I love the performing arts. Rather than diving into sports during high school like many other guys my age, I found my passion and my place under the lights of the stage. There is something thrilling about the electricity that forms between a crowd and an entertainer during a good performance. The synergism between the energy of the audience and the actor’s performance creates a unique, emotional high: the actor, by making herself vulnerable before strangers, invites the crowd outside of themselves and into the vulnerability of the actor/character. Likewise, the participation of the audience affirms and gratifies that vulnerability. A good show is a symbiotic relationship between cast and audience.
In his memoir, The Pastor, Eugene Peterson (the author of the popular paraphrase of the Bible, The Message) shares a letter he wrote to a friend who was leaving his church to take a position with a much larger congregation. Within this letter, Peterson boldly questions the motives of his friend. Will this transition glorify God or is it simply a higher rung on the ladder of his career? Peterson's friend never responded to the letter, and he took the new position.
Last semester, one of my professors at Beeson asked our class to reflect on Peterson's letter and whether or not we would ever send a letter a similar letter to someone who might need bold guidance.
At the moment, I am not sure whether or not I could write a letter like that. I say this simply because I know that I need to someone to write a letter like that to me, and I am afraid that for me to write something similar would be hypocritical. I yearn for the approval and the acclamation of people. Peterson reflects, “But I really do feel that crowds are a worse danger, far worse, than drink or sex…” This statement hits me hard because I know that he’s right, and I know that he’s talking to me.
Before I came to Beeson, I was a member at St. Andrew’s Chapel in Sanford, Florida. The two teaching elders were RC Sproul and the lesser-known Burk Parsons. However, had Burk made a few different decisions as a young adult, there is a strong chance that he would have been a household name, and not just in evangelical circles. As a young man, Burk had the opportunity to be a founding member of both the Backstreet Boys and *NSYNC. However, he turned town both opportunities in order to pursue ministry. In an interview in 2009, Burk relays how he had almost made up his mind to take the second offer (to join *NSYNC) when he observed a man leaving a movie theater one night. The man wandered around the parking lot alone and looking forlorn. Finally, the man made his way to his car and started the ignition. Immediately, loud music poured out of the speakers, and he drove away. Burk realized that as a member of *NSYNC, he would merely provide a distraction to pain for those who are hurting rather than point them to the cure. So for the second time in his life, he forfeited a lucrative amount of fame and fortune in exchange for a future in ministry as a relatively unknown pastor. While the congregation of St. Andrew’s is large, it is nothing compared to the crowds he would be impacting had he chosen the alternative path.
I had been attending St. Andrew’s for over a year before I ever heard this story. Honestly, when I first read about it, part of me patronizingly pitied him for squandering such an opportunity. Twice!! Sure, ministry is an admirable calling, but couldn’t you do the same thing with millions upon millions of followers? Just take advantage of your secular platform, Burk!
Thank God these opportunities were not offered to me. Thank God that the Lord said no to my selfish ambitions and closed many self-seeking doors that I pursued. Thank God that my my biggest disappointments in life have, more often than not, turned out to be monumental moments of grace which saved me from self-destruction. Burk closes part 3 of his interview concerning his flirt with fame in the following words:
For years, hanging behind the door of my study was a framed picture someone had sent me of the Backstreet Boys when they appeared on the cover of Rolling Stone magazine with their pants down, with the caption “Boys on Top” (catch the innuendo).
Under that picture were our Lord’s words: “What does it profit a man if he gains the whole world yet loses his soul” (Matt. 16:26).
While I’ll never be given the opportunities that were offered to Burk, I pray that someone writes me a letter like Peterson wrote to Phillip when I become distracted by the allure of the crowds.