If you have ever socialized with a group of human beings before, you have probably come into contact with the phenomena of cliques / factions, and celebrity fascination. If you think back to your elementary school days, you will notice that kids seemed to exhibit this innate ability pretty early. It is not something that has to be taught.
The phenomena of ‘cliques’ usually begin in elementary / middle school when a particular child asserts himself, or is perceived as being superior to the rest of the children in the class. Once that specific child is socially identified, other children begin to crave this person’s acceptance or approval and fight to become part of the select group that associates with this ‘popular’ person. The group that is able to publicly associate themselves with this popular person becomes known as the ‘popular’ crowd, or the ‘in’ crowd.
This group has an unwritten, but socially understood, hierarchical pecking order. What and who the popular person likes and accepts is what and who the rest of the popular group likes and accepts. While the popular child is able to express himself / herself, the group that associates with this popular child is usually only able to quietly agree or express the opinion of the popular child. If there is a disagreement with the popular child or if one of the children in the group seems to draw more attention to himself than the popular child, a conflict can erupt. This usually results in the expulsion of the rival child from the group. This rejected child then either becomes a ‘loner’ who becomes embittered, or he / she becomes the leader of a rival group of children who were not deemed popular enough to fit into the popular group.
The hierarchical ‘pecking order’ that I just described does not simply end in elementary or high school, but continues into every aspect of fallen human life. You can see this principle at work within companies, governments, families, religious institutions / denominations, and even in the animal world. There is a reason for this, and it goes all the way back to the garden of Eden.
In the garden, mankind had access to two significant trees. One tree (the tree of life) would conform them to, and inject them with, God’s own life. The other tree (tree of knowledge) would conform them to and inject into them a pattern of life that is patterned after a fallen angel (satan). Angelic beings were created to operate by hierarchy. Unfortunately Adam & Eve (and the human race who came from them) chose to receive from the forbidden tree of knowledge instead of God’s life from the tree of life. Instead of being conformed to God’s image, mankind was conformed after the image of an angel (satan). This is exactly why every aspect of fallen humanity in every society, including man’s religious system, is patterned in a ‘up / down’ hierarchical manner. It is natural to man’s system. This curse has even been passed down to nature and the animal world.
The problem is, however, that human beings were created to conform to God’s life, and not angelic life. Leadership, in God’s order, is completely different. God’s view of leadership is the opposite of hierarchical, and is exactly why Jesus made this radical statement about ‘kingdom’ leadership and church life in Matthew 23:8-11.
But do not be called Rabbi; for One is your Teacher, and you are all brothers. Do not call anyone on earth your father; for One is your Father, He who is in heaven. Do not be called leaders; for One is your leader, that is, Christ. But the greatest among you shall be your servant.
This truly radical statement from Jesus challenged mankind’s religious understanding of ‘leadership’. What Jesus said in this passage did violence against the religious hierarchical culture. While most preachers and theologians are quick to skip over this passage and explain what Jesus did not mean, few give attention to how radical this redefinition of ‘leadership’ actually is. (click here to read more about the non-hierarchical nature of New Testament leadership)
There is a reason Jesus challenged mankind’s common religious understanding of ‘leadership’. Life in the body of Christ (kingdom) was simply to be an expression of the life within the Trinity. Unlike angelic life, life within the God-head is completely non-hierarchical. While there is most certainly leadership in the body of Christ, as soon as ‘leadership’ begins to be understood in a hierarchical manner, it ceases to be kingdom leadership.
There is more that needs to be said about this in greater depth that address much of the error that is commonly taught about the nature of the Trinity and church function in the religious system. A good friend of mine, Milt Rodriguez, has written an excellent book that I strongly recommend called: ‘The Community Life of God: Seeing The Godhead As The Model For All Human Relationships’. (Everyone should have this book in their library!)
The good news is this, Christ has come to destroy factions, cliques, and the hierarchical pecking order that has been a hallmark of fallen humanity! In Christ, all the distinctions of the flesh that keep us apart disappear! (Matt. 23:8-12, Gal. 3:28, etc…) The degree to which a person, or a community of people, are focused on the person of Jesus Christ and are living by His divine life will be the degree to which they actually live free of cliques, hierarchies, and Christian celebrity idols. We may know these things intellectually, but our old nature will automatically gravitate back to this way of thinking by default apart from Christ’s supernatural life.
With that said, I’d like to call your attention to three fleshly temptations to beware of. Simply being aware of these temptations will help us recognize when fleshly patterns are arising and give us an indication that we need to return to Christ’s life in us.
1. Beware of ‘selective associating’ and ‘selective name dropping’
I’m afraid this issue is alive and well in today’s celebrity culture. You don’t have to be someone with influence over thousands to catch the disease of having a ‘celebrity’ mindset. This can be a real temptation for anyone who is concerned about their public reputation and image.
