My daughter showed me the post someone shared on Facebook. I’ll be honest; when I saw the title, I was angry. I even ranted in our kitchen. The title (and, I assumed, the post that would follow) was taking another pop-culture hunk out of the high calling of worship leadership. She said, “It’s viral; people really love it.” I said, “Of course they do.”
“Why do they love it?” I went on. “The writer put the name ‘Jimmy Fallon’ in the title, the URL, and his face in the header image. Can you say ‘SEO win?’ Jimmy is popular.” That’s not a judgement on the author; it was just my observation in a cranky moment with a title I didn’t like.
That was all before I actually read the post. I promised my daughter I would not respond until after I had read the post.
Now, I can respond.
Before I Read The Post: When Everything Is Sacred, Nothing Is Sacred
Before I comment on the (good) post, let’s stay, for a moment, where I was when I had just heard the title.
On the one hand, we’ve needed to challenge/surgically remove the sacred/secular divide for a long, long time. I’ve joined in the charge in that reformation for a long time.
On the other hand, we live in a brave new world that applies “sacred” to anything we “like” (that’s a direct reference to Facebook). And when everything is sacred, nothing is sacred. That was how I was responding to the title of the blog post.
Jimmy Fallon is not a worship leader – not by the definition I would apply to the term today. I get what the author was going for, but something in me halted there. I’m not a literalist, and worship is a big, broad concept for me. But I am a champion of what being a ‘worship leader’ really means, and I’d like to keep it ‘set apart’ for one of the most important roles in the faith today (historically ‘new’ as it is).
Just hearing the title, my thinking continued.
“Great,” I thought. “Now Jimmy Fallon is a worship leader. Guess what. I’m a Talk Show host. Why? Because some of what I do in life models things they should do. So we’re the same.”
No we’re not. Some apples are apples and some oranges are oranges. But I promised my daughter I wouldn’t respond to the blog post until I actually read it – and I’m glad I did.
After I Read The Post: The 5 Reasons Are Right – But The Punchline Is Mostly Wrong
I like most of the post, written my fellow worship leader down the road, Josh Maze. Well done – and keen wit and observation.
He posted this gem (I mean that) a few weeks ago, 5 Reasons Jimmy Fallon Is One Of The Best Worship Leaders In The World, and many were intrigued. I love the show as well, and in my mind Jimmy is one of the most brilliant talk show hosts alive today. He has a true gift.
I was pleasantly surprised. The post is worth a read by every worship leader. It’s well-written, and Josh clearly knows what’s he’s doing and why he’s doing it, as a worship leader.
I’m cheering the author on. Anything that follows is to be read in light of my appreciation for the post. I’m asking our team of worship leaders to read it, and learn together with me.
Here’s my simple problem with a post I otherwise love.
I believe the punchline is 50% wrong. And that’s important. It’s very, very important. The details matter.
Jimmy Is Not Leading Us In The Worship Of Celebrities
Even with humanity sitting at center of worship focus in our generation, I don’t believe Jimmy is leading us in the worship of the celebrities he hosts.
Here is what the author suggests at the end of his blog:
So, all in all, while Jimmy is leading us in the worship of the people he adores – like Bruce Springsteen, Paul McCartney, Tom Cruise, Justin Timberlake, or Brad Pitt, we still have a lot to learn. And if we are leading people in the worship of JESUS, how much more then should we be smiling, energetic, humbled, prepared, & relevant? Jimmy, if you’re out there, I for one, am inspired to be a better worship leader. Thank you.
The truth is, none of us can make the judgement made in that first sentence, even from what we see.
It’s just not fair.
In fact, Jimmy has a personal, Catholic faith (as far as we know), and even wanted to be a priest as a boy. [You can read the NPR interview transcript here.]
If I were him, I’d take offense at the suggestion. Jimmy is a person, and even if he is a celebrity (who can sometimes be caricatures of people – but Jimmy doesn’t come off this way) there is some dignity to be afforded what he does and why he perceives he is doing it.
But that doesn’t mean the suggestion is all wrong. I wouldn’t say that even if the charge was leveled at me.
I suggest the celebrities Jimmy has on the show are just the saints, the icons, the epitomes of achievement in a much bigger worship story in which we may all be unwitting participants.
I’m even going to suggest that many of us who would say we are devoted Christians are participants in a familiar, larger worship story going on in our time – serving as fellow acolytes, choir members (watch Twitter during the Oscars), and even evangelists.
I believe Jimmy and others are, perhaps inadvertently, leading us in a human-centric vision of the good life.
We Come Away From The Tonight Show With A Vision Of The Good Life
I would challenge the idea that Jimmy Fallon is leading anyone directly in the worship of celebrities, either intentionally or inadvertently, on this basis.
God, a god (a deity) is typically the focus of worship in anthropological terms. In Christianity, Jesus Christ is the focus of our worship, as the Son of God who has revealed the heart of the Father by the Holy Spirit in the world.
We can certainly worship human beings (it’s called anthropolatry), and history is rife with the act.
But I suggest that is not what is happening here.
