Their promotional material is another example of how the virus of celebrity culture has infected Christianity:
The “Tomlin UNITED” Tour aims to not only bring the church back together but also bring faith back to the center of our conversations. Expected to be an experience unlike any other, the tour offers friends, family, and strangers the opportunity to worship together again after what has been a long season of isolation.
Chris Tomlin and Joel Houston from UNITED are quoted:
“We really believe this tour is going to be something unforgettable…This is the moment for what God has been planning…This is a critical moment in time for people to be reminded that there is a true and living hope, and that’s obviously Jesus. Our prayer is that these nights of worship would be like coming home moments for people, people who have found themselves far from God…a real moment where the spirit of God can do what only the spirit of God can do in people’s lives.”
And if that was not enough, there are VIP tickets where paying extra can give you an ‘intimate pre-show artist experience’. One outlet even says that these tickets ‘allow you to take a photo with your idol.’
Its another vivid example of how shamelessly the celebrity virus has infected Christian ministry among some of the most influential churches. Can you imagine Billy Graham selling himself like this?
But this virus can also affect us at far more local level.
About 10 years ago I was invited to speak at a conference for youth and community workers. The person who had invited me didn’t know me well but had been involved in an online campaign that I had started.
I soon realised my host was under a misapprehension that I was a lot more well-known than I actually am. So, with great enthusiasm, he introduced me to the 300 or so people at the conference by saying:
“Well I am really excited everyone, because today we have JON KUHRT here to speak to us.”
You could tell by the way he said it that he was expecting some kind of response. Maybe a smattering of applause or perhaps even a whoop. But all he got was blank faces.
Undaunted, he continued to introduce me, and then decided to conduct a straw poll to verify his belief in my fame:
“So who here has heard of Jon Kuhrt?”
You can visualise the tumbleweed blowing down an empty street. It was an awkward moment, to say the least.
I think a total of two people put their hands up. One, rather unconvincingly, said “I think I have…” That proved to be the highpoint. The other said “I know his brother – does that count?”
My host could not hide his disappointment with my lack of fame. The only person who was happy about the whole episode was my wife. She thought it was hilarious.
Self-promotion in the Church
There are two good reasons why we should reflect on profile and self-promotion within the Church.
Firstly, its because platforms, promotion and profile are dangerous. Cravings for recognition often jostle for centre-stage in our lives but to seek affirmation via this route is to feed a beast that will never be sated. It increases insecurity, feeds arrogance and warps authentic spirituality.
Secondly, because Jesus shows the totally opposite approach . He downplayed what he was doing, often avoided big crowds and refused to do what some ‘promoters’ wanted him to. He rejected temptations which offered easy fame. He teaches us to do good in secret, to be humble and that true greatness was found in serving others. Following Jesus’ example is authentic worship.
Idol of Celebrity
There is no doubt that Chris Tomlin and Hillsong United have great musical gifts which bless many people. And there is nothing wrong with selling tickets to concerts.
But there is something wrong about a Christian worship event where paying extra money gives you VIP status to fawn over fellow believers. It is directly contrary to what Jesus teaches and the example he gives.
In our status-ridden world, true worship is a time when everyone stands equal before God. If we allow fame and celebrity to become idols, we are not worshipping the God revealed in Jesus Christ.