Not too long ago I was speaking with a young church planter who had heart as well as ambition. He said to me, “Rich, by now you should have had a couple book publishing deals and more, right?” Really? I discovered the culture of the young, hip church planter that hopes to be that guy. The cool kid. The one with huge twitter following, conference speaking slots, and name recognition. This attitude is nothing new. Young leaders in recent years have seen this as the way to success and into the short list of being cool.
Of course, this is not the only motive there. The desire of this church planter was to reach people who no one else could reach. He was good enough to recruit a team of young, energetic leaders. Celebrity, whether we shun it like a hipster to claim humility or embrace it like a narcissist is part of our leadership culture in the American evangelical church. If you are cool, you can reach people. Right? So, why not work at it?
I have sat with younger leaders who intimated to me their plans to work on their appearance while others worked on their degrees. They spoke of blogging, branding, and books mixed with business strategies. Churches that need revitalization desire “the next thing” and if you can sell yourself as a young leader then you might fill the bill. There is nothing wrong with this, except the commodity of cool. Cool can be bought.
The more known your are the better. Name dropping is the game. Really, it goes on all the time at the cool conferences. On one hand we celebrate popularity while scorning and forsaking it altogether. I learned that to some I am cool because I have a blog that reaches some people. When I was younger, cooler, and at a huge church I had my phone ring quite a bit with offers to do and be many things. There is nothing wrong with notoriety–and using it for good. But, we live with mixed motives at best if honest with ourselves.
Being uncool also becomes a badge of honor. Just like false humility is a form of pride, being hipster-uncool is no different than being popular-cool. The desire to be seen and known for being something you are not does not earn you points. Working hard to not be a celebrity is not worth it. All this to say that if a person is noted for the work they do in ministry it can be a good thing. We should not envy, covet, or minimize what God is doing through some individuals we all happen to know by name. If you end up in that category, I pray dearly for you that your influence would be an asset.
With all the talk of platform these days, it is best to know that our platform is built on the solid foundation of our relationship with God and filtered by those that know us best. To be judged only by our twitter avatar or “yes men” cronies around us is not fair in any direction. Here are some questions to keep your cool/uncool in check:
- Does your family and close friends esteem you in the same way your social media followers do? When you are down or at the bottom, if those that know you best still have the thumbs up you are in good shape! The opposite means you are simply a jerk. Don’t be a jerk. Being cool is not bad if you end up there.
- In building coolness, what are your ethics? The reality is that in giving away to others you actually grow influence that lasts. But, in doing political favors you buy into human fickleness. You might be in, but will soon be out. Church politics can be played or overridden. The quid pro quo is superseded by first becoming last in godly leadership.
- Are you perfect? No. Of course not. I have to remember to be human and “in process” just like the rest of you. No photo-shopped social media campaign will last forever. People are not perfect. And, perfect people are actually boring, right? But, I think sharing too much online or in person can be self-serving. Boundaries make sense. Use them.
- What have you done for me lately? As leaders in churches or in faith circles we feel entitled to honor. Really, the honor is service. Just as a parent needs to mature to put child above self, so a leader serves his community. It is time to shed the entitlement as pastor, worship leader, or board member. This does not mean becoming a punching bag either since only the well-being of others comes first, not their selfish whims.
- Do you hype too much? There is nothing more annoying than a Facebook or Twitter of “the best church service ever” or “most amazing pastor” and so forth. Hyping is not for God but to associate you with success in front of others. I suggest turning hype into praise. “Thank God for our church service this weekend” and “I am thankful to God for our pastor” ring better and truer.
- Who speaks truth in love to you? Having relationships that could care less about your status and more about your marriage must be fostered. I am thankful I have friends who care for me beyond what I write or sing in front of others. In fact, these are the most valuable people on the planet–starting with my wife and two kids. The challenge is to grow that circle and maintain it. These are the ones left when nothing else is left standing.