I believe the Tonight Show is highlighting, as James K.A. Smith suggests in his brilliant book Desiring The Kingdom: Worship, Worldview, And Cultural Formation (The Cultural Liturgies Series), a vision of the good life.
And in that vision of the good life, certain gods are silently set on the mantle in order to reinforce that vision.
Celebrities As Priests And Saints Of The 21st Century Good Life
Jamie Smith suggests that the priests and cathedrals of our time (the malls and sports arenas of our age) are purporting a vision of the good life – the life we want, we crave, we dream of, we desire.
Our vision of the good life determines the “gods” we turn our hearts for worship. And we become like the Gods we worship – because in worshipping them we reinforce our desire for that particular vision of the good life (see Ps. 115:2-8 for that one).
Any saint who promotes that version of the good life (and, by Britney, we sure can trash them at the drop of a hat if they fail us) gets our attention.
If there are gods involved, being worshipped, I might suggest they could be:
- The god and goddess of physical beauty, personal image, and charisma,
- The god of tolerance and personal freedom,
- The goddess of self-achievement, self-actualization, and intellectualism,
- The god of private, individualistic wealth, and
- The goddess of levity, entertainment, and positive feelings.
I just took a quick swing at that list.
[Ed. Note: The list above may be problematic, or even incomplete. But if Aphrodite served our hunger for beauty, Athena our craving to conquer, and Odin our need for a founding father (we even named Wednesday after him), then these may not be far off.]
Those gods are compelling, are they not? Left to myself, I’d worship them.
And if you still believe there is an enemy of our souls – a spiritual power at work in the world aimed at (with the greatest of subtlety) dehumanizing and removing the remarkable identity of every person made in God’s image (Gen. 1:26-27) – you may also agree with me there is a very real power behind these very real powers that be.
But I’m not left to myself, and neither are any of us.
An Alternative Good Life
There is an alternative to the good life these gods and goddesses represent.
My friends with Down’s syndrome (who delight my heart with every hug), my friends who dignify others’ beliefs (while challenging their presuppositions and end results), my friends who generously give their lives away (to serve the poor and the societally marginalized), my friends who actively distribute personal wealth (to raise the quality of life for others), and my friends who stir interest and laughter (with wisdom, faith, and concern for family-building values) – all present a better vision of the good life to me.
And I see Jesus being a better object of my worship, in light of this vision of the good life, than any of the gods mentioned above.
He is the God of the best good life a human can live this side of eternity.
And to worship Jesus is to become like him. Selah.
Pause: Hey Jimmy, Bring A Street Guy On To The Show And Hear His Story
One parenthetical thought.
Have you noticed that The Tonight Show, and many others like it, only hosts guests who have shown some visible or remarkable degree of human achievement?
You name it: Ellen, Jimmy, Jay, Conan, Seth, etc. They all do it. Right. Money. Entertainment industry. What the people want. Happy thoughts. Mood lifters. Life is hard. Let them eat cake.
I tweeted once, asking #JimmyFallon and @FallonTonight to have a real, honest-to-goodness street person on the show. Not to show pity. Just to balance out the “beautiful and wealthy” filling his stage.
Or to chat with someone magical who has Down’s Syndrome (I have a few of my own personal celebrities). Or to host anyone other than someone society pretty, handsome, or talented in an entertaining sort of way.
But honestly, I’m not sure that 2.43M Twitter followers are interested in that.
I got a response. I was shocked. Radio silence. That was the response.
Okay. I wasn’t shocked. But I’m one of @FallonTonight’s Twitter followers.
And I’m interested.
Worship Leaders (and Christian Leaders) – Feed Us On The Good Life That Is Embodied In Jesus
The 5 Reasons in the blog post are helpful. Again, I encourage you to read it.
They will surely help me, as a worship leader, help others fight the battle of eschewing the worship of the compelling gods of our age mentioned above.
It is my contention that as Christians, along with many non-Christians, we are unknowingly feeding ourselves without discernment on a skewed vision of the good life on a daily basis. [I’m personally so grateful for the season of Lent, by the way, as it is a season when I can wrestle with my own heart on these matters.]
Human achievement and image. If we don’t watch it, we’ll worship it.
If we worship it, we’ll become like the saints and icons it purports – or fail to and live our lives in endless pursuit of hollow goals.
And the frail, weak, voiceless, marginalized, homely, and impotent of society?
They may precede us, and the celebrities of our time, into the halls of heaven.
Question: What is the ‘good life’ to you, and how are you keeping that vision in front of you?
Author Bio: Dan Wilt, M.Min. is the creator of the Essentials In Worship Video Training Course for worship leaders and teams, and is the Founder of WorshipTraining.com, a training network of over 31K+ worship leaders and musicians.
He serves as a worship leader at the Vineyard Church of Franklin in Franklin, TN, and has taught in Worship & Arts programs for schools like St. Stephen’s University and Indiana Wesleyan. Dan is a songwriter, hymn writer, and author, and has served as a conference speaker globally.
Dan serves with Vineyard USA and Vineyard Worship in Communications and Resources, and he, his wife Anita, and 3 young adult children live in Thompson’s Station, TN. His ancient-future worship leadership blog offers weekly tools and team encouragements at DanWilt.com.