I am one of those tortured-soul types. And this post is an invitation into one of my ongoing struggles. (“Welcome all you suckers to Struggleville” as my friend Bill Mallonee used to sing).
The struggle I am writing about here is more than a personal struggle. This is a church struggle. The issue is this:
How can we avoid the kitsch and the dangers of celebrity culture when God has assigned a public platform for so many members of the church?
The question is important for both those who lift their voices publicly, AND for the church which gives them a platform and lends the ear.
I am struggling with this because I am an author. As an author, I have this overriding sense that God has supplied a message that needs a public hearing. But marketing techniques, strategies for “building your platform,” and trying to bag multiple speaking engagements can feel like dodgy enterprises.
I remember having coffee with a marketing pro while my first book was circulating between editor and copy editor as an unpublished pdf file. She told me it was time to start making calls, time to get the word out, time to knock on the doors, utilize my networking skills and call on all my contacts: if you believe in your message, you have to get it out there, and that objective requires marketing.
This “marketing pro” is not a slick ad-woman with a knack for cut-throat business dealing. She is a Godly, sensible person committed to getting the messages of God through certain authors to the church.
But did anyone ever have a heart-to-heart with Jeremiah and tell him he needed to beef up his networks and start Tweeting like a maniac?
Here is the thing: the Bible is full of people to whom God gave a public message and to whom He assigned a public ministry. And in 6th century BC Judah and in 1st century AD Athens, there was a culturally accepted apparatus in place for how someone aired public messages in public. Jeremiah could stand on the Temple steps and Paul knew to ascend the Areopagus.
I have been thinking about entering what folks in the know call “the speaker circuit.” It feels presumptuous even to write that, and the phrase “the speaker circuit” makes me cringe with awkwardness.
I really believe in Faith Without Illusions. I remember those long hours writing on cynicism, revisiting my own disillusionment, praying and studying with such urgency—and all these practices were endured for the sake of finding and producing some cultural artifact (a book) that by the astonishing and ironic power of providence would be helpful to the church. And as I work on this second book (‘TheoMedia’) the excitement and urgency is no less.
Then again, when Jeremiah had a fire in his bones, he didn’t have a product to sell.
And it is quite unlikely Isaiah would have done much book signing while sitting nude outside that Jerusalem gate.
Now, I am not celebrity-material in personality or appearance. I am a marketing flop, not a marketing pro. I have tweeted about my book once. I blog about it very rarely, and I feel a little weird about having the image of its cover on the column to the right. But the fire is in the bones, crackling within the pages, and perhaps it is irresponsible not to get the thing out there on the Temple steps and in the ears of those lingering about the Areopagus.
But how does one faithfully lift a voice in the public square without endorsing celebrity culture or co-opting the personality-driven tribalism so prevalent in the church?
Dear Church/Campus Ministry/University,
I am a gifted speaker and a published author. I would love to share with your congregation/students what God has placed on my heart. Please consider booking me for one of your upcoming church/chapel events so that we can all benefit from these insights together.
I used to get letters like these quite often when I served in pastoral ministry. And they always turned me off. My book is on the stuff Christians do that make us cynical. And this sort of thing can get my own cynical juices flowing.
Many of us have been divinely appointed to the public role of lifting voices, whether through preaching or writing. So how should it be done with integrity and with a cautious resistance to the trappings of celebrity culture?
I have some friends who do this speaker circuit thing for a living, and I trust them. I just really trust them. I can look to them as models. The one I will make the most influential model, however, will be John the Baptist as he is portrayed in the Gospel of John. For the Fourth Evangelist, John the Baptist showed up, loudly pointed to someone greater, and then faded away…. That is the demeanor captured in the painting above where the Baptist juts his long, lanky finger out toward Jesus.
More on that in the next post….