Like elementary school, there are people you will be tempted not to publicly associate with because of the ‘damage’ that it will do to your reputation or image. This can be a difficult issue, especially, if the person you are tempted to avoid publicly is a figure that others you admire do not like. Questions / rationalizations like these may run through your mind:
“What will they think of me if they know that I have a relationship with them?” (Awkward teenager dilemma)
“It will hurt my ministry, witness, and godly reputation if they see me associating with them.” (Ministry ‘stewardship’ dilemma)
“I will only publicly converse and associate with those whom I can wholeheartedly endorse and claim.” (elitism dilemma)
As one who is pretty active in the social networking world, I see this occur often. Big name Christian celebrities will often converse with and mention (name drop) other celebrity Christians publicly on forums like Twitter, Facebook, & the blogosphere in public conversations with one another, but will not converse publicly with anyone else of lesser perceived influence. I regularly receive private messages and personal correspondence from others, including a few well known Christian leaders, who would never acknowledge me publicly. That used to perplex me, but now I find it to be revealing.
Celebrities associate with celebrities in their self made ‘green’ rooms.
Celebrities associate with other celebrities at exclusive events. (Grammys)
Celebrities only make themselves available to other celebrities, but few others.
As members of Christ’s body, may these descriptions never be true of us! In the course of my life, I have been impacted by a handful of people who went against the grain of the celebrity Christian culture and have made themselves accessible, both publicly and privately. They did this even though they were counted among the ‘celebrity leader’ status.
Because these few men and women have made themselves accessible to the ‘common folk’, they have been disdained by other celebrity leaders in their circles. Nevertheless, these courageous folks continue to go against the grain of celebrity Christianity.
Those who have made themselves accessible have paid a dear price for this because, as the saying goes, ‘familiarity breeds contempt’. Nevertheless, I have learned more from these men and women by simply observing the way they interact with others than anything they may say or do. We would all do well to follow their example…even on Twitter:)
2. Beware of giving false honor and respect to those on the leadership ‘stage’
While some may say that celebrity Christians need to step down from the ‘stage’, I completely disagree. They should stay on that ‘stage’. It is the ‘common folk’ who think they are not on the ‘stage’ who need to step up to the stage! When you finally step up on the stage and find your voice, you’ll begin to see what Jesus was talking about in Matthew 23:8-11.
You will see that you are on the same level and are actually ‘peers’ with those celebrities you once idolized. You will see that they are simply fellow brothers and sisters in Christ like you. You are free to speak to them, converse with them, and yes, even challenge them when appropriate.
Let me warn you, however. If you do this, you will be seen as one who does not respect authority or someone who likes to stir up trouble. Celebrities who have been placed on a stage over others may feel threatened when they are spoken to like a peer from someone they don’t consider a peer.
Recently, I’ve observed a considerable backlash from the ‘celebrity’ clergy class against those who are challenging what they are publicly promoting. I find that to be eye opening and even encouraging. Don’t let this deter you. You are free to see them as ‘peers’ even if they don’t see you that way.
3. Beware of comparing yourself to others, & stop comparing your brothers and sisters in Christ to one another
(especially vital for my brothers and sisters who are living in organic church life)
If you compare yourself to others, or compare others in the body of Christ to one another, it is a sign that you are operating in a very great blindness. When sin occurred, we adopted an individualistic mindset that separated us from God, and from one another. This resulted in a ‘rivalry’ of sorts between ourselves & God, and others as well.
The only way this rivalry can be eliminated is when the deep seeded ‘separation’ mentality is eradicated from our lives. Because we have been placed ‘in Christ’ who is the very fullness of God, we are no longer separate from Him. We have been baptized ‘into’ one body. As a result, those ‘in’ Christ’s body are not separate from one another either. ’In Christ’, there is no ‘stage’ and ‘audience’ to keep us separated from one another. When we realize that we belong to one another, ‘in Christ’, rivalry will cease. Our natural bodies naturally testify to this reality. For example:
Your hands are not jealous of your arms or legs.
When falling, your hands naturally extend to protect the rest of the body.
When one of your body parts are hurt, the entire body is affected.
What is interesting is the fact that our bodies do NOT have to be taught this! It is a state of being. Likewise, the church cannot be taught not to be jealous of one another, not to be offended by one another etc… Each time this is tried, it results in failure.
Body parts loving one another, promoting one another, protecting one another, bearing one another’s burdens, etc… is a natural state of being when the members of the body have a deep seeded revelation of Jesus Christ and who they are ‘in Christ’. When jealousy, rivalries, and ‘cliques’ exist among us, it is a sign that we have lost sight of Christ Himself. When we lose sight of Christ, we automatically lose sight of who we are ‘in Him’.
While celebrity christianity & ‘cliques’ may be widely accepted in today’s culture, being aware of these three common temptations to factionalize and idolize will help us see our need to keep Christ continually in focus. His ways never have, and never will, conform to the pattern of this world.