I am all for honouring those people God has called and anointed, especially when it is clear they have developed a lifestyle of wisdom and submission to God to walk in their dreams and have significant grace to impart to you. I have a number of people who are my mentors, my pastors, who I honour, who I give to, who I listen to, who I will do whatever I can to help and bless.And having said all that, I am seeing over and over situations where honour becomes idolatry. That instead of honouring someone for the grace of God on their life, we worship them.
I was in a church meeting where someone actually prayed to God in the name of their pastor. That is going way too far. Trust me the quickest way to live a life of unanswered prayer is to pray in my name! I don’t even pray in my name!
But I am seeing it in more subtle ways too, a culture creeps in that focuses on the great man of God more than the man of the great God, and there are some warning signs I am going to – in love – list here. I believe it will help ground some of you back on Christ and His grace and sweetness.
1. When we spend far too long introducing a guest speaker. This is something I used to see years ago, and it seemed like the church was outgrowing this sort of adolescent gushing but recently I am seeing it again. Speakers being introduced as the Apostle Paul of our generation, the greatest preacher on the planet, the only solution to this nation, the man who invented worship. None of these are exaggerations of things I have heard in the last year or so.
That is an introduction by someone who simply has lost sight of the simplicity of our completeness in Christ.
A good introduction should, if you are host pastor, let the church know why you invited the guest speaker, that you feel safe with them, and lend your credibility to them. It should not, unless telling an anecdote, take more than 2 or 3 minutes, and certainly should avoid superlative language.
If people want to clap a speaker when they get on stage, I have no issue with it, but trying to force it, or even make people stand, is manipulative. We are there to hear the Word of God and the Spirit of God through a person, not see a superstar performer.
2. When we expect other people’s prayers to be answered before ours. This is fine for a new Christian who is not established in their righteousness, but once we know who we are in Christ, we should know we have free access to the throne of God. Nothing wrong with getting someone to agree with you in prayer but this running to others and believing in their prayers and chasing the laying on of hands is just a symptom of ignorance of your identity, and that is what leads to idolizing people.
3. When we utterly disregard previous generations and their wisdom. Any of us who can see anything can only do so because we stand on the shoulders of giants. Without the Reformation, the Methodists, the Pentecostal Revival, the Welsh Revival, the Voice of Healing, the charismatics, the Word of Faith and so much more none of us would have a clue. We would still be struggling to realize if we even had a place in heaven. Our part of the race of the church age is just a breath compared to the generations who went before us. When we realize that we are only what we are be aise of the hall of faith of the last 2000 years, we learn not to take ourselves so seriously and not to elevate ourself so much.
4. When we travel great distances to hear our idols, but are not planted locally. I am amazed at people who will drive 5 hours to a conference but think thirty minutes is too far to go to church. What is wrong with that… Idolatry and an unwillingness to fellowship at the normal level. When we want to be around all the names, but don’t want to be around the no names making teas, ushering, plugging in cables, then we have a problem.
5. When we spend more time listening to someone than we listen to the Lord. This preacher says this, this preacher says that. Well, I am glad you are listening to preachers, but what does the Word say? And who do you say Christ is?
6. When we forget how big and how broad the Christian pond is. One minister is not the kingdom of God on earth, and to confuse one ministry with the kingdom leads to pettiness, hierarchical thinking, dismissing our brothers and sisters who haven’t got “the message”, and an elitism for our tribe that dismisses what other people are doing all over the world that we could never do. Every good ministry is part of the solution, no ministry is the whole solution.
7. When the brand eclipses the kingdom. I believe in branding, people should know who you are and what you stand for. I have taught a lot on building culture and marketing your distinctiveness. But, never ever exalt that above the kingdom of God. Put the kingdom first. You are to make Him famous first.
8. Putting a ministry above family. I have seen people lose their families for a particular ministry, sometimes it is their ministry, sometimes it is a ministry they have gone beyond loving and started idolising. I have seen people lose their marriage and lose their home base because of idolising a ministry, and not being able to say no to it or miss a minute of it.
9. Vieing for attention. When the minister becomes your idol you start to vie for attention. You start to do what James says and look for the front seat. You stop being a disciple and start being a groupie. It’s immature, foolish and will never lead to a fruitful ministry or life.
10. The inability to question. Now, I know some questions are an excuse for rebellion, but not all are. Some questions are genuine, and we should be able to be questioned. Any time you think a minister is above questioning you are ascribing Godlike qualities to them. That’s not the way forward for anyone.
When Cornelius bowed before Peter he told him he was just a man, Paul said it to a crowd who worshipped him. We need to have the same passion, all of us are treasures in earthen vessels. I was among a group of followers of a particular minister and they were discussing the revelation that we are as righteous as Jesus, and they were so excited about that revelation. To throw the cat among the pigeons I said “We are as righteous as this certain minister”, and the people starting shaking their heads and telling me how special the minister was and how we were definitely not as righteous as him. If you think you are as righteous as Jesus, but not as Righteous as a certain minister, you have an idolatry problem.
The solution is to ground ourselves in Jesus, realize the greatness of Jesus, realize God is not trying to make you a clone of another minister or your pastor, but He is shaping us into His image.