The truth was that I had been going to church with David for almost a decade and could count on one hand the number of substantive conversations between us, with several fingers to spare. Before Kyle’s funeral we shared a vulnerable moment together, and he solicited my editorial feedback on some sections of one of the books he had written. But beyond that, I didn’t really know him. To be fair, this was as much my fault as his.
He would later share with me the challenges those like him in the public eye often face when being approached for conversation. People do one of two things. Either they assume a posture of over-familiarity, or one of being unimpressed. One assumes to know more about him than they actually do, the other pretends to not care. Both want to attain a feeling of nearness. The first achieves this by just assuming that there IS nearness, the second by attempting to “bring down” the well-known person to the level of an ordinary, non-celebrity person.
I think I, like most of us who had been a part of UBC for years, usually traversed back and forth between those two extremes. We were never openly dismissive toward David and his notoriety, but we often feigned a sense of bewilderment when we would hear about the reach of his music, and what it meant to so many people. On one hand, we were being honest. Our church had been birthed out of antipathy toward the evangelical celebrity-driven culture, so there was a certain amount of ignorance on our part concerning the level he had reached within that very culture. But on the other hand, we all had access to the Internet. We could easily follow the trajectory of his career, and we did. There was no denying how incredibly gifted he was, we were witness to it before anyone else. And if we told you we didn’t know what a big deal he was, we were probably lying. We knew, and we liked it. We were the generation raised on reality television and celebrity-culture, and I believe we felt validated by his notoriety.
If someone from outside UBC asked if I knew him, I would often reply with excitement in my heart, but indifference on my face, “Oh yeah, of course. We’re friends.” But at this point in the life of the church, few of us ever pretended we were actually friends with David in the same way we were friends with each other. Because honestly, not many of us were. As his career outside the church attained greater heights, there was an inverse correlation to the amount of time he was spending inside the community of the church during the week. The more famous he became, the less we saw him.
I had come to terms with this. His writing and releasing music for the worldwide Church, and his touring, were all clearly things he was created to do. I believe few, if any, contemporary artists in the “Modern Worship” genre are as gifted at what he does as he is. But what I hadn’t come to terms with was the amount of influence it appeared David had on the overall life and direction of the church, even as his presence among us was diminishing.
I should reiterate that my discomfort with this was as much on me as it was on him. Had I been more thoughtful and less anxious, I would have approached him personally with my concerns. By that point in my life I had yet to master the art of difficult conversations. (I still haven’t, but I have improved.) Instead, I often used Ben and others on the Leadership Team as scapegoats, assuming they could have exercised some resistance to his influence, but chose not to.
But since I never talked to David about how I felt, Bill and Jake’s question was all the more prescient. And it led to the next, obvious question—Would I have the conversation with David before I went through the process of applying for the job?
This would have been risky. Even though there was a committee of UBC’ers created to conduct the application and interview process, it was likely that the pastoral staff would have the biggest influence in the decision. And if everything about decision making at UBC was as I had expected, it would be David’s voice (along with that of his wife) that carried the most weight. If I spoke with him about what I felt was his disproportionate amount of influence, would it be a mark in my favor because of my honesty, or a strike against me because of my presumption? Since I didn’t know him well enough to know where it would fall, I chose another route.
I decided that in my application and interview, if I was lucky enough to get one, I would be open and honest about things I saw that needed to be addressed, specifically regarding policies and procedures, and how the staff operated in their roles. I would write about accountability, about how all of us should have some level of authority over each other, which is what our flat leadership structure implied. I would critique without being a critic, eschewing full transparency for a more veiled approach.
In other words, I would weasel my way out of answering Bill and Jake’s question. Which is what I did.