I carefully opened the envelope. I could tell by the logo that it was an invitation to a pastors conference that I had attended a couple years ago. I slipped the heavy-duty card stock invitation from the envelope and opened it up. It was a huge invitation. Printed inside was a picture of all the conference speakers. There they were—a big picture of all the big names that would be there. The website looked the same—all nine speakers holding basketball jerseys with their names printed on them.
How Not to Worship Celebrity Rockstar Pastors
I got the idea that these guys were pretty big stuff. They were heroes. Celebrities. Much better than the average pastor. After all, they led huge churches and wrote awesome books. They deserved to be heard. They deserved to be listened to.
We live in a celebrity culture. Humans are wired to be interested in other humans, and yet it manifests itself in the strangest ways. We are interested in what famous people do or don’t do. We’re curious about their clothes, their lifestyles, their love lives, their mistakes, their thoughts, their political viewpoints.
Sadly, the Christian community is all but immune to this celebrity culture. We’re starstruck by larger-than-life personalities, speakers, authors, and bloggers. Big name pastors warrant the obsequious affection of little name pastors. Aspiring theologues measure their theological intellect by how many of so-and-so’s books they’ve read. The best conferences are those with the biggest lineup of popular Christians.
We’ve unwittingly followed the distasteful culture of celebrity worship.
And it’s not very healthy.
- Celebrity worship is idolatry. Let’s start out with the most obvious problem of the celebrity rockstar culture of fawning affection. Celebrity worship is nothing less than idolatry. To be completely transparent, I am admittedly using slanted terms in my description of the problem: “celebrity worship.” I do so in order to make a point. When we exalt individuals above God, we are, in essence, worshipping them. And, when we worship them, we are committing idolatry. Before you jerk back and spit on your computer screen, I will admit that often the attention given to the Big Namers is nothing more than admiration, respect, and appreciation. Perhaps you are merely respecting them, not worshipping them. That being said, it can tend toward and run the risk of idolatry, no? Maybe not you, of course, but someone less mature?
- Celebrity worship often produces unwarranted following of men (not God). This is a tragedy indeed. People need leaders. God, in His wisdom, has appointed leaders. Yet the desire for leaders can become corrupted when people follow such leaders to the exclusion of following God. I have seen the tragic results of this in churches where the leader’s words are taken as gospel, and where people follow his every command as if it were God’s. (We usually call organizations like these “cults.”) When your best arguments begin with “But So-and-So Pastor said…” you may want to ratchet down your aficionado status.
- Celebrity worship is a fixation on personalities, not substance. Want to sell out a conference or pop your book to the top of the Most Read Christian Book of the Century? Well, first you have to be a Christian celebrity. Rather than attending a conference for it’s focus or topic, we tend to check out who’s speaking. There’s nothing wrong with wanting to hear awesome speakers, but often we fall into the trap of following a personality, or the buzz surrounding such a personality. This mentality certainly tends toward shallowness.
- Celebrity worship inspires unattainable or unnecessary pursuits in others. Celebrity pastors are pretty cool people, and so other people want to be like them. Although there may be some great things to emulate in these great people, there is a danger in doing so. Becoming the next Billy Graham is probably not the calling of most pastors. Most pastors are called to simply and faithfully shepherd their flock, even if it’s a small one. When a pastor becomes distracted by the siren song of stardom, he is heading into major ministry distraction. Pursuing megachurch greatness and sought-after-conference-speaker-status is often a self-centered journey, not to mention unattainable and unnecessary.
- Celebrity worship can produce discouragement over little-guy loserness. Hero worship tends to minimize the non-heros. In order to make someone look big, you have to make other people seem small. And when you’re not the celeb, you feel kind of small. Don’t blame the celebrity for this problem. He’s just being himself. Yet in a celebrity culture, the non-celebrity realizes that he’s not as great as he wants to be, realizes that it’s not possible to be that great, and so gets discouraged at how much of a loser he is. Too bad, really. After all, he or she is part of the 99.9992% of the population that is not a celebrity pastor. Really, it’s going to be okay if you’re not a celebrity rockstar pastor.
- Celebrity worship promotes divisiveness. No, I’m not going overstating this. Celebrity devotion creates divisions. In the first century early church, Paul (the Superapostle) had to deal with celebrity worship in one of his churches. He bemoaned “divisions among you” and “quarrelling among you” (1 Corinthians 1:10-11). Why all the bickering and divisions? Paul explains, “Each one of you says, ‘I follow Paul,’ or ‘I follow Apollos,’ or ‘I follow Cephas,’ or ‘I follow Christ'” (1 Cor. 1:12). In his day, Paul was kind of like the big-name author, theologian, or megachurch planter. Apollos was the sought-after big conference keynote speaker. Cephas was the celebrity pastor of the world’s biggest church. And Christ? Well, He was the one claimed by the pious holier-than-thous in the church who didn’t want to be defined by their fanboy status. It sounds like a damaging celebrity culture was festering there in Corinth. The obvious solution to the problem is to be centered on and unified around “the gospel” (1 Corinthians 1:17). There is a grave danger of being focused on personalities, even if you give lipservice to a focus upon the gospel.
Is it wrong to go to a conference to hear a Big Name Pastor? No. One blogger put it this way: “We’re wise to encourage people to learn from the best teachers, theologians, and preachers that God has given to His church—whether it’s through their preaching at conferences, teaching in classrooms, or writing in books and on blogs. Not to do so belittles the Spirit’s wisdom in giving gifts “to each one individually has he wills” (1 Cor 12:11) and is poor stewardship of the limited time we have to grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.”
On the other hand, I would suggest that it is unwise to go simply to bask in the glow of the stars, to fawningly follow their every move, to devotedly read their every article, and to elevate them beyond what is appropriate. It’s not just unwise. It’s dangerous.
A few parting words:
- If you are a celebrity pastor. Thanks for taking time from your busy schedule to read this blog. I’m grateful. Please warn others (and yourself) about the danger of celebrity worship, paying special attention to 1 Corinthians 1. You have a great deal of influence, and can use it to the glory of God. Oh, and you may want to call the marketing director of your next conference not to put such a large picture of you in the brochure. And if they want to feature a “Tour of Your Sweet Office Video,” on the conference website, it’s okay to decline.
- If you are NOT a celebrity pastor. It’s going to be okay. Did you know that the rockstar pastors are pretty much just normal dudes? Don’t try to be the Big Man in Christianity. Don’t try too hard to build the world’s largest MegaAwesomeChurch. Just be yourself—redeemed, sanctified, and serving the King. He is the true Great One. Let’s focus on Him, not other people.