A Deeply Relational Faith
“It’s all fake”
“It took 100’s of takes”
“I did not eat at all that day to look like that”
An extremely successful social media star was fed up. The stress finally got to her. She called it quits. This was despite hundreds of thousands of followers, millions of likes, and a lucrative income. Her story was printed in many online news outlets.
“It was all fake“, she declared.
Her public life and presented through media was awesome. Her pictures were filled with beaches, impromptu parties, and fun, fun, fun! Her brand was her own happiness. Her followers were dying to be her.
The problem was it was not real. She was not actually the person in the thousands of pictures. Her persona was just a mask. The face of contentment was something she put on to get attention. It was her brand sold to the world. Her life was awful in truth. She was using marketing to make it look good.
She was miserable. She was stressed. Her reality was filled with pain and it was obvious to those who actually knew her. Media savvy concealed this from the world.
She angrily demanded hundreds of takes in order to get the perfect carefree “candid” shot. She starved herself to look good. She was desperate to avoid criticism. Her pressure-filled highly scripted reality stood in stark contrast with what she sold to the public. The cost of carefree was daily pain.
Her family knew it. They saw the ugliness up close every day. Her closed friends did as well. Her disciples had no idea. Her fans were oblivious so her outburst of truth seemed to come out of nowhere. It left them shocked and disappointed.
“She looked so happy and content. How could she be so filled with anxiety and misery?“, they asked in stunned disbelief.
The truth was she was never her image. She was always unhappy. The truth just finally broke through.
Image is not Truth
It was easy for her media followers to be surprised. Her entire online presence presented a different message. But if we are being as truthful as she was, was there any reason for them to be shocked?
On what grounds were they shocked?
They had no idea who the actual person in the public spotlight was. They only knew her carefully crafted media. Pictures are easily manipulated.
They thought they knew her because of her work. They didn’t.
They want to buy something different than their own imperfect lives…So she sold an image.
They want to believe…so they project themselves on her.
The truth was the celebrity was never the person they wanted her to be…ever. They just believed what they wanted to believe. They believed an image without evidence and then were shocked it was not true. Is that reasonable?
We are facing a very similar clash between reality and persona in the wider Christian world. Widespread media such as TV, radio, and the internet have been wonderful things for the message of Christ. The easy access to music, Bibles, good teaching and other Christians can be a gift from the Lord. It also can be terribly confusing.
Christians using personas, presentation and false intimacy obscure the fact we also have no idea of the reality of many of the “Christian media celebrities”. They can be just as lost as a young lady selling her happiness for meaningless social media “likes”. It is impossible to tell without the actual relationship the Lord desires for His people.
We all understand how iron is meant to sharpen iron. Yet, we can miss the fact iron cannot sharpen anything without actual close contact.
How could this happen?
Joshua Harris was a fixture in some portions of the Christian community. He wrote a best seller in his 20’s, another after getting married and pastored a prominent church. Marty Sampson is a musician who led worship at Hillsong Church. His role was highly influential in the Christian community. James MacDonald is a celebrity pastor. He wrote a number of books and founded a church planting movement. These men built huge followings in the Christian community. They then greatly disappointed their followers through their choices. Their actions were met with surprise. They even caused some believers to question their own faith.
It just seems so out of the blue and shocking when celebrity Christians fall.
The question is should it be?
The surprise is certainly understandable. We buy into what these men and women are putting out much like Instagram followers. But what does the average Christian know of these personalities we feel so strongly about?
Have we watched them in person as they deal with struggles?
Do we know about their true prayer life?
Do we know how they treat their spouses?
Have we walked beside them in good days and bad?
The modern Christian media personality may just be an Instagram Christian. We read their books, watch their presentations and love their body of work. Yet, this is the best possible version of their persona. This may be their mask to conceal the death inside them. Their reality may be totally different…we don’t really know them.
They may be great men or women of God. They may be as real as the Apostle Paul.
They also may be empty suits playing a part. They may be projecting a persona that does not match reality.
