Throughout church history there have been prominent pastors and church leaders who have significantly impacted their local communities, ultimately influencing large sections of the global Church; men like Augustine, Athanasius, Thomas Aquinas, Martin Luther, John Calvin, and many others. But nowadays, the rising phenomenon is the “celebrity pastor”.
Admiration for Different Reasons
My first mission trip to Ethiopia was to encourage and support a gathering of church planters at a conference. The leader of the denomination that hosted the conference was a man who had faithfully preached, planted, and led churches and gospel ministry — even being imprisoned with other Christian leaders under the communist regime that ruled in Ethiopia from 1974-1991. At the time I went on this trip, I was serving in a mega church with a celebrity pastor who had appeared on multiple television shows including The View and other network television programs. One of my colleagues noted the stark difference between the “feel” and response of the people when these men walked into the room of their respective churches.
For the Ethiopian church leader who suffered and was imprisoned for Christ, there was a deep sense of respect and honor when he interacted with church members. For the celebrity pastor at the church I served, it was awe, photographs, autographs, and an elitist mentality that, looking back on, troubles me greatly.
Guarding a Broken Image
The last few years have seen failure after failure from celebrity pastors for a variety of reasons including: sexual sin, financial mismanagement, and abuse of power. Even the seemingly “honorable” ones have had revelations come out after decades of apparently faithful ministry, showing that what was truly going on behind the façade was pretty horrible. Do I know that every single celebrity pastor is hiding sin and presenting a false image to the people of their church or those who follow their ministry? No, but I do know that humility, and weakness are not generally celebrated in the world of celebrity anything, including pastoral ministry.
Instead, there is a need to show off a perfectly curated image of the pastor rather than the normal person they are with failures, sin, suffering, and struggles like everyone else. In the celebrity pastor world, there are many pastors who occupy places of worship in the hearts of their people. To think of these pastors as their ultimate spiritual leaders instead of who they really are might cause some to confuse them for Jesus. Paul says, “Follow me as I follow Christ” (1 Corinthians 11:1) not “Follow me as I am a type of Christ.”
Glory Will Not Be Divided
This type of worship must end. Jesus will not share his glory with any other (Ezekiel 39:25) and I believe the spate of failures in celebrity pastors is Jesus doing just that: bringing what is in the dark into the light, as he is faithful to do (Luke 12:2-3), and redirecting the gaze of his people back on him.
With Christianity in the West becoming more and more marginalized, I hope the age of the celebrity pastor is setting, and into the place of celebrity, faithful pastors, who love the Lord, love their churches, and care about seeing Jesus be lifted high in their small areas of influence might dawn and see our world changed for the better.