As I was stepping out of the back room onto the stage to lead the congregation in worship, my buddy said to me, “Don’t freak out, but Pamela Anderson is sitting in the front row.” I said what any worship leader would have said: “Yeah, right.”
I grabbed my guitar and stepped up to the microphone, and there she was, sitting directly in front of me. She seemed fully engaged in the music and the service, she was dressed very appropriately (you Baywatch fans were wondering), and as soon as the service ended she slipped out the side door.
This event didn’t have a huge impact on my life, but it made me wonder what church must be like for celebrities. Pamela made it through the service without being hassled, but I did notice that as she rushed out the door one of the pastors went sprinting after her. I’m sure he was just trying to give her a personal connection at the church, but I wonder if that seemed any different to her than the people that must swarm her on her way out of restaurants and other public places. I doubt it.
On another Sunday, I was running the soundboard when Leann Rimes walked in. She arrived early, found a seat in the middle of the Sanctuary, and graciously smalltalked with the churchgoers who recognized her. Meanwhile, in the soundbooth, we whispered like Junior High girls about having a celebrity in front of us. We watched her reactions to the music and the sermon and speculated about the nature of her faith.
Is it really possible for a celebrity to be part of a church?
For one thing, this would be very hard on the non-famous church members. We would all agree that celebrities are no better than the rest of us. Most celebrities would affirm this as well. But we don’t really believe it’s true. We get weird.
I firmly deny thinking more highly of celebrities than I ought, but I once made awkward eye contact with Quentin Tarantino in a Starbucks. As we locked eyes, I saw the soul of a man who was trying hard to blend in, scanning the room to see which one of us would recognize him and call him out for attempting to buy coffee in public like a normal human being. I don’t know what he read in my eyes, but I didn’t out him. Instead, I pretended not to be watching him and walked across the room to discreetly tell a friend, “Don’t look now, but Quentin Tarantino is standing right behind you…”
If you had a celebrity church member, would you all be able to play it cool? Or would people be trying a little too hard to get to know him? Would he get asked to lunch more than the single mother who recently joined your church? Yeah. Without a doubt.
I can’t imagine how a celebrity maintains normal relationships. Do people actually like me, or are they just trying to get something or look a certain way by hanging out with me? I would think you’d have a ton of acquaintances and very few actual friends. This would be tough in terms of church life.
I don’t have a solution for this, and most of us don’t need to wrestle with this “problem.” But this should give us more compassion for celebrities who profess Christ. We get so disgusted when we hear that “so and so claims to be a Christian but isn’t part of a church.” We are bewildered when a celebrity who seems to love Jesus makes a statement that is theologically off base. You’d be pretty weird too if every person in every church made it difficult for you to connect with the body of Christ.
So take it easy on famous Christians. And if one happens to wander into your weekend service, play it cool. Pray that God would be working in that person’s heart and life, and pray that God would graciously allow them to connect with a church body with as little awkwardness as possible. Maybe even pray that God would use you to build a bridge to help that person become a healthy member of the body of Christ. Celebrities need the church too, so let’s do what we can to keep from scaring them off.