Celebrity Pastors?

Posted: December 1, 2011 in humility

Mike Cosper (writing at the Gospel Coalition):

Many artists work hard at their craft because they love it. The same can be said for pastors who pour countless hours into developing their preaching and communication skills, who study the scriptures and people around them intensely, seeking to make a connection between the gospel and the world we inhabit. Their goal is to be good shepherds, to pastor and lead well, to see the mission of God move forward. Some of these pastors will gather crowds. They become celebrities. In these cases, celebrity status is a byproduct of other, more important goals.

Let’s assume this is true of the majority of “celebrity pastors” filling the (internet) airwaves today.

Now my question becomes, “What responsibility do these famous-for-all-the-right-reasons pastors have in discouraging unhealthy idolatry and/or slavish adherence to everything they say?” Obviously, they are not totally responsible for everyone else’s responses to them. However, what role should they play in regulating their “celebrity status” (either by refraining from doing certain things, or through direct teaching on the topic), for the sake of their own souls and the souls of those who listen to them? For example, consider the practice of book signing – does that truly build up the church or merely feed/encourage an ungodly fascination with finite men?

Just my questions…

See my previous post on this issue.

  1. Matt, good thoughts.

    I wonder if even on the corporate level these conferences and celebrity pastors take away from the ministry of the local church; many Christians now place their trust in the conferences to change their church/ministry and to make them more like Jesus and are left with no belief and trust in the supernatural means of grace given exclusively to the local church. Their non-trust in these supernatural means leads to a whole slough of problems we are seeing in the church (e.g. evangelicals switching churches every five seconds).

    Anyway, I agree, they need to come out with some type of direct teaching or written statement on the matter, for the sake of both sides.

    On a personal level, I am so fed up with hearing about these “super-apostles,” people following their every move like my teenage cousin follows Justin Beber.

    Oh, and a random irrelevant thought I just had. “Evangelicals” (not sure who I mean) pride themselves on being independent of traditional hierarchies like synods and general assemblies; but, in reality, we have our own structures of authority, they just are not official. Our celebrity pastors act as the general assembly and are taken as authoritative. Maybe just calling them what they are would help fix things.

  2. Matt Tully says:


    Agreed. I do think that these celebrity pastors, complete with slick online videos and sweet marketing campaigns, can tend to draw people away from the spiritual leaders that actually know and love them (their elders). It’s not that I don’t think these high-profile pastors have a role to play, I just think that their role may be too large at the moment…

    More significant, IMO, than a written statement would be practical decisions meant to intentionally discourage the rampant “celebrity culture” we see today. Like, for instance, not publishing the names of all the speakers when advertising conferences (i.e. Banner of Truth). Or, making sure to have at least half of the speakers be “normal,” unpublished pastors/elders. For a more radical example, consider Francis Chan, who decided to leave his church (gasp!) partly because of what he considered to be an unhealthy idolization of “the pastor” instead of Jesus.

    And yes, I agree that Evangelicals (that slippery word!) certainly do have their own “trans-ecclesial” authority structures. With some people, you’d think Piper or Driscoll speak ex cathedra whenever they get up to preach…

    With regard to the original article, I think one of the commentators had another really good point:

    “First of all, describing pastors as “Top of the Heap” is problematic. Implied in this heading is the idea that being at the “Top of the Heap” is what it means to be successful. This is not the case. Being successful in ministry means to be faithful. There are many faithful (“successful”) pastors who will never make it to what you call “Top of the Heap.”

    Finally, the idea that success comes solely from “talent, hard work, and opportunity” is mistaken. What is problematic with this thinking is that it is a complete conflation of Christianity with the American Dream.”

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