Podcasting: Imitation to Gain Results
In the desire to be like the rockstar pastors on stage at major conferences, emulation becomes imitation and podcasting becomes rehearsal for Sunday. I listen to podcasts of my favorite preachers and teachers and attempt to mimic their sound and delivery so that I can attract lots of people so my church can get huge so I can speak at a conference, because that’s what it means to be a rockstar. On many sites, I can look up a sermon by text and chances are, if the rockstar I’m listening to has preached a sermon on my text, I will mimic a lot of his delivery and style and possibly his content. It’s like the mimicking Brian Regan routines or lamenting the close talker, which is a Seinfeld bit. The imitation is an effort to gain the result. While imitation has been called the greatest form of flattery, those in the rockstar positions around evangelicalism would most certainly exhort others to refrain from imitation. They are who they are and they would encourage us to use our gifts and abilities in our calling to be who God has created us to be. They would be right to say that, but their voice isn’t as loud as the voice inside my head that says if I preach like Piper people will think I’m awesome and my church attendance will blow up.
Imitation as Identity
In our modern culture we are drawn to attach ourselves to what is popular. When I was younger, I spent a lot of time listening to music and I did my best, when singing with others or alone to sound as much like the popular artists on the radio as possible. I knew that people liked what they heard on the radio, and if I sounded like that, by extension, people would like me. It wasn’t until my wife said to me, as we were driving one afternoon, “I like your voice. Don’t try to sound like someone on the radio. Sing like you.” The frightening thing in that moment was that I wasn’t really sure what I actually sounded like. My voice had been so influenced by other voices that I wasn’t sure what I actually sounded like apart from imitation. The same thing occurs in ministry when everything is taken from others in an effort to do things that I think people will like, and after a while, I’m not sure what I sound like or look like as a pastor.
Imitation becomes identity in many areas of our culture. I use an Apple computer because it is an amazing computer and works exactly the way it should. I use an iPhone because it is the most efficient piece of technology I have ever held in my hand. I use an iPad because words can’t describe how awesome it is. I use Apple products because I like them and because, if I were honest, I like it when other people know that I use them. It’s an iPad, Starbucks coffee, Moleskine notebook and fountain pen that tell other people, “I get it, I’m one of those people.” Our identity is linked through our own pride to the popular, to the cool. We find out what “everybody” is dong and we imitate them as we beat a path to the store to buy the same things, wear the same things, do the same things, read the same things and say the same things.
Identity is often linked to other evangelical rockstars as well. If ministry done my way isn’t working (meaning people aren’t lined up around the corner to listen to my preaching and attend my church), I’ll try to do it someone else’s way. The same ministers who would rebuke pastors for trying to parrot anything that looks like it’s “purpose driven” see no dissonance in preaching a series on the 9 Marks of a Healthy Church or re-wording the church’s mission statement to sound curiously similar to Bethlehem Baptist Church. I did this over a period of several years. I thought my ministry was ineffective (again, the church hadn’t exploded), so I tried to sound like MacArthur, then Piper with a little Chandler and Driscoll thrown in. My ministry became more about who I was imitating than about those to whom I was ministering and my preaching sounded like I was unleashing an angry rant mixed with passionate descriptions of joy one verse at a time. It is a dangerous thing to imitate someone else in hopes of finding your own identity in theirs.
Next week we will look at the sin of pride which is at the root of the desire to be a rockstar pastor.