In The Age of Celebrity Pastors: What Motivates Our Ministry?

Is Christianity in America worshiping an idol known as the “celebrity pastor?” Are we who serve as ministers and pastors of churches cultivating this idolatry ourselves…for ourselves?

The last couple of weeks has seen a lot of blogs, Facebook remarks, and so on talking about the allegations that Pastor Mark Driscoll committed plagerism. In the midst of this chatter comes two post that I believe point to a deeper problem with the “celebrity pastor” status among Christianity. First up is a post on Christianity Today’s website titled The Real Problem with Mark Driscoll’s ‘Citation Errors’ in which Andy Crouch says:

Mark Driscoll is a human being, created in the image of God, with great gifts, real limits, and very likely a genuine calling to ministry. But “Pastor Mark Driscoll,” the author of “literally thousands of pages of content a year,” the purveyor of hundreds of hours of preaching, is in grave danger of becoming a false image. No human being could do what “Pastor Mark Driscoll” does—the celebrity is actually a complex creation of a whole community of people who sustain the illusion of an impossibly productive, knowledgeable, omnicompetent superhuman.

The real danger here is not plagiarism—it is idolatry.

In his blog post The Lesson of Driscoll’s Plagiarism: A Rant On Rejecting Celebrity Leadership, David Fitch describes the problem as an “ideology at work” saying,

[Mark Driscoll's] clear avoidance of one of the most basic practices of the Christian life and the continuing charades surrounding him, the publishers and the lawyers to avoid dealing with the lies, illustrate how far the Driscoll’s book and leadership has been removed above the actual practice of on-the-ground Christian life in the form of a celebrity pastor, and has become a product to be sold, an image to be upheld. This is not Christianity, this is ideology…

Both are right. It’s ideology and idolatry.

Before We Blame…

However the problem isn’t Mark Driscoll’s alone. In fact, the problem isn’t just with the celebrity pastors, whoever they are. I believe the problem is largely our problem! That is, the problem is owned by the broad movement known as evangelical Christianity (Emmergents, Missional, Reformed, Neo-Reformed, Anabaptists, Restorationist, Charismatic-Pentcostals, etc… Did I get them all?).

With the idea that there is an idolatry of “celebrity pastor” taking place, I believe that we could substitute any number other celebrity Pastors/ministers (though not all) for Driscoll and still have the same point. In evangelical Christianity, where the value of consumerism has increasingly become the driving force of the church, the celebrity status is created by Christians turning to the pastor who is able to provide the goods that they — with their consumer appetites — so desire.  It’s sort of a catch 22. That’s why so many fans Christians increasingly seem to mimic with uncritical reflection the celebrity pastor machine they flock too and then, if the local church doesn’t become an extension of the brand/goods offered by this machine, the flock leave to find a church that does.

So My Fellow Preachers…

But my concern isn’t with these celebrity pastor’s. It’s with me and everyone one of my friends and colleagues who minister with churches. We all have been gifted and blessed greatly by God to preach, teach, and lead God’s people. Technology and social-media has created great mechanism for us to use our gifts to serve God and people using our gifts in some new and wonderful ways. So we upload our sermons as MP3 files, share teachings on a blog (like I’m doing now), promote an e-book or book that’s been published by a reputable publishing company, etc…

I understand and I do some it myself. But when does promotion become self-promotion? In a conversation with a few other friends and fellow ministers, the question was asked “at what point does a pastor become a ‘celebrity pastor’?” That’s another way of asking how do we known when we are engaging in the task of building our own celebrity pastor machine…an idolatry and ideology at work?This is a difficult question and one that can ultimately only be answered by every minister, for it’s too difficult to judge someone else’s motives. However, I will say two things:

  1. If we’re aware of this concern then we probably have little to worry about. From one minister to other ministers, I’m more concerned when we stop asking ourselves the critical self-examining questions either because we unintentionally fail to do so or because we think such questions don’t apply to us anymore.
  2. If and when we do become engaged in the ideology and idolatry of establishing our own celebrity pastor status (whether on a large or small scale), it will eventually show itself in our behaviors and actions. For such hubris easily becomes narcism where we think we are no longer accountable to the moral and ethical standards that everyone else is bound by. If and when that happens, it tends to work itself out in some very visible and palpable failures.

So as this fiasco plays itself out, I hope the rest of us who are called to preach, teach, and lead God’s people can take some time for self-examination. What is motivating our ministry? Is it the mission of God or…?

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4 responses to “In The Age of Celebrity Pastors: What Motivates Our Ministry?

  1. I don’t have a lot to add Rex bit I agree with you whole heartedly. Media in any form can be a double edge sward to a minister. Especially if one begins to believe the hype. Thank you for the post.

  2. Excellent Rex. Thank you!

  3. If you look at Dr. Patrick Mead, who is quite fearless, I got the impression that his internet ministry is to reach out to those who have no other “clergy” person to talk to. He was the first internet minister I found since a lot of blogs are kept quiet.

    His old blog, which may be down now, had answers to questions that were sad, difficult, and controversial. Once he even asked if some of those asking questions were trying to get him fired. He realized that many younger people had questions that were never answered and he set out to answer them. He had quite a following and also spoke to a lot of elders about what was really going on that they had no idea about.

    • Mark,

      Thanks for your comment. I know Patrick Mead and appreciate his ministry very much, including both his preaching/teaching as well as his blog writing. He has always struck me as genuinely interested in simply serving God rather than his own platform. In fact, as brilliant of a “people’s intellectual” (one who is able to communicate intellectually well with people in the pew), I am sure he could have a much larger and popular platform if he pursued it.

      Any ways, I’m glad you’ve enjoyed Patrick Mead’s blog. Thanks for visiting this blog as well.

      Grace and Peace,

      Rex

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