by Teasi Cannon
It really is crazy how much weight we are prone to place upon the words and endorsements of celebrities. After all, we are fully aware they get paid to entertain us. Whether on the big screen or a sports field, these bigger-than-life icons usually aren’t subject experts or even emotionally stable. It makes no sense for them to wield the power they do over our hearts and minds.
But what if the celebrity is standing behind a pulpit or leads a popular ministry? We don’t look to these folks to entertain us (or do we?). We look to them to deliver spiritual truth and to emulate what Christian life should look like. We should trust and look to them as good role models, right? Celebrities get paid to entertain us, and it can sometimes be no different with Christian celebrities. So why are we relying on them for our theology again? #apologetics Click To Tweet
Yes, and no. The Bible affirms the benefits of godly role models. The apostle Paul encouraged people to follow his example as he followed Christ (1 Corinthians 11:1), and Hebrews 11 is full of heroes God saw fit to include as examples for us. Throughout church history, there have been many godly men and women behind pulpits or leading ministries whose lives inspire us and encourage us. Who isn’t inspired to follow Christ with more boldness after reading stories of martyrs? Still today, there are incredible church leaders living solid (not perfect) Christian lives, wearing out their knees to live worthy of their calling. These brothers and sisters deserve not only our respect, but also our prayer, provision, and patience! What they shouldn’t get is our worship or our unvetted devotion, and when we give it to them, we put ourselves on shaky ground—becoming vulnerable to deception, disillusionment, and even deconversion.[i]
Tragically, we are seeing a greater frequency of Christian headlines proclaiming another of our icons has lost his or her faith to some degree. Sometimes it’s a move toward Progressive Christianity,[ii] while other times it’s a move to agnosticism or complete atheism. Our hearts break for our fallen leaders, but the additional tragedy is all the confusion they leave in their wake … and the great number of souls who follow them … wherever they go. As much as our hearts break for our fallen leaders, our hearts should break even more for the devastation left in their wake, especially if one of the fallen is a hero for our kids. Click To Tweet
As Christian parents, the thing we want most for our kids is an enduring, biblically sound faith. We see the statistics of young people walking away from church and even away from Jesus, and it is incredibly disheartening—even anxiety-provoking.[iii] So, how can we help our children stay on the narrow road following Jesus, even when people they look up to lose their way?
I’d say first and foremost, we must model an enduring, real faith that includes ups and downs and dealing with failed expectations. Our children need to see examples of how to hurt over the lost without being completely derailed. We can’t give what we don’t already have—so a good bit of self-reflection and recalibration of our own hearts might be in order (this can be daily for me, anyone else?).
I also believe creating an environment that invites honest conversation is a must. We must strive to be the safest place for our children’s doubts and struggles, and the more we study and dig into finding solid answers for our own doubts, the easier this becomes.
Here are three conversations or lessons I believe can also help us celebrity-proof our children:
1. Don’t drink pee.
I remember watching one of those extreme survival shows in which a mother and her child had run out of gas in the middle of a desert and were forced to walk for several days in search of help. After running out of water and enduring thirst for as long as they possibly could, they finally got so desperate for liquid that they drank their own urine. Their physical need for water couldn’t be filled by a rightful, legitimate source, and so they turned to a counterfeit. A really gross counterfeit! I’ll bet they would have turned off their physical need for water if they could have, but it is innate. It’s part of what keeps humans alive whether we like it or not. We will find something to drink to stay alive.
Another thing we can’t turn off is our need to worship. We are created to be worshippers, or another way to say it is we are made to be glorifiers. When we glorify something, we magnify it or exalt it or lift it up. When we focus on the object of our worship, we tend to venerate or even imitate it. This is what advertisers are banking on when they use celebrities to sell their products. We want to be just like them!
There is only one legitimate object of human worship, and that is God. We are created in His image … made to reflect and imitate His character and to magnify Him, making it easier for a lost world to see Him. In fact, it’s our primary purpose.[iv] I love how the Westminster Shorter Catechism states it:
Q: What is man’s chief end?
A: Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy Him forever.
We will find someone or something to worship. We can’t help ourselves. But whenever the object of our worship is anyone other than God, we are turning to a counterfeit—just like drinking pee. And our kids need to know that counterfeits like these will always disappoint us because they can’t meet our basic human needs. Christian celebrities are basically counterfeits to the ONE whom we are to truly worship. Do not exchange the real thing for a fake. There's nowhere to go but down. Click To Tweet
God, as He reveals Himself in scripture and in Jesus, is the only legitimate, safe, never-failing object of our worship. While we will have great respect for people who live admirable lives, that respect should not compare with the worship we direct toward God. When we lift people up, giving them an unhealthy amount of influence over us, we’ve made an idol.
