From Guru to Gospel
For it has been reported to me by Chloe’s people that there are quarrels among you, my brothers and sisters. What I mean is that each of you says, “I belong to Paul,” or “I belong to Apollos,” or “I belong to Cephas,” or “‘I belong to Christ.” Has Christ been divided? – 1 Corinthians 1:11-13 (NRSV)
Most of the biggest, wealthiest and what passes for the strongest churches are organized around a single charismatic leader—usually male, often handsome, purportedly straight, and inevitably aged 32-58.
Those of us in (ahem) real churches (read: small and struggling) might call this ilk a cult of personality and not a church. But we fall victim to the same idolatries when we offer our allegiance in church membership to a pastor and not to the community. And when the pastor falls short, personally offends, or worse—leaves—we are heartbroken or furious. We may even leave the church ourselves.
When the risen Jesus was subsumed into heaven, his movement was riven by fandom and idolatry. The leadership sought to sort itself out, and people took sides over their personal gurus: Peter and Paul and Apollos. It almost killed the church before it had really been born. Then Paul pointed them all back to Jesus Christ (a miracle in itself, for Paul had quite an ego).
Every pastor—every Christian, in fact—is called to be a finger pointing to God. We worship the Creator, not the creature. Ask yourself: when the church disappoints you at some point, as all churches inevitably do, can you give your loyalty and heart not to a person, or even a people—but to the gospel of grace and service and kin-dom that underlie them all, whether or not we live out that gospel perfectly? If we do that, our love and loyalty, like Christ themself, can never truly die.
Lord, make me a gracious follower and not a fangirl. Amen.
Molly Baskette is Senior Minister of the First Church of Berkeley, California, and the author of the best-selling Real Good Church and Standing Naked Before God.