the phenomena of the Kardashians, "Jersey Shore," and Nickelback. Popularity obviously isn't a fair indicator of quality.) But it's also equally faulty to assume that something more pure, holy or "deeper" because it is smaller.

Christians are responsible to steward our influence for maximum impact within the communities we serve. Crass popularity or lack thereof does not make us automatically either successful or unsuccessful. But we often play games of comparison, feeling the same insecurities of identity evidenced by the "Big Johnson" crowd.

And here's the twist: while my adolescent schoolmates wore their "Big Johnson" insecurity visibly, we ministers are less overt. Our obsession with comparison comes out subtly, in our discussions and caveats about ministry. When we over-insist that ministry isn't all about this or about that, it betrays the fact that we are actually captured by what we're trying to convince others we're free from. To quote Hamlet on guilt: "The lady doth protest too much, methinks."

August 08, 2013

Displaying 1–5 of 5 comments


August 21, 2013  1:33pm

I'm digging it...kinda has a Philippians 4:8 vibe, and hit me in some places that now has my attention. But I'm also confused...specifically by this: "And on the other side of this self-protective cover, we often aren't doing anything different at all. We are just navel-gazers attempting to publicly talk ourselves through our own insecurities." Was that just underdeveloped or am I dense? I've read it several times and don't get how it relates. Can someone (the author or anyone else) elaborate?

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August 09, 2013  9:53am

Jonathan, Thank you for this post. While I may disagree with some of the assertions you made in the examples, that is beside the point. What I learned from your article is to be rigorous about speaking out of my values rather than my anxiety.

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August 08, 2013  3:09pm

Fascinating post. I couldn't possibly fathom the interior motives of people. This strikes me the way that horrible Christian Hipster book made claims to look into the hearts and motives of people because of their fashion choices. Kinda skeptical, and I'll say that those rants could just as easily be expressions of deeply held beliefs and convictions. I wouldn't want to give anyone a pathway to dismiss strength of opinion simply because it cuts across the grain of what evangelical gatekeepers and celebrities promote. My response to your examples are: #1: Sometimes #2: In evangelicalism, often. But what did you expect? #3: Maybe #4: Sometimes, for a very specific segment of worship leaders who are trying to "break in" to certain circles and systems of celebrity that organs like CT help perpetuate. That being said, your opening was just fine (contra Elegance) and rhetorically effective.

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August 08, 2013  2:43pm

The commitment of time and space to that opening analogy led me to believe you had a "bigger" point to make

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August 08, 2013  2:15pm

Jonathan, your post here is just as crass as the culture you criticize. Why did you need a gross sexual metaphor to make your point?

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