June 24, 2010
Thumbs Down for "The Nines"
A popularity contest reinforces what's wrong with the church rather than what's right.
In ancient Rome large audiences gathered in coliseums to be entertained by slaves and prisoners—including many Christians—fighting for their lives against wild beasts and one another. Their fate was often determined by the emperor who gauged the crowd’s pleasure or displeasure. If he displayed a thumbs up the victim was spared; a thumbs down meant he was put to death. Popularity became the measure of a person’s life.
For 2000 years the people of Christ have stood in opposition to this value. Paul wrote to remind the church that “we regard no one according to the flesh” (2 Cor 5:16). We do not measure a person’s value by the same standard as the world. Worth is not determined by popularity, beauty, or worldly success. It is this conviction that has motivated Christians to fight against slavery, seek justice for the orphans and widows, build hospitals and schools, preach the Good News to the poor, and value all people from the womb to the tomb.
For this reason I was both saddened and disturbed by the Leadership Network’s decision to run a Twitter-based popularity contest to determine the speakers for THE NINES conference in 2010. The feedback form seen here allows users to submit the name of a church leader. Twitter users are then able to give a thumbs up or down to each person. Ranking is then automatically determined by the ratio of positive to negative votes a leader receives. Adding a dash of arsenic to an already distasteful dish, the site allows you to see exactly who voted up or down for each leader.
We have all come to expect such juvenile popularity contests from folks like TMZ, MTV, and others in the outrageous and exhibitionist popular media, but to see the leaders of the church behaving this way reveals how far we’ve allowed the values of Rome to infiltrate the kingdom of God. Of all people, pastors and church leaders should be modeling a different way, a different set of values. Fame is not a measure of maturity or godliness. Popularity is not what ought to determine who is heard and who is shunned. And we would be wise to remember that popular opinion is what sent Jesus to the cross and set Barabbas free.
Last year I participated in THE NINES. My 9-minute talk focused on the temptation we face as church leaders to determine our value and worth by the outcomes of our ministry and the popularity we achieve. Instead I encouraged leaders to remember that our value comes from our communion with God—the one who calls us his beloved son or daughter.
Church leaders ought to model this alternative source of human value for our people as a way of subverting the values of our present day Rome. And organizations intending to aid ministers like Leadership Network ought to do the same. But rather than defying Caesar they seem eager to emulate him.
To my friends at Leadership Network, take up your calling and model values worthy of Christ’s church. Take down the poll.