We have arrived at a time in history when celebrities, influencers (as well as unknown hopefuls) crave followers. They will do almost anything, including foolish and dangerous things; they will say almost anything regardless of the consequences, in the rabid pursuit of followers. People today are judged not so much by their actions but by their number of followers online.
What is the Attraction?
Here is just one example at random. A misogynistic, hateful, abusive man like kick-boxer Andrew Tate, who is now banned for his comments on almost every social media channel, roused a huge following on joining Rumble regardless, as it is reported that “daily active users on Rumble surged 45.3% compared to the previous week” as a result.
My point is, you can say or do almost anything today and still become an “influencer” with a multi-million following.
What does this have to do with Christianity?
How does this impact the Church? Mainly this: Christianity is not about following men, or doctrines, or churches.
Christianity is not a popularity contest for ministers of the gospel.
Jesus did not come to be popular and to garner followers regardless of their beliefs. He avoided attracting a public following rather than court popularity. He actually made it difficult to follow him. For instance he warned that all who follow Him must deny themselves and bear a daily cross (Luke 9:23). He advised the rich young ruler to sell all his valued treasures to the poor in order to commit to following Jesus. (Luke 18:18-23)
After Jesus returned to Heaven, and the Church was created, that Body too was not ordained to preach a popularist doctrine, using celebrities to attract the crowds and offering cheap thrills and entertainment. The apostles could have created a huge popular following in that way, perhaps by performing “miracles” in the marketplace for effect. On the contrary, the message was unpopular and eventually all the apostles were martyred, having been hounded from town to town by their own Jewish brethren.
The following they had was from sincere and devout believers, who committed (at some personal cost) to the same Lord who had saved them.
Christianity was not then – and never has been – about showmanship or influencers! It was not about attracting millions of trusting (but uninformed) acolytes prepared to believe in, and donate their money to, any bizarre teaching that hits the stage.
Nor was it about following the most anointed and outspoken apostle.
Paul in Corinthians chapter 1 says this: “It has been declared to me concerning you, my brethren, by those of Chloe’s household, that there are contentions among you. Now I say this, that each of you says, “I am of Paul,” or “I am of Apollos,” or “I am of Cephas,” or “I am of Christ.” Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul?”
Paul wanted the believers to realise that they were all ONE, in Christ alone, not followers of men no matter how worthy and godly those men might be. (Sadly, Paul’s words were not heeded as history testifies.)
What’s the Problem?
Dare I suggest that a huge problem in today’s church is the desire of the many to find a popular preacher to “follow”. That, combined with the idea that the modern church must be LED from the front by MEN rather than be instructed by the Holy Spirit in the ways of GOD, has become the downfall of biblical Christianity. It seems likely now to lead to its ultimate demise.
If we go back to the foundation of the Church we find that the only HEAD is Jesus Christ himself, the Church on earth being his BODY. Each believer is an equal part in that Body, each one a stone in the overall building of the new Temple.
Although some are more prominent or more gifted than others, and (as Paul pointed out) not all are the same or have the same role, there is only ONE Head and Leader overall!
1 Cor 12:4-19
There are diversities of gifts, but the same Spirit. There are differences of ministries, but the same Lord. …For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body … in fact the body is not one member but many… now indeed there are many members, yet one body. And the eye cannot say to the hand, “I have no need of you”; nor again the head to the feet, “I have no need of you.” No, much rather, those members of the body which seem to be weaker are necessary. And those members of the body which we think to be less honorable, on these we bestow greater honor.”
The trend to replace the Holy Spirit and His instruction with exciting online messages; sidelining personal enlightenment that comes from from studying the bible; this has all has led to a biblically-illiterate Church unwilling to put any more time and effort into following God than jumping up and down in a meeting and applauding whatever the preacher shouts into his mic.
The Search is ON
The internet, as well as multi-media, has been responsible amongst many other things for making it easy to seek out and follow a popular pastor/preacher.
On the one hand we have slick staged productions and TV shows that rival popstars in their glitzy presentations and music, and on the other hand we have generations of Christians who know nothing else but that as their experience of Christianity. It’s all a show, and the doctrine is pumped out at deafening decibels on a stage accompanied by dancers and musicians.
