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The Editorial

Who wants to be anonymous?

We live in a celebrity culture.

John Benton, Editor

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And, sure enough, the church has bought into it. We have celebrity Christians of various sorts who bestride the evangelical scene. They have an enormous following. If they tweet a commendation of something, thousands of Christians buy into it.

In and of itself there is nothing wrong with celebrity. ‘Some have greatness thrust upon them.’ Some simply are very gifted people. But others covet it, seek it, grasp for it. That’s where the problem arises. And these days everyone seems intoxicated with a desire to be known, recognised, appreciated and respected. We crave to be a ‘somebody’, to be something – anything – other than nothing. Our Bible Colleges and pulpits include those in search of fame. But Jesus made himself nothing (Philippians 2.7).

Christian ‘wannabes’

Of course, the desire for celebrity in the church is nothing new. The disciples argued over ‘Who will be the greatest?’ (Mark 9.34). James and John were also at it (Mark 10.37). All this is actually a dreadful blight on Christ’s church and a huge hindrance to genuine discipleship. But there is money to be made and conferences and ‘kingdoms’ to be built.

A book published three years ago, Embracing Obscurity*, was recently brought to my attention. It is a radical and much needed challenge to celebrity Christianity and all its ‘wannabes.’ Through the simple unfolding of numerous NT texts, alongside pertinent testimonies, it is both balanced and incisive. We are called to embrace servanthood, suffering, mystery and much more, looking for a reward, not here, but in heaven. Perhaps the apostles whose names fade from view after the Gospels have as much to teach us as Peter, John and Paul.

Left field?

The anonymous author explains how the book originated. It was an ordinary Sunday. ‘I sat listening to a guest preacher talk on the humility of Christ. He spoke of… our puny attempts to “be somebody”, and of a God who had everything yet chose to be nothing… My mind searched for words to encompass all that was turning my world upside down. Then in a rare divine moment, the phrase came: embrace obscurity.’ How left field that sounds to us! But it shouldn’t.

Where to plant a church?

I have lived half my life in the fashionable town of Guildford, Surrey. It is a moderately large town, but it already has at least 42 churches, many of them evangelical. Yet every Christian group you can name feels it must plant a congregation in Guildford. The latest is Hillsong. Why? While there is always room for another church, the population of Guildford already have plenty of opportunities to hear the gospel. There are numerous outreach events with ongoing evangelism from many churches. Meanwhile, there are villages and smaller towns nearby with next to nothing with regard to the gospel. But Guildford is a celebrity place and so everyone feels they must pile in.

Who will embrace the obscurity of working in small places to reach lesser numbers of people who are still on their way to hell, but where there’s no chance of becoming a big name with a big church? I could be wrong but I wonder if very often our ‘strategic’ thinking with respect to church planting is just a another cover for pursuing celebrity status.

*Embracing Obscurity. Becoming Nothing in the Light of God’s Everything. By Anonymous. B&H Publishing Group. 178 pages, £9.99. ISBN 978 1433 677816