2. Don’t be afraid of skeletons.
I’ll admit, real skeletons are a little freaky to look at, and I’m not suggesting we engage our little ones in an in-depth study of human anatomy. What I am suggesting is that in addition to telling our children about the Christlike, positive contributions of our role models and historical heroes, we intentionally look at a few “skeletons in the closet” every now and then. You know, those pesky little topics we don’t like to discuss because they might ruin things—like Christian testimonies.
For example, some of the things Martin Luther had to say about our Jewish friends are truly cringe-worthy, yet his wonderful contributions to the church can’t be denied. Both Jonathan Edwards and George Whitefield were slave owners, and John Calvin was known to be quite a control freak who confused loyalty to himself with loyalty to the Gospel.[v]
Not only do I suggest looking at the moral failures of our historical heroes, but I believe it’s good for our children to see our own. I’m not saying we should reveal every single shocking thing we’ve done, but prayerfully allowing our kids see how we’ve failed or what we’re grappling with intellectually or what God is working on in our hearts (at a level they can comprehend) shows them that God uses broken vessels. This not only stresses that fact that we are all broken (so don’t put people on pedestals), but it also demonstrates that God can use us too—even though we aren’t perfect. The bible didn't hide the flaws of the men and women God chose to use. We shouldn't either when it comes to the current Christian celebrities. Don't slander, but emphasize the humanity of every leader. Click To Tweet
God didn’t sugar coat the lives of our biblical heroes. I can’t think of a single one (other than Jesus, of course) who didn’t have some sort of moral failure as part of his or her story. When we openly discuss the fallibility of man with our children—including discussing stories about people who seem to have lost their faith—they will be better prepared. While we want our kids to experience a healthy grief over sin—both their own and those of people they look up to—we don’t want them to think God has lost His sovereignty every time a big name in the church loses his or her way.
3. Don’t eat plastic fruit.
My grandma always had a big bowl of plastic fruit on her table when I was a kid. I remember squeezing the waxy grapes, flattening them and then watching them pop back into shape. I also remember the fruit looking so real, though I knew they were fake, I sometimes took a bite anyway. Talk about disappointment! No matter how good those pieces of plastic fruit looked, closer inspection exposed them for the posers they were.
The world puts some tantalizing plastic fruit on its table, too. Popularity, platforms, natural talents, wealth, physical beauty—all really tempting. Multiple times a day this fake fruit is on offer for us, and the more we look at it, the more we are apt to eat it up … even in church.
As Christ-followers, we know the world’s fruit leads to disappointment. It never delivers what it promises. But God’s fruit is lasting, life-giving, and available to every one of us. Godly fruit includes love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness, and self-control. In the Bible, the real heroes are often the least attractive, least gifted, and least likely to succeed … but they were willing to sacrifice everything for the sake of Christ. These are the things we should be looking for in the lives of the people we respect and follow. When we can’t get close enough for a full inspection, a healthy level of skepticism is okay. Not that we want our children to think the worst of anyone, but we do want them to remember people are fallible and shouldn’t have too much influence over us—especially when we don’t even know them.We don't want our children to think the worst of anyone, but we do want them to remember people are fallible and shouldn’t have too much influence over us—especially when we don’t even know them. Click To Tweet
There is nothing wrong with our children admiring someone’s natural ability to sing or play an instrument. But they need to understand that neither of those are clear indicators of a faithful commitment to Jesus or to holiness. There is nothing wrong with being moved by a speaker or teacher’s style of communicating, but goosebumps aren’t always a clear indicator of a sermon’s biblical accuracy.
When our children tell us they loved youth group or a conference they attended, those are great opportunities to discuss what exactly it was that impacted them and help them decide if those things would be good indicators of godly fruit. If not, it might simply be their focus was on superficial things (they weren’t up for fruit inspection just then), or it could be the fruit on offer was truly plastic. Either way, it’s a meaningful conversation that can give us an opportunity to remind our kids how to be on the lookout for godly, real fruit in the future.
[i] “Deconversion” is the term used to describe the systematic dismantling of one’s faith, usually preceded by abuse, intellectual doubt, personal pain or an unbiblical lifestyle.
[ii] For a good overview of Progressive Christianity and its dangers, read: https://www.alisachilders.com/blog/5-signs-your-church-might-be-heading-toward-progressive-christianity or https://www.michaeljkruger.com/new-series-the-10-commandments-of-progressive-christianity/
[iii] For a good article on this, read: https://coldcasechristianity.com/writings/are-young-people-really-leaving-christianity/
[iv] I’ve written a book on purpose vs. calling if you’re interested: Lord, Where’s My Calling: When the Big Question Becomes a Big Distraction
[v] Here are several articles and videos on dealing with the moral failures of our heroes from The Gospel Coalition: https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/?s=moral+failures+of+our+historical+heroes
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