Or if not, in even the most sedate and respectful atmosphere, the centre-stage is taken up exclusively by the popular sharp-suited preacher who is given carte-blanche on what he preaches, simply because he’s the only one responsible for leading the people.
Is this what Jesus intended?
Did Jesus not say that the leaders are to be the most willing to serve; those who are prominent in the work of the Lord are to be those who are most humble in their attitude.
Jesus washed the feet of his disciples (John 13:1-17)
Prior to this event, the disciples had been fighting amongst themselves trying to determine who was the “greatest” among them (Luke 22:24). Jesus told them that in his Kingdom the last shall be first and the first shall be last (Matthew 20:16). Jesus even prompts his disciples to show the same humility and service for each other as he has shown, even though he is Lord. He is demonstrating that it’s not lordship or authority but servanthood that is essential to what it means to be his follower.
“Whoever wants to be a leader among you must be your servant.” – Matthew 20:26
He said: “You call me Teacher and Lord — and you are right, for that is what I am. So if I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have set you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you. Very truly, I tell you, servants are not greater than their master, nor are messengers greater than the one who sent them.”
The bible warns Christians to be humble: “For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned.” [Rom 12:3]
Is that what we see today? I know there ARE ministers of God – possibly many hidden ones – who DO obey the Lord and are humble, self-effacing and true to the biblical commands of leadership! I praise God for every one. But I am speaking in general of what we see around us in the false churches.
Following God is CORPORATE!
We as the Body of Christ on earth should be united in purpose and deed, all focused on following God the Head in unity and oneness.
Even though some are more capable of preaching than others, some are more gifted as Ministers than others, that does not turn them into autocrats who are above reproach or question. Even more so, it does not turn them into celebrities to be “followed”.
It is the BODY who follows the HEAD; that is the command of Jesus. He did not intend for individual men and women to be raised above the common herd, as if they alone are supreme in knowledge and understanding of scripture. (And too often what they preach today is not scriptural anyway!)
The biblical Church, the churches we read about in scripture, were communities of men and women who came together on common ground, each one having a contribution, a scripture, a prayer, a helpful remark, and all dependent upon the inspiration of God the Holy Spirit who alone had been given the task of “leading you into all truth”.
Each member could contribute, even if it was a simple word of encouragement or a prayer.
Donations were made in order to help the poorer members, the widows, and the unfortunate of society – not to fill up the golden treasure chest of one man who had set himself up as the sole leader, to whom all must silently nod in agreement.
On the day that the members of the Body fell silent, and decided that corporate worship was no longer corporate, but sitting in quiet anonymity, submissively drinking in the words of a man calling himself their head, on that day the Church headed towards immaturity, deception and stagnation.
Of course, the overweening ambition of the new “priests” and the hierarchy of Rome hammered home this mistaken concept, even appointing a different “Head” of the Church called the Father (Il Papa, the Pope) to represent our Father in Heaven.
Under the Pope, an entire hierarchy was created to “lead the Church” and we all know what the outcome of that was.
But even after the demise of Rome during the Reformation, most churches did not break free of the mold, and continued to appoint special clergy to lead them, while they were content to sit in a pew and say and do nothing much, accepting anything their anointed leader might tell them.
The door opened to heresy, and it wasn’t long before the Devil took the opportunity to introduce it. Now instead of deceiving the corporate Body as a whole, all he had to do was corrupt single leaders and get them to introduce false doctrines to their congregations, congregations of “sheep” either willing to be led, or if not, unable to object except by leaving the congregation entirely.
A Personal Interjection
I’d like to illustrate this with something from my own experience.
Years ago while attending Sunday services at conventional church denominations within our village, we Christians (who knew one another as friends and neighbours) would meet during the week for bible study, prayer and fellowship followed by tea and biscuits, in eachother’s homes.
It was in those meetings that the real work was done in terms of praying for one another, sharing revelations and insights, dealing with dilemmas and problems, and doing what the bible listed as our corporate responsibility.
Our worship was spontaneous, and governed only by an agreement to sing or read a psalm (or whatever) as the Spirit inspired.
This kind of fellowship was in fact more valuable to us in our daily walk than the Sunday meetings, although we each supported our local Vicar or Pastor anyway.
