MAY 8, 2006

Fame In The Church
by Pastor George Van Alstine

Actress Ellen Page is a 19-year-old from Nova Scotia, Canada, who looks like a 14-year-old. That’s why she was cast in the role of a vulnerable teen who is the victim in an Internet sexual relationship with an adult male in the recent film “Hard Candy.â€? Apparently (I haven’t seen the film), she and her friends are not that innocent, and they violently turn the tables on the potential sexual predator, who himself becomes the victim. Audiences love that twist.

It’s hard for a young person to deal with the public pressures of being an instant celebrity, and many of them become casualties of the Hollywood hype scene. When she was asked about this for a Los Angeles Times story, Ellen Page told the reporter this wasn’t really a problem for her because of her nation of origin: “Fame doesn’t exist in Canada.â€? Using typical Canadian understatement, she said something quite profound about our cousins to the north. They seem to have a native humility that borders on a desire for anonymity. In contrast to American narcissism and bravado, Canadians seem to be happy to blend into the background.

Preacher that I am, I immediately thought of Ellen’s words in the context of our life in the church. Wouldn’t it be nice if we could say naturally and honestly, “Fame doesn’t exist in the churchâ€?? Don’t bother to try to figure out who should get credit for the success of a certain church program, because no one expects to be honored or thanked for doing God’s will. Don’t worry that someone may be overlooked, because people who serve in the church are happier when they can do their work unnoticed.

There’s a lot in Jesus’ teaching and example that should make his followers fame-immune people. He taught that we should seek to be last, not first; to be servants, not masters. He said we should do our spiritual acts in secret, rather than with public fanfare. He said that we should be so averse to receiving credit for serving him that our right hand should not even know what our left hand does.

And yet, sadly, the cult of fame has found a home in the church Jesus founded. Christianity has its stars—they may be preachers, writers, musicians, or TV personalities. Most of them expect and receive special attention and treatment. Even a local church has its “stars,â€? members who get to walk on the red carpet because of their title, office, money, looks or special “testimony.â€? Others in the congregation show their own addiction to the fame cult by being envious or by trying to bring the “starsâ€? down through fault-finding.

Maybe Ellen Page will succumb to the fame virus, in spite of her Canadian immunization. Still, it’s nice to hear someone at least protest a bit before they fall under fame’s spell.

As for the church, we hear about various revolutionary aspects of what is being called the “Emerging Church Movement.â€? It would be truly revolutionary if the next generation of believers could say honestly, “Fame doesn’t exist in the church.â€? The church only has one Star.