The Problem with Labels and the Need for Clarity (and Charity)

Last week I wrote a post about reasons for not continuing to follow “celebrity” pastors and what to do instead. Little did I know that it was going to start spreading around to the degree it has. And, in all honesty, if I’d thought about that possibility, I’d have said a few things differently because there are a few things that are a tad ambiguous or confusing. So I want to take a moment and clarify a couple of issues that have been brought to my attention.

1. The problem with labels. In the article I used the label “celebrity,” forgetting the baggage that comes with it. Many, when connecting it with a pastor, suggest that this is a person who is pursuing the stuff of fame and personal glory. Others hear “celebrity” and think of those to whom God has simply given a greater degree of influence. And sometimes (given our sinful proclivities) the two have moments where they appear to intermingle. Whatever amount of influence that God gives can stroke the ego and, when left unchecked, trouble follows. This is why I’m grateful for the example of pastors who seek to steward their influence well.

Back to the problem of the label “celebrity.” I was kindly reminded that this term is too frequently used to shoot or disregard certain high-profile leaders whose methodology they disapprove of. In the end, it probably wasn’t a helpful term to use at all.

2. Am I talking about someone specific? Whenever any of us write something like this piece, we’ve always got someone in mind as an example. And there are some people that I have grave concerns about. But here’s what I’m doing in their cases: I’m pursuing opportunities to actually talk to them as God allows, not in an accusatory fashion, but out of a desire to not have ill will toward a genuine brother.

While public error does not always demand a private response (though we should always be very wary of airing our dirty laundry for all—especially unbelievers—to see), it’s better to address our specific concerns with specific people whenever possible. But even when that’s not possible (as is the case with many high-profile church leaders), I’d rather pray for them than trash them publicly.

3. The need for charity and careful (appropriate) response. In writing the post (and hopefully this came through) my goal is to help each of us think less about the actions of those we may find troublesome and more about our response. How we respond to those who come across as contentious, mean-spirited and divisive says a lot about our witness and integrity—especially in the public realm. We should not seek to tear down a professing believer, even under the guise of defending the faith. We should admonish and confront wrong thinking when and where appropriate, but we ought to be careful that our desire to defend and contend does not contribute to further controversy, folly and frustration.

Posted by Aaron Armstrong

Aaron is the author of several books for adults and children, as well as multiple documentaries and Bible studies. His latest book, I'm a Christian—Now What?: A Guide to Your New Life with Christ is available now.

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