It’s that cinematic celebration time of year again. We are now only days away from the Oscars. I watched its precursor, the foreign press’s Golden Globes. Did you tune in? I enjoy these cultural events; there always seems to be something worth noting. And no different this year—it arrived from the words of George Clooney.
Picking up his prestigious Cecil B De Mille award, Mr. Clooney proceeded to tell the elite gathering that they were all “winners.” He described how the nominees would be congratulated at the red carpet coming in, and then four of the five would be labeled “losers” going out. To this, he rebuffed, “If you are in this room, you caught the brass ring. You get to do what you always dreamed to do and be celebrated for it.”
He cut through it, didn’t he? They had a moment to see themselves in contrast to the rest of us peons—who live lives of obscurity, with little attention, notoriety or celebration on what we do. I’m being facetious! I actually liked the speech. Obviously, he garners tremendous respect from his colleagues, and his point was spot on. That group was an extra-special sort—even without the trophy.
Observing the secular spectacle stirred in me a religious question. Where does honor lie in the church? Who is celebrated in North America’s ecclesial circles? As to specifics, I realize that would vary from church-to-church and mission-to-mission. I do not know your church or its culture. I realize honor could be well distributed by leaders. My general answer, however, may not please you. Not if you are a pastor. Though I don’t want “lay people” (hate that distinction) to be pharisaical in seeking praise or the spotlight, it baffles me how much attention goes to the upper ranks—in lieu of the rank and file. Can you hear it ringing in your ears: “Wasn’t that message amazing?” “What a great church service we just had.” “Look at what our pastor did this week.” “Our pastor is better than your pastor!”
Let me eviscerate the crap. The buzz over the sermon and service misses the greater story. What should be celebrated today? Is it the sermon? Or the creative team’s dramatic use of media? Who gets God’s Oscar or Golden Globe? In my Bible (yours too), the Gospels and the book of Acts highlights a whole lot of action outside a service. Was that a mistake? An oversight of the Holy Spirit? Maybe God blew it on this one. Contrary to our staged celebrations, the Bible exalts the movement of the gospel, led by the Spirit, through his body.
For that reason, I advocate for attention to point in the body’s direction. What I typically bump into—is that the red carpet only extends so far. Too often it stays on the stage. No wonder the gospel carriers languish in their noble task. No one pays heed. Most outer missional efforts go un-noticed, un-supported and un-appreciated.
In Clooney’s language, have we not all, as torchbearers for Jesus, received the brass ring? Or did only the pastor get one? Whose message is a better gauge of church vitality, the pastor’s message on Sunday morning or the people’s during the week? In today’s “attractional” thrust, it’s the pastor and his team that make headlines. The rest sit around twitting their thumbs.
Am I being harsh? When was the last time you saw members brought up on stage to unpack their story of gospel impact? When did you give credence to efforts made in reaching people who live well outside the church’s joining sphere? By all appearances, the gospel remains sequestered inside a service and under a microphone. Is that how it should be? I plead with you: stop to consider what is occurring. I just can’t get away from thinking—there’s something greatly wrong with our current version of Christianity.
When it comes to honor, let me illustrate a needed shift. In the 2012 London games, Olympic gymnast, Ally Raisman, after winning the coveted all-around gold, took off her medal walked over and put it around the neck of her coach. By a rarely seen gesture, she showed deference to his pivotal part in her success. This is the kind of honor we need in the church: The people achieving the mission and then appreciating the pastor-leaders who got them there! That would reflect biblical leadership—that equips members for the works of ministry (Eph 4:15–17). Instead, we’ve got everyone heralding the pastor who’s doing everything right, while the people perform poorly.
It’s tragic, if you think about it. The movement that should have won the Globe, didn’t.