However, at one stage a man joined our weekday meetings and very quickly tried to establish his dominance over us as a group. He seemed to consider himself superior as a leader, and started to push himself forward in every activity, leading bible study worship and prayer. Worse, the majority of the group (perhaps too lazy to contradict) were happy to let this man take over and become “the minister”.
So here we have a microcosm of what is happening to the global church right now. Contributions from each member (and thus each member learning to study the bible, know God in prayer and be trained in whatever ministry God intended for them) were jettisoned in favour of sitting back and letting someone else do all the work.
This situation, scaled up to the world church, has led to two things: men taking over as autocratic leaders, and people turning into passive followers either unable or unwilling to do the work of following God personally any more.
When we replace God as the Head (as the Catholic church found out with the Pope) little but heresy, laziness, ignorance and oppression results.
Get Back to Basics
I belong to a lot of online groups and in almost every one I daily see Christians who are floundering, confused, bewildered, at a loss, and asking others (as if that is where the answer is to be found!) if they “should follow Mister So-and-so” and whether Minister Bigshot is reliable and sound, and “what do you think about this church/teacher/book/ministry” as if following men and women is what faith is all about.
Our faith is not found, our problems are not resolved, in some special man or woman who offers the answers! (Often at a price.) NO, faith is about our dependence upon GOD, not MAN.
I do recognise the contribution of Christian authors, speakers, pastors, leaders of all kind, but these things are a helpful addition to what we should already know, not the bedrock of our faith. The elders of the church [appointed by the congregation as a whole] were those who demonstrated their faith, maturity, patience, godly behaviour and sound doctrine such that they were qualified to guide the younger and less able members. They were never intended to be “in charge” of the Body, much less dictators.
Why trust your faith to men?
Why place your trust and hope in men, when it is GOD alone who promises to preserve and teach us? Increasingly, it is men and woman who are posing as specially anointed chosen speakers for God who are the very ones introducing error and false doctrine. It has ever been this way. (Thus we needed the Reformation)
Although it seems almost impossible to achieve at this late stage, I feel we need to return to the very basics of church life.
We need to get reacquainted with reading our bibles (with the Holy Spirit as guide and influencer) having private and corporate prayertimes, worshipping as a BODY rather than being led from the front, and being willing to contribute as an equal member of the Body in all things including scriptural understanding, preaching the word, and ministry.
We also need to stop the erosion of corporate responsibility, and the mental, emotional and spiritual push to “follow” prominent men and women either in church or online.
How Else Shall We Stand?
At the end of the day when perhaps we individual Christians will be facing isolation, persecution, the loss of all things (including leadership) we need to be able to stand alone without fear of falling, and with sufficient relationship with God and knowledge of the truth, to withstand the days to come.
I know that God DOES raise up people as helpers, preachers, evangelists, ministers – I don’t deny that – but if they do not exhibit the characteristics of true ministry (as listed in the bible) and if they are bombastic, self-seeking, greedy and autocratic then we should turn away and return to knowing God by the means he supplied, prayer, bible study and the fellowship of our brothers and sisters.
- See my older article about this subject: Be Perfect!!
- Audio version of this talk, given at a meeting in Norfolk UK (in the 1990’s)
Blessings to you for your post. Very timely reading (in confirmation) as I prepare to voice my concerns on the very situation you have addressed.
We have a re-run of the Shepherding garbage only with a younger generation. However, in His goodness & mercy, the Lord is moving as in a spontaneous & powerful prayer session today in a cafe with strangers we met there.
Wherever the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom, power, light, Life, mercy, love! Nice!
Thank you and be blessed!
Kia Paranihi NZ.
Hey Tricia. I was just saying to Debbie yesterday, that with some group fb pages, and lots of discussion about identifying and turning from error, that many people want others to give them all of the answers. Perhaps a life long dependence upon others is the reason, and now that they’ve realized many leaders have been wrong, they’re turning to their fb group for all of their answers. People don’t want to think for themselves.
I wonder myself if things will ever turn around. Strange, but there’s no indication that it is. Strange!
I just listened to audio #6 Be Perfect. Sent to wife’s phone now hearing again. Good stuff.
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Thank you! Amazing that this talk was given so many years ago and yet it addressed the same problem of man’s influence, and Christian immaturity and dependence, which has just continued to grow until it’s reached the situation we see today!
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