The Cult of Personality

Is there any other CEO, other than Steve Jobs, whose death would bring about such an amazing public outcry of loss?  Since his death, and especially right afterwards the response in the news and on social media was nothing short of amazing.  The number of people on my Facebook friends list who changed their profile icon to an apple logo, or to something that marked the passing of Steve Jobs was astounding.

Let me be clear:  I have a great deal of respect for the work Steve Jobs and Apple have done.  I have spent money to purchase Apple products.

But I was startled by a public response that seemed to border on secular canonization.

In our culture, it seems to be human nature to want to be like (or to want to be) someone else.  We idolize public personalities.  I was having a conversation recently with Jeremy Myers about this, and about how in our culture we seem to be driven to create “cults of personality.”  We follow individuals:  Steve Jobs, Lindsay Lohann, Kate Perry, Brad Pitt, Bill Gates, Bono, Donald Trump and the list goes on and on and on…

Jeremy asks the great question:  In the church, are we any different?  I’ve been wondering about that a lot.

I confess:  When I started in ministry, I wanted to be Mike Yaconelli.  Mike was an amazing speaker.  He was wise.  He was smart.  He said what he thought, but at the same time, he wasn’t hurtful.  I read his books, I traveled to hear him speak, I even got to encounter him one-on-one a few times.  I wanted to be like him…to walk in his world…to get to do what he did.

I wasn’t satisfied being who I was.  This caused me no small amount of angst in my younger days.  But eventually I learned this important truth:  while I still admire Mike and his work, I suck at being Mike Yaconelli.

I know of  people who have came away from conferences or conventions convinced that God was calling them to be a national speaker.  I know people who have served in congregational ministry for less than 3 years have told me that they want to start consulting.  I wish I would have the courage to tell them  that “in the business world, after 2-3 years, you’re probably just coming off of a probationary period.”  Consult?  Speak?  Not yet.  Yes, we need writers, thinkers, speakers, teachers, trainers and consultants.  But the bar needs to be higher, and it needs to be because that is where God is calling you, not because you are chasing a dream of being someone else.

People want to chase the cult of personality.  We want to be like the people we see on the main stage.  And to be honest, the Network can unintentionally perpetuate the cult of personality.  We put people on the main stage.  Some are congregational children and youth ministers, and some are the big national speakers.  We do that to hear a variety of perspectives, and because we believe that we can be renewed, and can learn from all of them.  We don’t do it to hold these folks up as examples of what or who we should be.  But I’m guessing that  we do contribute to this mindset.

We see people like this and we can’t help but compare ourselves and our ministry to theirs.  But remember that while we all play the comparison game, we are always comparing all that we know about ourselves, our strengths and our weaknesses, with what we don’t know about others.  We only see their public face.

Be who God has called you to be.  Learn from others.  Grow your ministry from what you learn.  Don’t forget that God has created you; has knit you out of his imagination, and has called you to the place and the community you serve.  The cult of personality causes us to confuse God’s will with our ego.  Don’t go chasing it.  Be the best you can be where you are.  Be faithful to your call.  Others may choose to ask you questions and to learn from you…or they may not.  Either way is good.  Remember what God says to us:  “I have called you by name.  You are mine.”

You are God’s.  As you are.  Where you are.


  1. Thanks for this post. You most definitely do not suck at being Todd Buegler.


  2. ok so public confession: nadia b-w who is speaking @ the E is on my “cult of personality” list. just reading her sermons online and I get a bit of the “i wish i could proclaim like she does” snakebite. sigh. i guess i’ll have to embrace the giftedness & suck-y-ness of being me!


  3. thank you todd, you have no idea at the amazing timing of your post is. you know my situation right now and i feel like a lot of this reinforces thinking i am going through right now. God bless you…as for the E…ever thought of reserving one of the main stage times for one of our
    “own” and give one speaking slot to a youth person, worker, pastor, etc. just a thought that might counter some of the thinking talked about here. although personally, i loved the speakers in the past, almost always walking uplifted and fueled.


  4. Some days I wonder if a regular tradition of witnessing would help with this in terms of our “mainstage speaker” issue. If we are used to hearing everyone give their witness, it would put certain speakers in a different frame of resource person.

    It comes from a sense of pinata-ism. where God has pre-stuffed a pinata with gifts and blessings.

    For me, someone like Steve Jobs dying reinforces my mortality, because he was an icon of my naive belief that brilliant, talented people will always be there doing what makes them special. I don’t want to be Steve Jobs – he was a jerk a lot of the time. However, I always could expect something really cool that I could learn from come out of his head.


  5. Sorry, that middle paragraph should continue:
    We think that if we don’t grab at the pinata and get the “best” blessings and gifts then the ones that we get are just left-over and not as good. If we try to live out our gifts as equal and joyous, we are fearful that the Simon Cowells of the world will ridicule us. I wonder what we would be like if we intentionally celebrate everyone’s spiritual gifts as God-given and necessary.


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