The Sunday morning service was about to start. The child squirmed and protested on my hip as I stood at the back of the room, struggling to keep him still and quiet. The woman approaching me didn’t notice my difficulty in keeping my charge under control. Nor did she discern the tiredness behind my smile. I guess she was blinded by the stars in her eyes.
With three children already between five and ten years my husband and I had recently become foster parents to a little boy with special needs. My friend had heard and wanted to tell me something. What she told me was pretty much what our other Christian friends were telling us, except for the few whose sidelong looks implied ‘you’re just crazy’, that is. Apparently we were exceptional Christians, dedicated, compassionate, self-sacrificing, inspirational…..the superlatives continued to flow, but, well, I’ll spare you.
“Well, I just know I couldn’t do what you’re doing!” she finally gushed before walking to her seat.
The child still squirmed and protested loudly in my arms. I still struggled. My body still ached with weariness. My mind still questioned God and the wisdom of our decision. But my friend, having delivered her message of unrestrained admiration, continued on her way no doubt feeling suitably warm and fuzzy inside.
Which brings me to the subject of this post.
I’m not your hero. Don’t put that burden on me. Don’t put it on anyone else for that matter. I absolutely, unequivocally, refuse to be your hero. If you need a hero for whatever strange reason go find one somewhere else. Go find several if you want to, but don’t include me. Furthermore, I promise I will never make you my hero. You can thank me later.
It’s years since that Sunday morning encounter, but I often remember it with an odd mixture of amusement and sorrow. If truth be told I should have responded, loudly and clearly, with what I was thinking: ‘Well, you know what, I can’t do it either!’ But back then I was in my wide-eyed ‘being a loving Christian means pleasing everyone’ phase. Thankfully, there’s been some water under the bridge since then.
What is it with Christian hero worship? Why do we build elaborate platforms and install our favourite pastor, author, ministry leader, or fellow believer on them? And not just in our churches, but more importantly, in our hearts? I’ve been on both sides of the hero worship and I never want to revisit.
This week I watched a video in which a renowned celebrity pastor stated God had blessed him with ‘a pretty big platform’ and so his heart was to ‘lift others up onto my platform’. Seriously?
It made me sad, because I knew that mega-church pastor before he was famous, before his name and his church became household words, before there was an empire and a brand-name to go with it all. I knew him when he was a friend and not a celebrity.
It made me sad, because I wished we could sit together again as equals, no platform between us, for a simple home cooked meal. But we’re in very different places now.
And it made me sad because I, with my starry eyed hero worship, for a short time in my life helped build his platform.
I understand now what I couldn’t put into words on that Sunday morning when my friend elevated me above herself. In her effort to make me ‘more than’ herself, she didn’t realise she was actually making me ‘less than’. She didn’t know I would look back this many years later with the realisation I was robbed in that encounter.
Robbed of my right to ordinariness and human weakness; robbed of my right to be vulnerable; robbed of my need for authentic fellowship; and denied my opportunity to say ‘I need help’ and hear the words ‘help is right here’ coming back at me.
It’s what we do. We have access to all the resources of the Kingdom, each one of us, yet we insist on elevating our chosen ones to this super-spiritual hero status that separates the Body of Christ into classes. We are proclaimed to be a joint heir with Christ, every one of us, yet we prefer hierarchy over community.
Even many of our Bible translations have a whole chapter we’ve labelled ‘heroes of the faith’¹.
In this Christian world of super heroes we’ve created, our ‘heroes’ are denied the freedom to fellowship with us simply as fellow travellers on this rocky, unpredictable journey into Christ. The luxury of publicly working out their own salvation through stumbling, failing and struggling as the rest of us do is disallowed. Their human need to express doubt, fear or inadequacy must be suppressed in case we are shocked by their insufficiency and turn on them.
We isolate these imaginary heroes into ever smaller circles of fellowship because they dare not admit they are anything less than the ‘Super Christian’ we desire them to be. Ultimately they in turn believe they are who we say they are and start talking about bringing others ‘up’ to their own level. Or worse, they enjoy having their so called platform all to themselves.
Jesus knew something about the human heart’s desire for hero worship. After the miracle of feeding a multitude with one boy’s lunch, the crowd pressed in to forcefully make Him their king². But Jesus would have none of it and removed Himself from them immediately. The king they wanted was a political king, a superman like their ancient hero David, a hero who would defeat Israel’s Roman enemy and restore the Davidic kingdom. They were looking for a militant revolutionary to head up a renewed political nation their enemies would fear. And they wanted this hero on their terms, not Jesus’ terms.
It is appropriate for us to give honour where honour is due. It is good for us to encourage one another to walk out our spiritual giftings and functions. It is right that we acknowledge those who have gone before us and their contributions to the Kingdom. But none of us are true heroes.
David was a mighty, anointed king who used his power to sexually abuse a married woman and arrange her husband’s death. Moses saw God but failed to enter the Promised Land. Elijah hid trembling in a cave. Paul and Barnabas argued sharply and separated. Peter performed miracles that put the fear of God into people but lost his mettle when the circumcisers³ turned up.
Maybe you’ve known a Christian ‘hero’ who has turned out not to be the hero you thought they were. Maybe you’ve even helped build their platform. That’s the thing about hero worship. Eventually God has to bring our pseudo-heroes down to our own level to convince us there really is only one authentic Hero worthy of our worship.
In the end our tendency to elevate others onto spiritual platforms is an excuse for failing to pursue Christ to the utmost in our own lives. Like the Israelites sending Moses up the mountain as their substitute, we conveniently convince ourselves others can do a far better job of hearing and serving God than we can⁴.
The greatest love we can show another believer is to dismantle whatever platform we have elevated them onto and invite them to walk beside us as equals, learning, receiving from and supporting one another as we seek the fullness of Christ together.
That’s community, that’s true Body Life.
Or we can continue to elevate fellow believers to hero status and just be another celebrity fan club.
³ Galatians 2:11-14
© Cheryl McGrath, Bread for the Bride, 2015 and beyond. Copyright Notice: Permission is granted to freely reproduce any Bread for the Bride articles in emails or internet blogs, unaltered, and providing this copyright notice is included. To permanently display an article on any static website please contact me for permission.