One of my favorite quotes of all time comes from Randy Alcorn, the founder of Eternal Perspective ministries. Speaking of popular or notorious leaders, Randy said, “The greatest danger of notoriety is you start thinking about you. People, then, exist to serve you, exactly the opposite of what Christ modeled.”
Succinct and powerful.
Aside from the personal ego that under-girds such a mentality, the problem is further exacerbated by the tendency of the flock at large to place human beings on thrones or altars. Oh, we would never characterize it in such a way because that denotes worship, and we would never even contemplate worshiping another human being.
Or would we?
Contemporary Christian society abounds with examples of throngs of disciples gazing reverently as their favorite pastor preaches powerfully from the podium, or their favorite author orates at a book signing, a conference or a workshop. Worshipers scream wildly as members of their favorite band have just taken the stage and are about to strike the first chord. Multitudes crowd around the keynote speaker at a conference or lectureship, hungry for a signature, a photo-op or just a handshake.
A few years back, I knew a woman who was completely taken with the pastor of a large church. She attended all five weekend services, sitting in the first two or three rows listening to the same sermon over and over just so she could adore the pastor. It was idol worship, without question.
Similarly, I have been to a number of Christian concerts where members of the audience can barely contain their enthusiasm for the band members, and in truth, the band members often feed on that and encourage it. I have also been to concerts where the band functioned within a worship-leader model, and those were beautiful experiences.
When I worked in full-time ministry, I made an annual pilgrimage to a week-long lectureship in southern California. Every year a number of recognizable names would be on the speaking docket. Without fail at the close of each keynote address, a horde of people would crowd around the poor keynoter to have their brush with celebrity. It was idolatry.
Satan appealed to Eve’s pride in the garden (Genesis 3:6), telling her she would be just like God. He made a similar appeal to Jesus in the wilderness (Luke 4:6), offering him authority and glory. Satan makes similar offers to our egos today. Be on your guard! “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.” (James 4:6).
In the book of Acts, Chapter 14, we read of an incident involving Paul and Barnabus in the city of Lystra as they preached the gospel of Jesus. While there, Paul had occasion to speak healing into a man who had never walked. Well, suffice it to say, this blew the people’s minds. They concluded that Paul and Barnabus were Hermes and Zeus come down in the flesh, and they began worshiping them as such.
What do you do when the people respond to you more forcefully than is warranted? Paul and Banabus became alarmed, tore their garments and rushed into the crow shouting, “Men, why are you doing these things? We are also men, of like nature with you.” Even then Paul and Barnabus had a difficult time preventing the people from sacrificing to them.
Caution is warranted on both sides of this equation. On one side we have pride and ego, which may be one of Satan’s favorite and most effective tools, while on the other side, we have idolatry, something so subtle and nefarious we may not even realize how deeply we have slipped into it.
The apostle Paul teaches us to honor those to whom our care is given, the shepherds of the flock. There is a healthy manner in which this can be carried out, just as there is a manner in which it can be abused, and again, from both sides. It is easy for those given charge of the flock to get an inflated opinion of themselves, just as it is easy for the flock to become so impressed with the pastor, author, musician, keynoter, that we ascribe to them honor that morphs into worship.
Keep your eyes of adoration fixed on Jesus, the Chief Shepherd.
For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the measure of faith God given you. Just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we who are many form one body, and each member belongs to all the others. – Romans 12:3-5, NIV-1973
Every member of the body of Christ is essential, and no one member is to be exalted above the other (1 Corinthians 12:16-20). And no part of the body can say to any other part/member “I really don’t need you” (1 Corinthians 12:21-26).
Not only is each of us an absolutely essential part of the whole, we are (every one of us) mutually dependent on one another. Once we understand that reality, there is room left for neither idol worship nor personal pride. Furthermore, we are all equal in relation to Christ, and we have no basis for telling Jesus that one part of His body is of less valuable than any other part of the body.
For who sees anything different in you? What do you have that you did not receive? If then you received it, why do you boast as if you did not receive it? – 1 Corinthians 4:7
Look around you this weekend. See the wild diversity in your corporate worship assembly, and as you do so, say to yourself, “I need these people.”