The Perilous Practice Of Platform Building

In the past years, I’ve seen numerous prominent Christians come tumbling down, their platforms crumbling like a poorly constructed Tower of Babel. Mark Driscoll. Tullian Tchividjian. Bill Hybels. Perry Noble.

I’ve seen friends who were supposed to have great promise as pastors – important assets for the kingdom of God – self-destruct.

The list goes on and on.

Whether though infidelity or sexual abuse or spiritual abuse, many pastors have seen their platforms crumble under the crushing load of their sins.

Spiritual/pastoral “platforms” (or whatever you want to call them) are not really a new thing. Charles Spurgeon had an enormous platform that allowed him to speak to millions of people through his sermons and writings. Whitfield and Wesley gathered massive crowds. Billy Graham steam rolled across America with his revival meetings.

But in recent years, there’s been an increased emphasis on Christian influencers intentionally crafting big platforms. Gathering thousands of social media followers. Building epic megachurches with multiple services. Blogging and YouTubing and Instagramming their way to fame. Of course, all this is framed as a way of bringing more glory to God, but it’s pretty easy to see the man behind the curtain.

A number of years ago, I started a Twitter account called @celebritypastor to make fun of this trend. And while I still get enjoyment out of poking fun at the smoke machines and overly coiffed hair and playing “Come As You Are” (the Nirvana version) at the altar call, I’m increasingly sobered at the thought of creating any sort of platform.

See, there was a time when I thought it would be cool to have a big platform. To have all the social media followers and speak at the conferences and have people think that I was important. The prospect was really attractive.

And I did have a limited amount of success in the early stages of constructing my platform. I was a pastor and had a couple books published when I was way too young. The books were endorsed by people you probably have heard of. In my extremely tiny Christian circle, a lot of people knew me. Granted, this was like being popular at a Christian school of 15 students, but still, it felt pretty good. I was a medium-sized fish in a really small pond filled with really small fish.

Then, in God’s mercy, everything I built fell apart. Thankfully, it wasn’t because of infidelity or spiritual abuse or embezzlement or anything like that. I simply ended up in a really unhealthy church situation that I absolutely had to leave.

And when I left…

…I had nothing left.

It was the absolute worst and best thing that could have happened to me. Everything I was and thought I knew was stripped away from me. I was suddenly a “nobody”, in that I didn’t have any sort of position of influence.

For a while, I felt completely undone and disoriented, like I didn’t know who I was. I was like Jason Bourne in Bourne Identity, minus being brainwashed by a blackops CIA program and the ability to kill people with a single punch and run a mile without breathing hard.

But as time has passed, clarity has come. I realize that I care about most things a lot less and a few things a lot more.

I don’t want to build a platform, and I’m not impressed by flashy churches or pastors. Very few people have the character necessary to support a big platform, and I’m pretty sure I don’t. I can’t help be reminded of what the people said as they planned to build the Tower of Babel:

Then they said, “Come, let us build ourselves a city and a tower with its top in the heavens, and let us make a name for ourselves, lest we be dispersed over the face of the whole earth.”

Trying to make a name for yourself is dangerous business, and there’s a really good chance you’ll end up with God opposing you.

Now, I no longer want to do “big things” for God (in the way they’re often discussed). I want to do faithful things for God (yeah, I realize that sounds like a Jesus juke).

I want to…

  • Be a faithful husband and dad.
  • Faithfully pursue the spiritual disciplines.
  • Serve in a normal, non-flashy church.
  • Use my limited gifts in whatever ways God makes available, whether that’s through full-time ministry or as a regular church member.

I want to be an “ordinary” guy serving in an “ordinary” place. As Zach Eswine says in his amazing book The Imperfect Pastor:

If I am bored with ordinary people in ordinary places, then am I not bored with what God delights in? If I think that local limits of body and place are too small a thing for a person as gifted as I am, then don’t I want to escape what God himself gladly and daily inhabits? If I stare at a face, a flower, a child, or a congregation and say, “But God, not this. I want to do something great for you!” Am I not profoundly misunderstanding what God says a great thing is?

If I had one thing to say to young men and women who are burning with ambition for God, it would be this: be content to let God build your platform.

Most of us will never have a “platform” (not the right word here, but you get the point) that extends beyond our families, church, and jobs. We’ll faithfully teach our kids about Jesus, maybe lead a Bible study or serve on the worship team, and diligently do our jobs. And that is a glorious, beautiful thing.

If God does happen to give you a bigger audience, tread prayerfully and cautiously. Don’t always be striving to build a tower that reaches the heavens. Be rooted and held accountable within a local church. And don’t believe your own press.

And trust me when I say that you’ll be much happier without all the striving and hustling and grinding.

I certainly am.

Stephen Altrogge

I'm a husband, dad, writer. I drink too much coffee and know too much about Star Wars. I created The Blazing Center. I've also written some books which people seem to like. You can follow me on Instagram and Facebook

11 comments

  • Your experience feels eerily similar to mine, especially the leaving a Church situation and trying to build a platform. I have a small ministry and I would like to see it grow. But the whole process has taught me just what you said, “be content to let God build your platform.” It’s been a patience building exercise. I’m reminded of the saying, “Pray like it all depends on God. Work like it all depends on you.” Something that I really appreciate about your statements is to focus on being faithful in those things that don’t necessarily bring a platform; family, spiritual disciplines, simple service. I’ve not been as focused on those as I am trying to build my platform. It’s good to be reminded.

    I will be praying for you.

  • Sometimes I imagine how fun it would be to be popular on earth. But any time anything even remotely exciting happens I take it back lol! My husband and I both praise God regularly for our boring lives but know that we will still remain bold to follow God no matter how exciting his path for us gets. Whether we have a lot of excitement or a little, we know the secret to being ok with where we are – we can do it all through Christ’s strength.

  • Thanks Stephen. Your article rang true for me and my experience. I’ve slowly learnt that God is so faithful and patient and generously exposes our ‘platforms’ to lead us back to the only place where we can find satisfaction and rest..

  • To quote a minister with whom I’m sure you would theologically disagree, but whom God has given a large platform, “As many people as God allows you to help, the same number of people you can harm if you shipwreck your ministry.”

  • Excellent piece brother but that doesn’t surprise me. I’ve been reading you with great benefit for some time now. Are you no longer in Indiana, PA?

  • Jesus juke! Ha, ha. 😀 I’m in my 60’s and my daughter recently explained to me what a Jesus juke is. If she hadn’t, I would not have understood what you meant.

    I’ve recently experienced the loss of practically everything – marriage, reputation, home, family (not lost, but somewhat estranged), things… I’m now living in a small apartment, on my own for the first time in my life. But God gives HOPE, and I’m quite content to wait on Him, to find out how I can make a difference in my little corner of the world.

    So, thank you for this. It was encouraging.

  • Such a sobering, great reminder, Brother. Thank you for writing it and I will be in prayer for you.

    Thank you,
    God bless.

  • Recognizing the extraordinary in the mundane and ordinary is a sanctifying gift of God. As I mentor young people in my profession of city planning, I exhort them be very cautious of the luring temptations of the cool places. I encourage them to develop ones affections for ordinary places and to seek to practice their craft there. We live 99.99% percent of our lives in ordinary places and ordinary circumstances doing ordinary things. Embracing the ordinary is embracing life itself. It is an act of deep love towards the giver, sustainer and controller of life, the Lord himself. Thanks for this post….

  • Thank you for the good words. I have been struggling to find a church home and I don’t know what size fish I should be. I don’t want to be part of an ordinary church but one full of life and the Spirit of God. What size fish live in a church like that?

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