An Instagram Christians projects the best possible angle of themselves to gain their own followers. It is not all surprising that type of Christian runs into trouble when things in their life get challenging. They have been in a terrible place for a long time. They are building their own kingdom and pretending it is God’s. Circumstances are now just revealing it.
Haggai presents a challenging passage in this regard:
“Now this is what the Lord Almighty says: ‘Give careful thought to your ways. You have planted much, but harvested little. You eat, but never have enough. You drink, but never have your fill. You put on clothes, but are not warm. You earn wages, only to put them in a purse with holes in it.’ This is what the Lord Almighty says: ‘Give careful thought to your ways. Go up into the mountains and bring down timber and build my house, so that I may take pleasure in it and be honored,’ says the Lord. ‘You expected much, but see, it turned out to be little. What you brought home, I blew away. Why?’ declares the Lord Almighty. ‘Because of my house, which remains a ruin, while each of you is busy with your own house. Therefore, because of you the heavens have withheld their dew and the earth its crops. I called for a drought on the fields and the mountains, on the grain, the new wine, the olive oil and everything else the ground produces, on people and livestock, and on all the labor of your hands.’ ” – Haggai 1:5-11
There was a lot of business in the time covered in Haggai. The people of Israel were working hard. It produced very little in spiritual fruit. They were not actually working for the Lord.
The Lord called on Haggai to call them out on their deception. The truth was always present. It simply took one man willing to speak to reveal it.
This is not an indictment of prominent Christians. It is simply the reality that the use of media can be easily manipulated to distort reality. This does not make celebrity pastors all bad. It does require us to be wise where we place our trust.
Our favorite worship band’s music may be wonderful. We have no idea about the life of its members.
One prominent pastor has an entire team of people in his employ who help him write the stories and jokes that go into his sermons. There is nothing wrong with that. Yet, the listener is inclined to believe that man is witty and filled with stories. Only getting to know him would reveal whether this is true.
Paul deals with this truth repeatedly in his letters. He teaches the Lord Jesus and Him crucified simply. He also then tells the disciples to look to his life for proof. He tells them to follow him as he, Paul, follows Christ in 1 Corinthians. For more on this read Follow Me as I Follow Christ. The word “follow” in the verse can also be translated as mimic or imitate. The immature believers are called to an intensely personal level of relationship with Paul. They need to know Paul intimately if they are to imitate his following of Jesus.
One such relationship is lived out in the Bible with Timothy. Paul adopts Timothy as his spiritual child. He lives in close fellowship with him. Paul teaches him everything he knows. He also invites Timothy to look closely at his life to see the evidence of a Jesus transformed life:
But you, Timothy, certainly know what I teach, and how I live, and what my purpose in life is. You know my faith, my patience, my love, and my endurance. 11 You know how much persecution and suffering I have endured. You know all about how I was persecuted in Antioch, Iconium, and Lystra—but the Lord rescued me from all of it. 12 Yes, and everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution. 13 But evil people and impostors will flourish. They will deceive others and will themselves be deceived. 2 Timothy 3
Timothy listens to Paul because he teaches the Gospel of Jesus. He trusts Paul with his life because Timothy saw how Paul lived. The evidence that Paul was not an Instagram Christian was seen through how Paul lived, how he acted out his purpose, how he persevered, endured and suffered for Jesus. These are all up close and personal observations. It is the proof Paul was who he said he was.
This evidence is impossible to gather through social media. We cannot know a Christian celebrity’s real heart through media interaction. Christianity was never meant to work that way.
Timothy would have been rightfully shocked had Paul fallen into disrepute during his lifetime. Timothy knew everything about Paul. It would have been totally out of character for Paul. He was a Christian through every part of his life.
Though we are free to read, enjoy, listen and learn from the works of men and women of the faith. Media is not a bad thing. We cannot forget without regular personal interaction, our actual knowledge of someone’s character is lacking. We just don’t know.
So I don’t know the history or hearts of any of the folks who are struggling in the Christian limelight. I hope they are Christians who have hit a low point and rebound. It is simply understanding the limitations of the medium that protects our hearts from being led astray by personas, masks, and savvy merchandising.