In 2013 selfie was the Oxford word of the year. This indicates an ongoing and widespread cultural fascination with taking pictures of ourselves and sharing them with the public. Of course there is nothing inherently wrong with the practice. For centuries we have captured moments and shared them with others. It helps us to celebrate, remember, and even cherish times in our lives.
There are a couple of concerns that tend to arise in our snap-happy age. The first is the frequency. One study found that young women spend nearly an hour per day taking selfies. This would seem to be a bit of an unhealthy preoccupation with self. Another concern would be the creation of a pretend world. Selfies tend to create a reality for the one behind the camera. They are in charge and they control what others see. It creates a look, a feel, that presents us in our best light in a way that we approve of. This is simply not the real world. In the real world we are seen at our worst and often limp along together as we grow older and less photogenic.
My concern here is not primarily with selfie snapping teenagers however. Instead, I am concerned with the selfie culture in the pulpit. The Apostle Paul exhorts believers not to be conformed to the world (Rm. 12:2). If you had a word for the bottom, the irreducible core of what is wrong with the world it would be selfishness. Pride is the birth-mother of all sin. Therefore, if a world is awash in self then it is self that we need to be sure that we are not being conformed to. And, judging by how many preachers go about their sermons the warning to not be self-consumed should ring loudly in the preacher’s ears.
I want you to beware of the “selfie-preacher”. Here are some of his “tells” that he is one of the club.
He always talks about himself.
The selfie preacher lives in the first person singular. His favorite words are “I” and “me”. Some of the selfie preachers with the most followers have perfected this craft. They are phenomonal at their selfie sermons. They tell the stories in such a way that they tug at the heart, make you like them, and even “need” them. Like an Instagram account with thousands of followers these selfie preachers share the details of themselves that make you know and love them.
He hides his defects.
When he talks about himself the selfie preacher is always the hero of the story. Rarely—if ever—does the selfie preacher show himself to be a weak, desperate, depraved sinner who needs a strong, sufficient, righteous Savior. For the selfie-preacher, the pulpit is often a way for him to craft a story, and project his life in such a way that others begin to think that he has it all together.
He appeals to the flesh.
From his keen observance of or total baptism in the world the selfie preacher knows the power of the flesh. He gives alarming amounts of consideration to his “pastor fashion” each week. The selfie preacher is cool, funny, hip, and riding whatever cultural waves get him more cred with his audience. Some of the selfie preachers dip into the gutter of cultural backwater for illustrations and word pictures. Using sophomoric, crass, and even obscene language some selfie preachers will lace their sermons with fleshly terms to keep people engaged, interested, and entertained.
He is always so clever.
Selfie’s on social media are known by their clever hashtags. But selfie preachers are known by their clever words, funny jokes, and perfect outlines. Instead of the focus being upon Christ and his Word the focus gets diverted to the selfie preacher.
In total transparency I can write this post because I find myself wrestling with these things in my own life as a preacher. I have found myself with temptations to be or at times even employing some of these selfie preacher traits. I love to craft a sentence or to make a word picture. But is this about me or the point? I’ve used many personal illustrations over the years. But, are these about making a point or painting my own reality? These are a couple of areas that gave rise to this post. As I deconstructed the tendencies I have seen that it is part of a larger trend that is ubiquitous and unhealthy in the church.
So, whether you see these in seed form or in redwood tree size, it would seem wise to address them. Because, when we read the New Testament we see preachers who, quite frankly, are not very impressive (2 Cor. 10:10). They don’t want to say anything except Christ and him crucified (1 Cor. 2:2). They seem so utterly self-forgetful. And, when they do reference themselves it is to say how much they want to honor Christ (Phil. 1:20-22). And this is where the power is! While people may be entertained by selfie preachers no one will be converted, sanctified, or properly admonished by painting ourselves into every sermon. If God is to work in these powerfully desirable ways then Christ and Christ alone must be preached! (Rom. 1:16-17; 10:13)
In light of the NT pattern and the cultural current at our feet, we should all beware of the selfie preacher and celebrate the gospel preacher! It is him that we need because he points us not to himself but to Christ; and not to a fake world but to an everlasting kingdom!