Now this is a familiar story, it has been told before, it will be told again and nothing will be learned in its telling. For those of you who don't know, Mark Driscoll and Mars Hill Church has been dropped by Acts 29 the church planting group set up by Mark Driscoll and Mars Hill Church. It is the latest chapter in a long and depressing tale which may one day be known as: "The Rise and Fall of Driscoll". If you are curious please consult the internet as I have no desire to repeat it's sorry chapters here.
It reminded me of Justin Bieber. Perhaps the six most tragic words in the English language. I have made no effort to follow the news about Mr Bieber but in this day and age news seeps into my head whether I want it to or not.
The story is the classic: young boy becomes very famous (I can't remember why), grows in popularity, grows in fame, grows in celebrity status, perhaps he is even the darling of the celebrity world for a while. And the fame goes to Mr Bieber's head, his behaviour becomes erratic, he is full of himself, he says stupid things, commits actions of dubious morality and eventually gets punched by Orlando Bloom. Fame turns to infamy, love turns to hate, adoration to insult.
If his current trajectory continues then I predict that he will die of drug abuse some time in the next ten years, bitter, twisted, friendless and alone. Another victim to the cruel Mistress Fame and her fickle ways.
In a recent survey of children then 20% of them said that their goal in life was that they wanted to be famous. When I was a child I wanted to be a pirate so perhaps they can't be blamed for their stupidity. But they would do well to consider the story of Mr Bieber. The price of fame, the cost of being a celebrity is all to often losing all grounding in reality, losing all sense of perspective and sometimes even losing your life. Fame is a double edged sword and there are precious few who can wield it without hurting themselves.
In the very growth of fame the seeds of infamy are sown. Pride, self centeredness, a desire for more and more glory, all combine and so often end in self destruction. A self destruction which in gloried in by the watching world and paraded before the masses.
What a tragedy to see a young man's life ruined by our desire to have celebrities to follow. While Mr Bieber shares much blame then we must share in it too. Buying into the cult of celebrity and fuelling the flames of self destruction. I can't help but look at him and think: there but for the grace of God go I. For if I became as famous as he did, if I had hundreds of thousands of fans, who knows what madness would overtake me? How can anyone cope with a life of fame and remain sane?
What we see in the world we also see in the church. Mark Driscoll rose to become a "voice" in the modern church. There must be few people in Christian circles who have not heard of him. His ascension into celebrity status was not unlike the rise of Justin Bieber, maybe with a few less screaming girls.
And his downfall is as similar and as tragic. No, it is more tragic. It is one thing to see this story play out among unbelievers. It is quite another to see the same bitter story repeated among those who are Christians. Surely, we are better than this? Doesn't our religion teach us the emptiness of fame and the richness of Christ? Doesn't it tell us to seek the glory of God not the glory of man? To put our trust in God and not in man?
While Mark Driscoll is obviously to blame for whatever sins he has committed don't we also share some guilt? We created the celebrity of Driscoll, we let the whole notion of a celebrity pastor flourish and gain weight, we bought into the brand. The Church collectively has to share in this disgrace. It is to our shame that Bieber and Driscoll might so easily be compared.
Mark Driscoll has been asked to apologise to a long list of people. I hope and pray that he will. But we will ask for his forgiveness too? Celebrities cannot create themselves, they need willing "fans". They need people with a mindset which focuses on the man rather than God, on fame rather than holiness and "voice" rather than faithfulness.
If you were the pastor of a mega church, a best selling author, a world renown preacher and a conference selling name would you handle it better? Would the pride and the self obsession and the desire for more and more glory be resisted? As you are fed all the lies of celebrity culture could you cling to the truth that you are a jar of clay?
In the tragedy of Justin Bieber there seems very little hope of a happy ending. In the tragedy of Mark Driscoll our faith affords us more hope. Our God opposes the proud and gives grace to the humble. Our God is a forgiving and merciful God. Our God knows how to best discipline his people.
We should all be disciplined by the rise and fall of Driscoll. We created the celebrity pastor monster. We followed the patterns of celebrity found in the world rather than the patterns of Christ found in the Bible. But monsters can be killed and patterns can be rewoven.
It starts by recognising that what our church leaders need most is not fame and adoration but the robustness of Christ-like love. Our leaders are jars of clay, easily replaceable, nothing much in themselves, flawed and human. As the old saying goes: even the best of men are only ever men at best. Our love starts here, with the weakness of humanity and the lacking of our leaders and ourselves in mind. It starts by recognising that our church leaders are only ever second in command. Our Supreme Leader is Jesus Christ and he owns our first love and loyalty.
If our eyes were as firmly fixed on Christ as they should be then celebrity pastors should be a laughable idea. What currency can fame carry when our Lord Jesus is on our minds? The glory of being a celebrity is like tiny flecks of dust in comparison to being the least in the Kingdom of Heaven.
What I think it is becoming clear is that the prayer of all churches and church leaders should be that we are saved from the curse of celebrity pastors. I wonder how many pastors have ever envied Driscoll? And I wonder how many envy him now? Fame is a fleeting thing, here today, and tomorrow a sword upon which so many have fallen.
The perspective we are given is not one of fame but of humility. We were once lowly and foolish. Now our only glory is that of Jesus Christ. As Paul writes:
"Brothers and sisters, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. God chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before him. It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God—that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption. Therefore, as it is written: “Let the one who boasts boast in the Lord.” 1 Corinthians 1 26 v 31.