I cannot imagine what it must be like to be a large public figure. I have spent the last few years of my life pouring into the church from a relatively small platform, and still I find myself overwhelmed from time to time by the damage being seen can cause in my life.
Every week, I hear from people whose lives have been impacted by mine in some way. Weather for the better or for the worse. I hear from people who have come to know Jesus for the first time because of the way I push the church to pursue something deeper. And I hear from Christians who feel judged and wonder if my preaching comes from some unspoken abuse I have been dealt by a previous church. The pendulum swings freely from one side to the other, always in motion. And one of the things I have learned is that, the more I am seen, the more people approach me with a preconceived idea of who I am.
There are people who rush to buy my books and read my posts because they have come to picture me as some hero of the faith, who is pushing boundaries and chasing the Church toward something deeper. But that is not who I am.
As the pendulum swings to the other side, there are people who view me as some bitter, angry christian who is driving the church to division because of some unhealed hurt in my heart. But that is not who I am.
For as long as I have really been my own person, I have been an island. Fighting for community in a culture that seems to be allergic to the idea. Even as I served within the institutional church, leading worship and organizing prayer ministries and serving pastor after pastor, I was championing the idea of a body of believers who loves before anything else. And more than once or twice, I have found myself having to step back and check my heart as the uniqueness of my message has driven people to do the exact opposite of what I was saying and to actually elevate my voice above others. I've had to stop and say to myself: Michael, you must remember love.
But even in the midst of fighting for community to become central in the church, people have found it easier to decide who I am than to actually get to know me. And it breaks my heart. For several reasons. First, because it means that even as I draw the church back into organic and love-driven community, at times it means that I am denied having it myself. Secondly, because even in the midst of being seen, I never actually am. And perhaps most importantly, because it means that even as the church tries to embrace this message of intimacy, they clearly aren't really getting it.
Years ago, I began to develop a reputation in my town as an anointed worshiper. My voice is nothing special, but because of the specific way I viewed God and the church, when I would sing, I would ignore the platform and lose myself in Jesus. And it made a difference. It seemed everywhere I went, someone would stop me to comment on how my worship had affected their life. I was regularly asked by other worship leaders to come and sing on their teams, and when I did, I was always celebrated. It was a beautiful time of my life. I saw doors opening that I had spent years waiting for. Even in churches that did not openly welcome the gifts of the spirit, when I sang, they didn't question me when I would break script and begin to prophesy, or when I would fall on my face and weep or laugh before God. Because in their seeing me, they had come to associate me with an anointing that deserved respect.
But once again... even in their seeing, they failed to know me. Even as my wife and I were stopped while we grocery shopped, or invited to churches we weren't a part of, no one took the time to actually get to know us. All they cared about was the gift they saw in me. And, to be frank, it's not enough for me. In fact, it is largely why I walked away from the "stage" entirely.
I wan't to be known, not seen.
I have had so many incredible opportunities to matter over the years. I have been instrumental in the health of more than my fair share of ministries. I have served in children's ministries, youth ministries, young adult ministries, worship teams, pastoral care teams, prayer teams, etc. I have lead small groups, run discipleship programs, had the ear of lead pastors and ministry leaders all around me. Not to mention, I've been pursued to help with more than a couple of church plants. Everyone who knows me knows that I have gifts that could be cultivated into something more. But I don't want more. I want deep. And so I've never chased any of it. Despite accusations that all I care about is my ambition, I think my lifestyle is evidence that I don't care about ambition. I care about community.
Why? Because even in my desperation to see the church become something deeper than she currently is, I can't settle for being seen. I want to be known. And that will never change. Because I mean what I preach. I could be a part of ministries where I would have opportunities to record music professionally. I could be running large youth ministries or championing christian internships. I could be working with large publishers or touring the country, singing in churches. I have absolutely no doubt of that. I had access to the platforms necessary to achieve those things. But I don't want that. I want community. And I won't settle for anything else.
Which is why it breaks my heart so much to see the church so determinedly chasing everything but community. It is why it grieves me to see my message of intimacy inspiring people to categorize me instead of knowing me. It is why it upsets me every time I see someone sacrifice real relationships for the sake of a platform. And it is something I am passionate about changing. Not just for me, but for everyone who has brought a message of some substance to the body.
I am not saying any of this to boast or to point at myself. I just want you to understand why we must abandon platform-Christianity (meaning a christian expression that prioritizes fame over community), because the things I am fighting for can't happen until you do.
So here are three things I want the church to understand:
First, we do the body a disservice whenever we take its more visible members and prioritize their gifts over their identity. Because it sets a standard for the body that community plays second fiddle to visibility. That the volume of our message is more important than the depth of our relationships. So instead of using our leader's platforms to push the church deeper, we end up teaching them that if they want to be deep, they have to stand out. The search for depth becomes an excuse for Christians to separate from the body.
Second, we set our leaders up for failure when we see them as a personality, rather than as a person. As human beings, the more we ask people to sacrifice their place in the community of the church so that they can stand above it as examples, the more they have to lose if they fail to live up to the standards we have set for them. Which means, they lose the accountability that community brings, and they will hold to their image even if it means compromising their character. So positions and platforms that were created to inspire the church end up becoming traps that lead our examples into sin, and then prove to the church that Christ-likeness is unattainable.
Lastly, we compromise the gospel whenever we build upon the foundation of the church. In the third chapter of 1 Corinthians, Paul argues that even when we work toward the church's health, it is actually God who develops growth. And as such, we have to understand that Jesus is the only foundation for the church. When we fix our eyes on individual personalities and chase after their vision for the church, rather than losing ourselves in Jesus alone, we end up adding to the message of the gospel and costing ourselves a church that actually looks like Jesus.
In my own life, I have fought very hard to find a healthy balance between loudly calling the church to something deeper and not allowing the church to confuse my voice with God's. And it is something I would challenge every Christian leader to fight for.
Leaders... determine to be a person that is known. Determine that your identity will not be swallowed up by your message or by your gifts. Make sure that, even from your platform, you are truly seen and known. Because the health of the church depends on a generation of leaders who refuse to be their king, no matter how much they beg you to be.
Everyone else... please let us do exactly that. Stop asking your leaders to sacrifice their place in the body so that they can fight for standards they are not strong enough to maintain. Stop demanding that their gifts represent them. Stop fixing your eyes on them and expecting them to show you Jesus. Instead... look at Jesus. I promise you it is better.
God is doing something in the church that many of us are not ready for, and yet, it is something we all instinctively crave. He is drawing the church back into a christian expression that focuses solely on Jesus. He is ripping down our hero worship and demanding that we make community the center of the church. He is dethroning our christian personalities and reminding the body that we are many members to a single body. And my challenge to you is that you make a decision right now to not stand in the way.
So, back to my opening thought.
I am not who you think I am. I am not my gifts. I am not my platform. I am not my vision. I am not failures or my theology. I am Michael... and I want to be known.